The former Szeben Collection
Paintings by Italian Artists
Dezső Szeben, one of several children in a Jewish family, was born in 1895. After studying at the Budapest Lutheran Grammar School, in 1913 he registered at the Legal and Political Science Department of the Hungarian Royal University of Humanities and Sciences. In 1920, now a director of the Central Credit Bank, he married Erzsi Glücksthal. Later he traded in agricultural products, was president of the National Federation of Corn Merchants, a member of the board of the National Association of Corn Exporters, a councillor of the Budapest Commodity and Stock Exchange, and director of the Danube Corn-Trading Company. He also participated in the boards of directors of other companies. His interest in collecting art was possibly stimulated by his father-in-law, the lawyer Samu Glücksthal, whose collection contained mainly works by Hungarian painters. Szeben similarly purchased paintings by Hungarian artists, but Italian and Dutch paintings were his favourites. According to contemporary newspapers and official reports, in 1938-39 he resigned from numerous positions, in which the Anti-Jewish Laws clearly played a part. It was probably in 1940 that he left Hungary for England, where in the second half of the following year – when Hungary entered the war – he was interned as a citizen of an enemy country. After the war he settled in London, where in 1947 he remarried. In the same year, through a Budapest lawyer he made a declaration about his works of arts which had gone missing during the war to the Ministerial Committee for Works of Art Taken from Public and Private Collections. In the early 1950s he was the manager of a company dealing with automobile spare parts and later one involved with real estate. As soon as his financial situation allowed, he returned to his passion for collecting, mainly buying old Italian paintings. He died in 1974 in Monte Carlo, leaving his collection to a foundation supporting medical research, which he himself had established. Personal documents relating to Dezső Szeben’s Budapest collection have still not turned up. Hence it is only from the aforementioned declaration and a number of exhibition catalogues that we know about the works, which formerly adorned the walls of his flat in Lendvay Street. What we mainly know about his collection is based on reproductions. Among works by Hungarian painters Szeben owned several by Rippl-Rónai and one each by József Borsos and Károly Ferenczy. Some of his works of art were deposited with the Pest Hungarian Commercial Bank, while others disappeared from his flat. In March and April 1943, eight wooden boxes containing paintings were deposited with the bank. They clearly belonged to Szeben’s collection. In early 1945 members of a Soviet Army economic commission plundered the bank’s safes and a large part of the booty, including many of Szeben’s paintings, was taken to the Soviet Union.