The János Thorma Museum and the Bay collection

The Museum of the Year in 2018

Like so many museums in the countryside, the János Thorma Museum in Kiskunhalas was founded on a local initiative, in 1874. Its main task as a public collection is to collect, preserve, study and research the historical and archaeological finds, ethnographic and anthropological artefacts as well as fine and applied arts works of Kiskunhalas and its environs.

The museum has always played a prominent role in the cultural life of the town. The exhibition spaces are regularly expanded and the art of János Thorma – used as a ‛brand’ – (the museum was named after him in 1950, when it became state property) is a central element of the exhibitions. Similarly to most regional museums, the few staff members augment the collections with painstaking work and dedication and maintain the structure of permanent and temporary exhibitions.

In 1953, the museum’s collections were moved into the eclectic building (constructed in 1887) named after their middle-class owners, the Kolozsváry Kiss family. (Dr István Kolozsváry Kiss was the town’s lord mayor from 1918 to 1920.) The building was first extended in 1960, then again in 2011, when the 200-square-metre visual repository wing was added, and most recently in 2017.

A leader plays an emphatic role in smaller museums and collections, and it is well demonstrated by the János Thorma Museum, whose agile director, always active in the museum profession and having built excellent relations with private collectors, greatly contributes to his institution’s success. This is reflected by the Museum of the Year title, which was awarded to the museum in 1998 and in 2018, as well as by the results, the continuously and spectacularly expanding collection, whose most important and recent element is the acquisition of the Bay collection.

The visual storage, built in 2011, was devoted to folk art: 18th-20th century folk furniture was displayed on the first floor and 17th-20th-century folk ceramics are in show cabinets on the ground floor; the building also has rooms suitable for presentations and workshops.

The works of János Thorma (1870-1937), a native of Kiskunhalas, were initially exhibited in the grand hall that was used as a picture gallery but are now in the new wing, constructed in 2017. Thorma first sought to revive the traditions of the golden age of Hungarian historical painting in 1848-1867 by applying the principles of naturalism and later he grew into one of the foremost representatives of Hungarian Impressionism as one of the founding members of the Nagybánya artists’ colony.

The newest wing houses the material bequeathed from the Bay collection and the rearranged Thorma exhibition. The collection comprises 222 artworks: 136 paintings, 38 graphic sheets and 48 sculptures. The new permanent collection of the János Thorma Museum will include 60 paintings and 9 plastic works donated from the Bay collection, which is a selection aimed at “…presenting a cross-section of the art of the Nagybánya colony and its most well-known artists,” as Miklós Bay himself stated. János Thorma is of course assigned a special place in the material: 19 of his pictures are exhibited in the museum named after him.