Today, on August 25th the Déri Museum is celebrating 25 years of Mihály Munkácsy’s “The Christ Trilogy” on display. 25 years ago, Mihály Munkácsy’s painting “Christ before Pilate” arrived in Debrecen for the first time, bringing the trilogy together after its restoration, taking its place next to “Golgotha” and “Ecce Homo!” in the Munkácsy Hall.
The Munkácsy exhibition opened its doors to visitors on May 25th,1930, 90 years ago in Debrecen when Frigyes Déri donated “Ecce Homo!”, the third painting of the trilogy, to the state. He only requested that it be exhibited in Debrecen.
Thanks to many decades of interest, art historian Katalin Kürti Sz., an art historian began research to track down and locate the other two paintings during the 1980s.
One of the trilogy, the painting entitled “Golgotha” changed hands several times, it was purchased by the painter’s art dealer John Wanamaker in 1887, and then by Julian Beck from his heirs in 1988. With the help of the Hungarian Ministry of Education and Culture, the work arrived in Budapest in 1991, and it was exhibited together with “Ecce Homo!” in Debrecen on 20th August 1993. Imre Pákh bought the work from Julian Beck in 2004 and then later, the Hungarian government bought it from Pákh in December 2018.
The third painting “Christ before Pilate” was accidentally found by Péter Forbáth, a medical professor living in Canada. The heart surgeon in Toronto found Munkácsy’s most successful work in the city’s rehearsal hall. The painting, owned by art collector Joseph Tanenbaum, arrived in Debrecen in February 1995. Although it was in good condition compared to “Golgotha”, the 104-year-old work still needed to be cleaned.
The renovated painting, along with the other two masterpieces, was first unveiled to the general public on 25th August 1995 in Debrecen.
All the 3 pieces of the trilogy could be seen together until 2001, when the Canadian owner, Joseph Tanenbaum, donated the painting “Christ before Pilate” to the Gallery of Hamilton City. Between 2002 and 2015, the Hamilton City Gallery rented the work to the Déri Museum. In 2015, with the support of the National Bank of Hungary’s program, Hungary acquired it from Canada’s Art Gallery of Hamilton.
The first painting of the trilogy’s “Christ before Pilate” was completed by Munkácsy in 1881. The second piece “Ecce Homo!” was completed in 1896, and the third work “Golgotha” in 1884.
The paintings have become the emblematic symbols of Debrecen. Their popularity is unrivaled in Hungary and the universal message the paintings convey touches every generation.
Today, all three masterpieces of Munkácsy’s famous “Christ Trilogy” are owned by the Hungarian state, a national treasure that can still be seen in the Déri Museum in Debrecen.