József Rippl-Rónai
Woman with a Birdcage

Rippl-Rónai was born in Kaposvar in Hungary in 1861. This enchanting painting is one of the highlights of the National Gallery in Budapest.

A woman stands in a room which is furnished and decorated in tones of blue-green. She wears a full-length brown dress and a small black hat is balanced on her coiffure. She gazes at a diminutive yellow bird - perhaps a Canary - which is incarcerated in a small blue-green birdcage held close to her face, the better to concentrate on the inmate. The exaggerated bend of her back enhances the appearance of refined elegance. Her face and etiolated fingers are rendered in an unnaturally pale off-white (almost as though she were a mannequin), puncturing the monotone of the room. This restricted palette betrays the influence of the American painter J.A.M. Whistler who was living in Paris while Rippl-Rónai was studying and working there in the late 1880s.

Rippl-Rónai had moved to Paris in 1887 and in 1889 he was in the Breton town of Pont-Aven following in the footsteps of Paul Gauguin who, a few years earlier had left Paris in search of bucolic inspiration. Back in Paris in 1890, Rippl-Rónai met Edouard Vuillard and through this contact he was accepted as a member of Les Nabi, a group which included Pierre Bonnard and Felix Vallotton among others. Their influence can be seen in Rippl-Rónai’s use of flat colour in the Woman with a Birdcage.

In 1901 Rippl-Rónai returned to Hungary where he became a leading figure in the cultural life of the country and a member of the Literature and Artistic Council. He continued to visit Paris and was in that city when World War 1 began; it was only with the help of Pierre Bonnard that he was able to join his compatriots on the Eastern Front - where he met Oskar Kokoschka! He died in Kaposvar in 1927.