Fashion & Photography

Budapest at the Turn of the Century

Architecture and Social Life in the Capital of an Empire

At the turn of the 19th century, Hungary belonged to one of the largest empires: The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Hungary’s capital, Budapest was founded in 1873 with the unification of three cities on the banks of the river Danube: Pest, Buda and Óbuda. As the Eastern capital of the Empire, it is no surprise that at the turn of the century Budapest was developing very rapidly thanks to the worldwide cultural and economic upswing brought on by the Industrial Revolution.

At the turn of the 19th century, Hungary belonged to one of the largest empires: The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Hungary’s capital, Budapest was founded in 1873 with the unification of three cities on the banks of the river Danube: Pest, Buda and Óbuda. As the Eastern capital of the Empire, it is no surprise that at the turn of the century Budapest was developing very rapidly thanks to the worldwide cultural and economic upswing brought on by the Industrial Revolution.

City view of Budapest with the Chain Bridge around 1898. The Chain Bridge was the first permanent bridge built over the River Danube and was already standing for  50 years when this photograph had been taken Photo: FORTEPAN / Budapest Főváros Levéltára HU.BFL.XV.19.d.1.07.106

Monumental buildings designed by great architects were being built one after the other. The ornate architecture and design of these buildings define the look of the city to this day, and are the reason why Budapest has become such a popular shooting destination. These monuments include the classicist Chain Bridge, which was the first permanent bridge to connect Buda and Pest, and the romantic-eclectic Keleti Railway Station, which, was one of the most state-of-the-art train stations in Europe at its completion in 1884. Furthermore, Hungary celebrated the 1000th anniversary of its foundation in 1896, and several outstanding works of architecture were built in the capital city for the occasion, like Heroes’ Square with the Museum of Fine Arts and the Hall of Arts on both sides, and the inception of the renewed Buda Castle was also connected to this event.

A busy intersection of the Grand Boulevard in Budapest around 1898 FORTEPAN / Budapest Főváros Levéltára HU.BFL.XV.19.d.1.08.146
Art Nouveau style cover of Budapesti Bazár from 1903. The magazine included fashion illustrations from Alter & Kiss, the leading Central European fashion house of the eraBudapesti Bazár XLIV (1904)/10.

From the 1870s until World War II, Budapest was known for its thriving metropolitan atmosphere with a lively café culture and artistic life, which was characterized by the gathering of the era’s famous artists at historical cafés, like New York Café.


Fashion also played an important role thanks to the era’s colorful social life, and by the end of the 19th century Budapest became one of the fashion centers of Europe. By the end of the 1800s more and more fashion magazines were published in which the era’s prestigious tailors advertised products designed in accordance with the era’s Hungarian, English and French trends made of textiles bought from Paris and London.

Interior of New York Cafe around 1900. Cafés played important role in the lively artistic milieu of the eraPhoto: FORTEPAN / Budapest Főváros Levéltára HU.BFL.XV.19.d.1.08.059

This inspiring atmosphere attracted all kinds of artists from different backgrounds, including those that were making breakthroughs in the era’s newest and most exciting medium: photography. It was likely that this milieu is the reason that several outstanding photographers started their careers in Budapest.

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From Kertész to Capa - World Famous Hungarian Photographers

Whatever we have done, Kertesz did first.” Henri Cartier Bresson

Famous fine art photographer and pioneer street photographer André Kertész was born in Budapest, and worked here until the age of 31. During his time in Hungary he created a remarkable amount of work, and later, when he moved to Paris in the 1930s, his circle of friends included Picasso, Piet Mondrian, Chagall and fellow Hungarian photographer Brassai. Kertész, worked with exceptional sensitivity, and served as an inspiration for photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson.


If your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” Robert Capa

One of the greatest photojournalists ever, Robert Capa, was also born in Budapest and during his 20-year career as a war photographer, covered the Spanish Civil War, the Second Sino-Japanese War, the North-African and the Italian expeditions of WWII, the Invasion of Normandy, and the Arab-Israeli War.

The photos he took at the front lines were mainly published in LIFE magazine and are amongst the most famous pictures in the history of photography. Capa’s motto was: “If your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” he took his motto seriously. He died in 1954 at the age of 40 while covering the First Indochina War where he stepped on a landmine.

He brought a taste for happiness and honesty and a love of women to what was before him a joyless, loveless, lying art. Today the world of what is called fashion is peopled with Munkácsi’s babies, his heirs…. The art of Munkácsi lay in what he wanted life to be, and he wanted it to be splendid. And it was.”Richard Avedon

The most significant Hungarian-born fashion photographer is Martin Munkácsi, who after his years in Budapest, continued his work in Germany and New York, where he photographed stars of the era like Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, Louis Armstrong, and Fred Astaire. His works were published in Harper’s Bazaar and LIFE magazine. What made his photos quite extraordinary was that he took his models out of the studio - he was probably the first to do so - and photographed them in natural surroundings, thus creating a dynamic and suggestive visual atmosphere. His signature style, a movement that is still used in fashion-photography, became known as the „Munkácsi-movement”.

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