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Capturing millennial Budapest – the classic urban photography of György Klösz

Writers

  • Zsanett Fürdős

05/08/2021 9.34am

Anybody interested in the history of Budapest or who has browsed the Fortepan image archive will have come across the photography of György Klösz. So prolific he took his own mini-laboratory around with him in a carriage, Klösz snapped thousands of pictures of the disappearing neighbourhoods, new buildings and major events that transformed the capital – fascinating for aficionados of Budapest today.

If you’ve ever been curious about the views, buildings and atmosphere of fin-de-siècle Budapest, sooner or later you’ll be poring over the photographs of György Klösz. This German photographer created images of the city to order from the 1870s onwards. 

How the Tabán, former City Hall or various palaces looked before they were demolished, we know from his photos, as well as the size of the crowd that gathered for the funeral procession of statesman Lajos Kossuth.

From the National Exhibition of 1885

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

He began his career in Vienna, arriving in Pest in 1866, where he and his two colleagues opened their light room on the corner of today's Petőfi Sándor utca and Régi posta utca. Back then, Klösz had a passion for portrait photography. Statesmen, poets, scientists and actors turned up at his studio, but as there was quite a lot of competition in the city for portraiture, Klösz began looking in different directions. 

This is how he became familiar with the Budapest of the 1870s. Buildings, squares and streets all came into focus. He captured the important events of the 19th century: Kossuth’s funeral procession, the construction of Nyugati station and the first underground line, and all the projects surrounding the millennial celebrations of 1896.

Budapest from Gellért Hill

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

The construction of Elizabeth Bridge and Liberty Bridge redrew the cityscape so dramatically that the local authorities suggested that it would be a good idea to capture their image before demolition to preserve for posterity how the capital once looked.


Klösz was already a recognised and well-established photographer by then, so who better to do the job? His first major assignment was to photograph the Tabán neighbourhood before its transformation, and he often took his pictures just at the very last moment.

Cave beneath Gellért Hill

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

While documenting Budapest’s transformation into a major metropolis, he also proved to be a skilled businessman: he regularly advertised his services on posters and in newspapers, using a printing press. From the light room on Régi posta utca, he built a studio at Ferenciek Bazár, and later his own villa and studio on Városligeti fasor, as well as an 800-square-metre building which he used as a printing house

After a while, in fact, he was not only involved in taking photographs, but also in reproducing them, and even later in making maps. He also created the site plan for the 25th anniversary of the coronation. At the Millennial Exhibition, he presented his panoramic series depicting the entire length of Andrássy út on a 1:100 scale.

Kioszk building on Erzsébet tér, 1870s

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

Although originally trained as a pharmacist, by the turn of the century he had become the number one photographer in the city. Step by step, he established the country’s most important photographic and printing company, founded the Union of Hungarian Photographers and became the vice-president of the National Association of Photographers.


He was interested in every new development, not only trying them out, but also introducing them to the domestic audience. His studio had the first passenger lift in Hungary, and Klösz was also one of the first domestic importers of dry plates used to take pictures.

Budapest Courthouse prison

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

With his camera, he captured every detail of Budapest as it became a world city, the floods and the smoky suburbs, where he photographed the everyday life of factories, mills and slaughterhouses, as well as the communities outside town.


If György Klösz hadn’t given up portrait photography, then his images of celebrities in their pomp in the late 1890s would not have existed – but now they can be admired for all time.

Cogwheel railway terminus

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

Andrássy út

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

Timber on the Danube

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

Baross depot, built by Siemens-Halske

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

From Chain Bridge

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

Lower Pest embankment

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

Gellért Hill, railway bridge behind

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

József nádor tér, then filled with plants

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

József nádor tér

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

Károlyi Palace gardens

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

Kálvin tér, 1870s

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

Statue of Ferenc Deák, Széchenyi tér

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

Új Piac, now II. János Pál pápa tér

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

Ferenciek tere after 1890

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

Közvágóhíd

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

Former National Stables, 1880s

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

Kossuth cortège, National Museum

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

Nyugati station on Teréz körút

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

Miklós Ybl's Sárkány-ház, Eötvös tér

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

Market on Petőfi tér

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

Reception hall, New City Hall

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

Former City Hall, now Piarista tömb

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

Tabán

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

Tabán & Krisztinaváros

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

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