A great noble Hungarian family, whose roots go back to the Middle Ages, the Esterházys, faithful to the Habsburg’s imperial crown, served Austria as well in the army as in the civil service.
As early as the 17th century, the Esterházy princes – the great Palatine Paul (1635-1713) and Nicolas First "The Magnificent" (1714-1790) – created their art collection as a testimony to their splendor. The collection reached its apex with Nicolas II (1765-1833), an enlightened patron and amateur; at his death, the collection contained 1156 paintings.
He at first imagined his ideal gallery in the family castle in Eisenstadt. It soon proved too small, so that building was abandoned in favor of the Pottendorf castle. However, the Napoleonic wars and natural catastrophes put a stop to that project. The travelling collection settled for a while in the Laxenburg castle, near Vienna, before rejoining the Austrian capital where it amazed the artists, the cultured élite and the distinguished travelers. In a patriotic gesture, the collection was moved, in 1865, to Budapest (still called Pest at that time). Owing to financial problems, the Esterházy family finally agreed to sell it to the Hungarian State in 1870. Since then it has been the core the of the collection of the Fine-Arts museum in Budapest.
The exhibition in the Pinacothèque de Paris provides a unique occasion to admire this magnificent princely collection, a symbol of the artistic Austro-Hungarian wealth of a time gone by, and the emblematic show case of one of the greatest painting museums.
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