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Martin Benka

Third floor of Bratislava Castle became a temporary home to works of Martin Benka

Martin Benka was a Slovak Modernist painter who laid the foundations for the Slovak culture of painting. He was an interesting “renaissance man” with universal artistic interests in visual arts, music and even literature.

The artist coming from lowlands Záhorie region travelled round Europe, however Slovak northern mountainous regions grew on him. The author’s nonrecurrent manuscript he developed sensitively reflects pictures of Slovak nature.

Martin Benka dedicated his life to the aesthetics and cultivation of the Slovak environment. He was a lover of Mozart and Beethoven, a skilled painter, graphic artist and designer. The exhibition on the occasion of the 130th anniversary of the artist’s birth presents many aspects of his personality and diverse work.

In addition to painting and drawing, he also devoted himself to graphics and music. In his studio, he founded string quartets with friends and organized chamber concerts. An interesting feature in his design work are square “cubist” violins evoking free inspirations from Slovak folk ornaments. He created thirteen of them in total.

He designed book illustrations, stamps, exlibris, sgraffito, banknotes, and last but not least, he made several font designs. In typography, he combined elements from folk art, ornaments and, of course, his favorite nature. Having written memoirs and travel sketches, only in recent years has Benka’s authorial writings been given due attention.

As Martin Benka said himself: “I would say that I have managed to capture the face of Slovakia in a kind of synthesis of people and mountains. I think about my mountains whenever the music of Beethoven and Mozart resounds in my studio in Martin. Sometimes I take my own violin or sit down by the cimbalom. With each strike on the strings, I praise the vastness of our land, the power of our people and the poetry of our eternally mysterious mountains.”

In March 1960, Martin Benka (1888–1971) donated a substantial part of his collection of around 5,200 works of art, correspondence and a library to the Czechoslovak state, and subsequently came under the administration of the Slovak National Museum. In his last will, he bequeathed the rest of his estate to the state, in addition to artefacts and the furnishings of his studio house in Martin, a larger town in the north of Slovakia. It was here in 1972 where the Slovak National Museums in Martin opened the Martin Benka Museum.