Levendel gyűjtemény / collection életrajz / biography tanulmányok műtárgylista
Dr. László Levendel

Levendel László“I am going to be a doctor, too” he told us about his childhood resolution in the portrait film made a year before his death, “but I am going to be the doctor of the poor”. Of the poor, the homeless, the addicts, the most seriously injured ones – that is, of everybody. And when at the end of the film the director-reporter asked: “Who is László Levendel? How could you put it into words?”, after a few seconds of astonishment and musing he answered with the joy of ingenuity: “Just a poor lad whom life forced to do more than the others...” And it is true: preparing for his medical career became his obsession. When he survived the forced labour service, the concentration camp of Bor and the forced march and fled at the end of 1944 from Baja, he went on foot to the city of Szeged that had already been liberated and the first thing he did was that he enrolled in the university of medicine. In 1948, at the centenary of the Hungarian revolution against Habsburg Austria he was rewarded as the best student of the country and the university made him a doctor of Sub Laurae Almae Matris. Still, he started his medical career in 1951 in the period of the show trials as a sort of punishment; he was transferred to Kútvölgy, near Hódmezôvásárhely where there was a dispensary for mostly incurable consumptive patients. Every day he saw young people bleed away with dramatic suddenness and felt the unbearable powerlessness of doctors – still this was the golden age of the successful treatment of tuberculosis and phthisiotherapy became the leading branch of the medical profession. Experiencing and understanding – and what is more, diagnosing! – the extremities of life, he always chose the hardest way: opposition. If tuberculosis is a seriously infectious disease why do some people become infected but not ill while others die of it? If the highly effective medicines help in so many cases how it is possible that not everybody can be cured? The questions that sound so logical and unavoidable today meant a stubborn revolt against easy triumph and the avoidance of hardship at that time.

He worked for the National Korányi Institute of TB and Pulmonology from 1952 till his death. At the middle of the fifties he became convinced that he would be able to force the cooperation of unwilling patients who would otherwise not do anything for their own recovery with the help of psychologists and the deeper knowledge of personality psychology. He worked together with Árpád Mezei, one of the theoreticians of the European School and through Mezei he got to know the few surviving artists of the fine arts workshops whom the regime had made intellectually and existentially impoverished: he got to know and came to like Margit Anna, Endre Bálint, József Jakovits, later Tihamér Gyarmathy and Lili Országh. Some of them he treated for years and decades – and then he came to like their art, too, because he got to understand it. Ágnes Kövesházi, the daughter of Elza Kövesházi Kalmár worked as a physiotherapist next to Dr Mária Lakatos, neé Levendel in the sanatorium, as well. She was the professional dancer of the movement-studio established by Alice Madzsar. Through her, the Levendels got to know – and treated – Ödön Palasovszky, later Lajos Kassák, they met the widows of István Dési Huber and Gyula Derkovits. One artist “recommended” Dr Levendel to the other and he – as art historian Katalin Dávid said about the Levendel collection in June 1998 at the opening of the exhibition at the Art Gallery of Szentendre – “was a doctor who was convinced that diseases can only be cured if the whole person is cured in body and soul...it was this knowledge of his that attracted the artists. And by no accident did he attract those outstanding personalities whom the cultural policy refused and downgraded to the most terrible fate an artist can have: the denial of publicity. They were well matched.”
At the beginning of 1961 Dr Levendel organized an exhibition at the Korányi sanatorium from the works of “the artists treated in the institution”. The crowd that pilgrimed there by bus No. 22 was well aware that this “pretext” was made up by the doctor who was always ready to fight hard for the right to protect and cure the needy, since even the paintings of the dissident Endre Bálint could be seen there.
The Levendel collection is not a collection in the usual sense of the word: these works of art were not gathered by a wealthy connoisseur. Each of these pictures and statues was rather chosen especially for him, as Katalin Dávid puts it: “Has the scientific research ever estimated how many works of art came to life in the 50s, 60s and 70s just because the doctor friend stood by the artists? He is part of the art history of this era...He is not part of it as in late centuries some Maecenases were. Simply because he did something completely different under completely different circumstances. It was not only a question of giving the artists bread and butter, although it sometimes happened, too, but giving a hand so that they would have enough strength to grasp the brush and the chisel and also – which seemed quite impossible – giving them publicity and love and letting them know that their activity is essential for the existence of our culture... the artists themselves wanted to take part in the life of László Levendel, they were welcome in his home and created a milieu for him.”