Déri Múzeum

History of the museum

Frigyes Déri

(Bács, 10 December, 1852– Bécs, October 27, 1924)

Frigyes Déri was born in Bácska. His father Károly Déri (Mór Deutsch) took up a military career when he was young, then later he was occupied in doing farming and trading. He thought that social advancement was only possible through studying. That was the reason why the family moved to Baja, then to Vienna in the 1870s. All the seven children of the family were sent to school; Kálmán Déri studied to be a painter, Miksa Déri became an engineer and inventor. Frigyes Déri earned his high school diploma with specialization in Economics and moved to Vienna at the age of 21, in 1873. He studied at a vocational school of textile, and gained professional experience in different textile factories. In 1878 he went to the Ruhr Area, to Krefeld, one of the most significant centres of the textile industry in Germany. During his field trip he gained valuable experience from manufacturing to trading.

Déri became one of the most successful and professionally-recognized entrepreneurs of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. In 1878 he was sent to the Paris World’s Fair by the Austrian chamber of commerce and industry. His silk factories were built in Moravia in the beginning of the 1880s. He co-owned a factory with Carl Lieberman in 1882, and managed his enterprise between 1884 and 1922.  He gained significant wealth, and started collecting artefacts.

Déri was raised to respect civic values; he was economical, hard-working, charitable, and loved his country. He helped the Office of Immigration with a charitable exhibition of Ecce Homo! (Behold the Man!) painting. (His famous Christ-series consists of three monumental paintings, the Christ before Pilate, the Golgotha, and the Ecce Homo!. The paintings show the conflict between Christ and His accusers, and finally the fulfilment of the Word, Christ’s death on the Cross. The Christ before Pilate and the Ecce Homo! are exhibited in the Munkácsy Hall, the Golgotha is currently veiled from public view.) He supported the building of the public library of Baja, the building of the Jokai statue, and the publication of the Benczur album. He patronised the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Ethnography, and the Calvinist College of Debrecen. He was very humble about his success, he always rejected awards and public celebrations. 

At the turn of the century the emerging middle class had a passion for collecting artefacts. Déri was collecting antiquities and set up a “museum” in Makart style for himself and his wife in his castle, in Styria. (Hans Makart was the main representative of Austrian historical and monumental painting, he was famous for displaying various artefacts and collections in his studio and apartment. The so-called Makart style developed in the last third of the 19th century, and had a  strong impact on interior design in both Germany and Austria.) Déri's ultimate aim was to set up a pompous and rich collection in his castle. A dramatic change was brought by the sudden and early death of his wife, Lujza Brix in 1910, Déri sold his estate in Styria and greater part of his collection.

Déri started collecting again in 1912. His goal was to set up collections that possess scientific value, and serve as prints of the evolution of human culture and civilization. During collecting cultural values of objects became more important, while decorative functions were pushed into the background. He acquired a significant collection in relatively short period of time. The value of the artefacts was 239.000 korona (Korona was the official currency of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1892.) in 1916, and exceeded 15 million korona in 1919. The number of artefacts (excluding books, scripts, engravings, and coins) reached 5000.  Déri became a competent art collector and a real connoisseur. Although he relied on the advice of experts, he made the illustrated catalogue of his collection by himself, and published it in 1922. In the preface of the catalogue he addressed the general and the scientific audience as well. His primary aim was to serve scientific purposes and his country at the same time by exhibiting his collections and making knowledge accessible for everyone.

In 1920 Frigyes Déri visited Debrecen to announce the donation of his collection to the city, and to sign the contract with Debrecen. The city contracted to provide a place for the artefacts of the collection by erecting a museum building. Déri originally wanted to donate his collection to his hometown, Baja, but the city lost its regional significance after the Paris Peace Treaty, 1920.  Elemér  Czakó under secretary advised him to choose Debrecen instead of Baja. On the one hand Debrecen had a university, and Déri believed that studying the valuable artefacts of the collections would help the advancement, education of the university students. On the other hand the cultural and national political role of Debrecen changed following the Paris Peace Treaty. It was politically, culturally substantial to create cultural centres in areas that were inhabited by Hungarians only. Déri considered his donation as an act of patriotism, gratitude, and loyalty to his country.

Frigyes Déri could not live to see the building of museum. On 27 October, 1924 he suddenly passed away in his home, Vienna. All denominations of Debrecen held a requiem mass for him; the Rákóczi-bell was rung at the Great Church, traffic and work stopped. The Austrian government only permitted the transportation of the collection to Hungary in the spring of 1925. The opening ceremony of the Déri Museum took place on 25 May, 1930.