Basil Rákóczi (1908 - 1979) and The White Stag Group

The White Stag Group was an “Irish phenomenon” as Ireland had never seen such a group before

19/03/2024     Artworks

Basil Rákóczi was born in Chelsea, London, in 1908 to an Irish mother and Hungarian father. His parents were married according to ‘gypsy rites’ and this found its way into the subject matter of Rákóczi’s work, as well his life in general as he became a member of the Gypsy Lore Society and the Folklore Society. While his parents were not together for a long time and he was raised by his mother and step-father from 1911, it is evident that they played a major role in his artistic career, as he connects strongly with his Celtic and Hungarian roots through his work.


Rákóczi’s mother was originally from Cork, and this connection with Ireland is why during the war the artist found the south of Ireland to be his safe haven. In fact, he was not the only British artist to find refuge in Ireland during this time. Established in Fitzrovia in 1935, The White Stag Group was set up by Rákóczi and fellow artist Kenneth Hall; the group moved to Ireland in 1939 and remained there until the war ended. As discussed previously,Rákóczi was extremely proud of his heritage, and this shows itself in the group as the ‘White Stag’  symbolised creativity in Hungarian Culture.


While the group was established by two English born artists, S.B. Kennedy considered it to be an “Irish phenomenon” as Ireland had never seen the likes of the group before. The two artists moved to Mayo initially but by 1940 the Londoners had experienced enough of rural Ireland and settled in Dublin; no doubt seeking out like-minded artists and individuals they were used to socialising with back in Fitzrovia. The group began to grow in numbers after the move to the capital, gaining notable members such as Phyllis Hayward, Stephen Gilbert and Jocelyn Chewett to name a few. They also found themselves in the company of artists from the canon of Irish art; Mainie Jellet, Evie Hone, Nano Reid, and Patrick Scott.


The artwork of the group did not follow one particular style but instead created their own idea of ‘Subjective Art’. Having met through the Society of Creative Psychology, Rákóczi and Hall encouraged their ideologies within the group, and exhibitions of work from The White Stag Group reflected this, with the display not following a consistent theme but rather fell in favour of the individual artists; the exhibitions and paintings were purely subjective.


After the war had ended, a large number of members of the White Stag group left Ireland, with Rákóczi leaving for Paris in March 1946 where he would stay for the rest of his life. Though the period of the White Stag Group in Ireland was relatively short, it had a lasting impact on the Irish art world. The group opened up Irish artists to theories and methods they would not have been exposed to had they not met Rákóczi and Hall. Artists were encouraged to follow or create their own style, and allowed for a broader sample of works to both come into the Irish art sphere and be shared on the international stage.

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