In his Two Portraits for orchestra (1907-1908), Béla Bartók first presents the "ideal" movement and follows it with the "grotesque". In a similar vein, the new generation of Hungarian painters, most of whom had gone to Munich and then Paris to finish their training, seemed motivated by the belief that excessive seriousness bordered on the grotesque: some self portraits, as a result, tip over from introspection into self-mockery.
Rejecting the formal style of the academic portrait, the artists referred pointedly to the new "masters" of modernity: tribute was paid to Gauguin (Ziffer, Berény), Cézanne (Berény, Pór), to the colours of Matisse, and to Nolde’s expressionism (Nemes Lampérth).
The artist takes centre stage, in a suit and top hat or simply wearing a straw hat; he looks out, challenging the spectator, his expressive face both reflects and arouses anxiety. Confident of his pictorial discoveries, he seems to provoke his contemporaries: at a time when Hungary was still struggling to accept Impressionism, one can understand the scandal caused by Czigány’s Self Portrait, immediately described by the art critics as "the monster with green hair".
In the early 20th century, many Hungarian artists turned to Paris. Here Béla Bartók encountered music in the pure French tradition (Rameau, Couperin), then turned his attention to the works of Debussy while the young painters discovered Cézanne, Gauguin and shortly after, Matisse.
Bartók never spent long periods in Paris, but went there on several occasions. His first visit, in 1905, for the Rubinstein competition, ended in failure as far as his music was concerned; but the young man took the opportunity to visit the Louvre and the Musée du Luxembourg, where Impressionist paintings were exhibited.
During that same period, his fellow Hungarians were studying at the Julian Academy (Bertalan Pór, Ödön Márffy, Géza Bornemisza, Béla Czóbel, Dezső Czigány and Róbert Berény, among others), at the Colarossi Academy (Vilmos Perlrott-Csaba), the Humbert Academy (Béla Czóbel, Róbert Berény), and even at the free school opened by Matisse in 1908 (Perlrott, Bornemisza). There they came into contact with Marquet, Manguin and Matisse, frequented the Steins’ salon and regularly exhibited at the Salon d’Automne and the Salon des Indépendants. Several of them joined the French Fauves, presenting their own work alongside them.