Margaret Dunn Crowley would say of Orban in her memoir “I learnt more from him than any other teacher” and considering the quality of teaching Dunn Crowley had received, that was an impressive endorsement.
Desiderius Orban was a most important painter and influence in the Australian art world. He arrived in Australia in 1939 after leaving Hungary following the Nazi invasion of Poland. He was 55 years of age and had established a successful career in his homeland where he was a member of the “The Eight,” a group of painters that introduced modern painting techniques into Hungary.
His early years in Australia were difficult and it wasn’t until 1943 following a successful exhibition at the Notanda Gallery in Sydney that he commence teaching. His first students included Margot Lewers, Oscar Edwards and Yvonne Audette. Others to pass through his classes were John Olsen, George Laszlo and John Coburn.
Orban had a profound understanding of matters related to art and was responsible for writing three influential books. They were A Layman’s Guide to Creative Art (1968), Understanding Art (1969) and What is Art All About (1975).
He considered that the basic principle of art teaching was to influence the student as little as possible and impart to the student the method to discover themselves. The main failing of academic teaching he believed was to stifle creativity in all but the genius.
Orban was a person with a strong opinion and according to him the difference between the painter and the artist was that the painter is someone who tried to make a pictorial copy of reality, whereas the artist uses the elements of reality to make a new creation.
This work Fruit and Palette was painted in Australia in the 1950’s and exhibits Orban’s interest in cubism and its use of familiar objects in creating new imagery. In his early years in Paris Orban came into contact with Picasso and Braque and the exposure to those artists influenced his style though not his creativity. He was constantly experimenting with new materials and his technique moved away from cubism to a more formal abstract expressionism in his later years.
The winner of many awards including the Blake Prize for Religious Art in 1967 and 1971, he also conducted summer schools at the University of New England from 1957 to 1967 and gave armchair chats on ABC radio.
His work is included in the collection of every major gallery across Australia and the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest.
Orban was 101 years of age upon his death in Sydney and he had put most of those years into the development and assisting of others to appreciate and understand art.