Békéscsaba recognized the importance of Munkácsy's art early in his career: a cult was woven around him already at the beginning of the1870s. The arrival of Munkácsy and his wife was a feast to both the Reök family and the elders of the town. The first sign of recognition was a diploma issued to him by the Békéscsaba Casino in 1881.
The Museum Association, formed in 1899, initiated the collection of relics of him; as early as 1901 the inventoried, as a gift from Bartóki Lajosné (Mrs.), a pencil draft by Munkácsy. In order to lay the foundation of the collection, the Association contacted potential supporters and donors, so also Cecile Papier, Munkácsy's widow. Mrs. Munkácsy was sorry to write back that in her rainy days, she had only been able to keep four works by Munkácsy but one, "the Ecce homo head, one of the last works of art by my husband, I will hand down to the Békéscsaba Museum Association by will."
Munkácsy's and Mrs. Munkácsy's busts were later donated to the Museum by Mihály Zsilinszky and it was he who managed that the Association be donated two paintings from the Museum of Fine Arts.
In operation even today, the independent building of the Museum was opened to the public in 1914. In that building, however, there were no Munkácsy relics exhibited. Cecile von Barnewitz made inquiries in 1929 if the relics she had sent to the Museum in 1917 were on display. The two relics (a draft of Christ's head related to the painting entitled "Ecce homo" and the two paintings portraying Munkácsy: a work by Emile Wauters, a painter from Belgium and that by Hans Temple, a painter from Austria, the first to have been awarded the Munkácsy Prize) were found in the Museum of Fine Art in Budapest.
The relics lurking in an attic were returned unwillingly and shipped subsequently to Békéscsaba.
An heir of Mrs. Munkácsy's was Mrs. Cecilie Barnewitz, née Ilges whose cousin, Walter Ilges, still in Munkácsy's life-time, wrote a monograph on the master. This book published numerous drafts and photos partly portrayal photos partly photos on the works of art. Part of the relics were donated to the Museum of Fine Arts by Mrs. Barnewitz, among others, Sedelmeyer's letters written to Munkácsy, Munkácsy's account-book, and Mrs. Munkácsy's many photos. Mrs. Barnewitz, by the will of Mrs. Cecile Munkácsy, née Papier, sent a great number of relics and documents to Békéscsaba. At last, the complete material found its way to Békéscsaba in 1933.
The interior of the Museum was rearranged in 1932 and another rearrangement took place around 1935: a Munkácsy Memorial Room was established. The Munkácsy Hall was reopened on May 4th, 1947. A joyful event happened in 1958: by way of a purchase by the Ministry, four Munkácsy paintings found their ways to Békéscsaba. After several periodical exhibitions, the third Munkácsy Memorial Room was opened in 1964.
Katalin Sz. Kürti