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Desiderius (Dezso) Orban (1884–1986)

by Eileen Chanin

This article was published:

Desiderius Orban (1884-1986), artist, educator and author, was born on 26 November 1884 at Györ, Austria-Hungary, third child and only son of Adolf Orbán, a soldier in the Hungarian army, later a postmaster, and his wife Julia, née Schärfer. Self-taught, Dezsõ started painting when a student at the University of Budapest and exhibited (1905, 1906) at the National Salon, Budapest. While in Paris in 1906, he discovered work by Matisse, Van Gogh and Cézanne, which was to influence his approach to painting. His only formal training was a fortnight with Jean Paul Laurens at the Académie Julian, where Orban rejected teaching methods that stressed academicism. He disliked formalism; for him, art was about creation. Affirming the creative power in all individuals, he saw his purpose in life as the exploration of new avenues of creative expression.

On his return to Budapest, Orban made his studio a centre for the artists who formed the group The Seekers (Keresõk), which evolved into The Eights (Nyolcak) in 1911; propagating modern trends, they introduced post-impressionism, cubism and fauvism into Hungarian art. Orban served in the Austro-Hungarian army during the Balkan War in 1912, and again in 1914, becoming an officer. On 8 October 1915 he married Alice Vajda, later a dermatologist. In the decade after World War I, Orban exhibited his post-impressionist paintings in Czechoslovakia, Romania and Hungary. He was awarded the gold medal at a 1929 international exhibition at Barcelona, Spain. In 1931 he established the Arts and Crafts Academy in Budapest, training students in the fine, decorative and industrial arts, and served as its director.

To escape Nazism Orban left Hungary in 1939 and migrated to Australia; he settled in Sydney with his wife and son. He was naturalised in 1945. Holding his first solo show in Australia in 1943, he exhibited regularly with the Contemporary Art Society of Australia and the Society of Artists, and joined the Sydney Group in 1948. In 1943 he established a school of art. A gifted and inspiring teacher, he influenced many painters including Margo Lewers, Judy Cassab and John Olsen, who in 1968 described Orban as being one of the teachers responsible for the variety and freedom by then enjoyed in Australian art. Orban also had widespread influence in the sphere of adult education. He presented summer schools (1957-67) at the University of New England and gave ‘Armchair Chats’ on Australian Broadcasting Commission radio.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Passuth, Orbán Dezső (1977)
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 7 May 1967, p 89
  • Bridge (Sydney), June 1971, p 51
  • Australian, 28 Apr 1981, p 10
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 6 Oct 1986, p 12
  • A. Waldmann, Desiderius Orban (MA thesis, University of Sydney, 1988)
  • J. Wilton, interview with D. Orban (1982, Ethnic Affairs Commission of NSW Oral Histories Project, State Library of New South Wales).

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Citation details

Eileen Chanin, 'Orban, Desiderius (Dezso) (1884–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 17 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Orbán, Dezsõ

26 November, 1884
Gyor, Gyor-Moson-Sopron, Hungary


5 October, 1986 (aged 101)
Chatswood, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

kidney disease

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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