Alexander Székely was born and grew up in Budapest, and started his artistic life as a street artist in Vienna, selling rapidly-drawn portraits and caricatures to make a living. This skill was noticed in the early 1930s by directors at the city’s many cabarets; between 1931 and 1933 he was working with Stella Kadmon at Der Liebe Augustin, and between 1934 and 1937 with Hans Margulies at the ABC. His ‘portraits in minutes’ became an integral part of the cabaret experience for many of their clientele.
The first of many illustrated portfolios, nearly all one-off sets of drawings commissioned by wealthy clients, appeared in 1937, and by 1939 he was working both in Paris, where he became friends with fellow Hungarian emigré Marcel Vertès, and in Vienna.
Székely had a very approachable, often quite naïve, style of erotic drawing, and although much of his artwork portrays conventional fantasy scenes of orgies and risqué cocktail parties (no doubt exactly what his clients wanted), some of his later work shows him to be a talented and imaginative artist. His watercolours for ‘The Temptation of St Anthony’, for example, are arresting and thought-provoking.
Because most of his work consists of original artwork rather than prints, the only record we have of most of his work is in the auction sales catalogues of the key erotica collections built up in the 1950s and 60s. By far the most important of these was the collection of Sieglinde and Karl Ludwig Leonhardt, sold at auction in 2009. Karl Ludwig was one of three brothers at the head of the very successful Leonhardt Group of German businesses operating in the automobile, mechanical engineering and tourism sectors. The Székely material sold at that auction consisted of over 300 illustrations in 28 portfolios.
Another important collection sold at auction in 2006, that of Swiss bibliophile and collector Gérard Nordmann, included 70 Székely illustrations in 5 portfolios.
Alex Székely died in 1968 in Vienna. A selection of his work was published that year as Volks-Erotik: Nichts für Kinder!
Works by Székely
1937 Winter der Front (Winter at the Front), 9 plates, 431x240mm, illustrated cover.
1939 Gemischtes Orchester (Mixed Orchestra), 11 pencil drawings and an illustrated title page.
1939 Scènes orientales érotiques (Oriental Erotic Scenes), 5 enhanced charcoal drawings, 292x218mm.
1940 Das Böse Herz: eine Kurzgeschichte (The Evil Heart, A Short Story), 15 illustrations in the style of Edgar Allan Poe, 220x115mm, salmon-coloured cover.
1940 Ein besuch bei dem grossen Jim (A Visit from Big Jim), 15 pencil drawings.
1940 Rouge et Noir (Red and Black), 12 illustrations in colour pencil, illustrated cover.
1941 Der rote Engel (The Red Angel), 10 watercolours, 220x115mm, illustrated cover.
1941 Die rote Susann (The Red Suzann), 15 coloured plates in the style of Edgar Allan Poe.
1941 Ein Pariser Abenteuer (A Parisian Adventure), 20 illustrations.
1941 Chefs-d’oeuvres de l’opéra lyrique (Highlights of Lyric Opera), 4 watercolours.
1941 Vilmas egy bécoi lamy regénye (Vilma, A Viennese Girl’s Story), 12 ink illustrations enhanced with colour on the theme of flagellation.
1942 Was wir unbedingt lesen sollten! Eine illustrierte Kronik grosser Bucherfolge (What We Should Read! An Illustrated Chronicle of Great Books), 15 watercolours, illustrated cover.
1943 Hősszerelmesek (Leading Men), 14 black and white ink drawings.
1943 Lesbiennes (Lesbians), 8 pastel drawings, 370x213mm.
1946 A Kentaurok születése (The Birth of the Centaur), 15 prints, 158x103mm.
1946 Der Weg zum Film, eine Kleine Groteske (The Way to Film, A Small Grotesque), 10 watercolours, 220x155mm.
1946 Igy Löttök Ti (Come On), 15 prints, 158x103mm.
1946 Kezdők és haladók kedzere (Beginners and Experts: An Erotic Alphabet), 23 black and white ink drawings and an illustrated title page.
1946 Point de vue de paradis (The View from Paradise), 10 illustrations in ochre.
1947 Popeye, A Tengeresk Kalandjai Marseilleben (Popeye, Marine Adventures in Marseilles), 16 watercolours, 215x310mm.
1954 Illustrationen zu den Gedichten des Herrn von La Fontaine, 24 watercolours to accompany the Fables.
1956 Szatir Jaték (Satisfaction Game), 10 charcoal drawings, 430x300mm, white cover illustrated with a drawing.
1959 Szobalányszolgáltatás (Maid Service), 12 watercolours.
1956–62 Szent Antal kísértése (The Temptation of St Anthony), 12 watercolours.
1959 Kebelbarátok (Female Intimacies), 12 watercolours with an illustrated cover.
1961 Álmodtam (I Dreamt), 15 colour illustrations, 443x315mm, white cover illustrated with a watercolour.
1961 La maison à mon gout (A Home to My Taste), 10 illustrations, 430x305mm.
1961 Paul Verlaine, Elles, 10 ochre drawings, 438x310mm.
1962 Vagyalom 15 Tolbrajz Freud emlékéré (Fifteen Figures in Homage to Freud), 15 illustrations, 430x300mm, white cover illustrated with a drawing.
1962 Wunschtraum (Pipe Dream), 15 illustrations in memoriam Sigmund Freud.
1964 Damen Kalender (A Calendar of Women), 1965, 12 drawings.
1964 Die Scönen des Harems (The Beauty of the Harem), 10 charcoal drawings, 450x320mm, white cover illustrated with a drawing.
1964 Die unvollendete Lekture (The Unfinished Reading), 10 charcoal sketches.
1964 La maison à mon gout (A Home to My Taste), 20 illustrations, 430x305mm.
1964 Les baisers (Kissing), 15 ochre pastels, 450x315mm, white cover.
1964 Ovidius Ars Amandi (Ovid’s Art of Love), 15 illustrations, 428x304mm, cover illustrated with a small watercolour.
1964 Ovidius Metamorphosen (Ovid’s Metamorphosis), 15 illustrations, 430x305mm, cover illustrated with a small watercolour.
1964 Souper de Gala à l’Hôtel Ambassador (Gala Dinner at the Ambassador Hotel), 19 large watercolours, 325x235mm, illustrated cover.
1964 Volpone oder die Komödie des Geldes (Volpone or the Comedy of Money), 25 watercolours, 364x255mm.
1965 Der Paradiesische Augenblick (The Moment in Paradise), 20 illustrations, illustrated cover.
1966 Die gute alte Zeit (The Good Old Times), 21 pencil drawings, 294x208mm.
1968 Volks-Erotik: Nichts für Kinder! (The People’s Erotica: Not for Children!), Karl Schustek, Hanau am Main.