Four years later when Hungary engaged in peace negotiations with the United States and the United Kingdom, Hitler ordered the invasion and occupation of his country and Victor, almost certainly, would have seen German troops and tanks on the streets of Budapest.
He was in Budapest during 'The Siege', the 50-day-long encirclement by Soviet Russian and Romanian forces in which about 38,000 civilians died through starvation or military action, before it unconditionally surrendered in. He later recalled "the smoke and the rubble" he had seen and would have then witnessed Russian soldiers and tanks on the streets of Budapest.“I just drew and drew and drew and enjoyed it. I illustrated anything that I read, books on history, poems". Perhaps, unsurprisingly, given the violence of the times, he also recalled : "In fact I did a vast number of drawings of the fights we Hungarians had with the Turks in the 17th century". https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gswlhoZ6rP0
It was, however, the books of Arthur Rackham with their distinctive and extensive illustrations for a wide range of stories like 'Peter Pan' which most inspired his drawing and led him to claim, at the age of 80, that : “He was a huge influence on me and he meant that I’ve been drawing ever since I could hold a pencil”. Already he had an attraction to the narrative power of pictures and that "something about drawings appearing in books together with the stories that appeals to me".
No one in Victor's family had displayed artistic talent except one uncle who had died 17 years before he was born, during the 1918 Influenza Epidemic which swept Hungary after the First World War. Despite this, the family, supported his passion for drawing and he said his father, in particular : "was convinced I was going to be an artist when I grew up”.
That passion was satisfied in the Hungarian summers when spent many childhood holidays in the countryside outside Budapest, on the Hungarian Plains, where he started his lifelong passion for horses and drew the wild ones he saw grazing there.
Victor managed to discover that there was an art college just over the hill from his refugee camp and after presenting himself at Farnham School of Art and with three year's study in Budapest under his belt, was taken on as a student, not to follow any particular course, since he spoke no English, but to work at his drawing. At the age of 21, he was already an accomplished artist and had specialised in graphics, concentrating largely on engraving and lithography which, as he said, was an excellent training for line illustration."It was nice to get back to some drawing, because after '56 I just didn't think that I would ever do any again. When I started drawing in Farnham I did some desperately depressing things. I could still find some of my lithographs of the horrors I'd left behind". One of these illustrations is his powerful 'On the Barricade of the Revolution', dated 1958, it shows a woman kneeling with face in hands before the bandaged, bloodied head of a man and other works at this time were titled : 'Execution' and 'Death Sentence'."I managed with a great deal of help from local girls who were very happy to teach you" and he had adopted his middle name 'Győző' as 'Victor'. After his staid and traditional course of study at Budapest’s Academy of Fine Art, Victor found that the College was more liberal in its approach and he later admitted : "I have never shed my early training in Budapest. By the time you are about 21, your tastes and style are largely formed, but the Royal College certainly loosened me up".
School of Art to teach, while continuing illustration part-time and in the same year he won the 'Kate Greenaway Medal' from the British Library Association, recognising the year's 'Best Children's Book Illustration' by a British subject for his 'The Three Poor Tailors'.
This was the time that Victor was forced to change his modus operandi. When he looked back he said : “Etchings have played a big influence in my life because they produce fine quality lines and nice deep tones which appeal to me". The problem was they "need quite sophisticated machinery, making it hard to do at home" and so because he "was almost addicted to using very fine lines", he switched his technique and said that his : "early illustrations are very like etchings except that they were not actually printed etched into glass plates, rather, I just used a very fine nib”."I was getting a lot of free flowing, fast action historical illustrations, where people might be riding a horse or fighting, and to start using very fine etching lines was not practical. It took a long time and gave the wrong effect. It became very laboured”. In addition, colour illustration was making its presence felt in publications and this forced him to make further changes : "I’d draw things up very quickly in pencil making sure everything moved the way I wanted it to and then I’d apply colour and more sweeping lines". These changes in his technique are reflected in his work for Rosemary Manning's 1963 novel 'Arripay', based on the exploits of Harry Paye, a privateer, who terrorised French and Spanish ships on the Dorset Coast in the early 1400s.
In his public life, Victor now moved on to work an art lecturer at the Farnham and Guildford Colleges of Art and would finally teach at the Epsom School of Art and Design. With his freelance work, as he started to get more commissions for historical scenes, he concentrated on historical accuracy and said : “I really enjoy the research. It’s important as otherwise the illustrations don’t feel convincing. It’s got to be right” and "All illustration is an extension of yourself. You have to feel what your characters are feeling and understand about their lives which is why research is also so vital". Working on a book about slaves in Egypt building the Pyramids he said : "I had to understand the heat, the terribly hard work, and the importance of the thing they were building'.
In terms of authenticity, Victor said in an interview in 2016 that : "Most of all I would like to convey, not just what it looked like, but almost the smell of the place". Archaeologist Carenza Lewis confirmed his success when she said : "What Victor did so brilliantly was to bring the past to life".
With more commissions involving riders on horseback, Victor felt it was important for him to accurately capture how people sit when they are riding and subsequently he took lessons and mastered the art himself. It was then he realised he didn’t know how horse soldiers had used a sword while in combat and that being the case, he said : "Now I happened to have a sword and so I took it out and practiced with it. I rode in the local forest where there were a lot of pine trees and I would take aim at a branch, swipe at it and see what was the best way of cutting it. Oh, I enjoyed it. But then I had to stop because one day a swipe revealed a white-faced mushroom picker who was scared out of his skin. I hadn't realised he was there and at that point I thought I’d better not do this any more and so I put the sword away”.
His efforts were rewarded in 1975 when he won the Kate Greenaway Medal for the year's 'Best Children's Book Illustration' for 'Horses in Battle'. He later admitted : “ I love drawing horses. Why? Because they are so complicated. So impressive." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAIdU8uILek&t=3m05s and https://www.youtube.com/watch?UAIdU8uILek&t=26m13s
Victor was also fastidious when it came to accuracy in historical costume and clothing, something he had studied looking at the exhibits in the Victoria and Albert Museum where he had spent many hours just down the road from the Royal College of Art, when he was a student in the late 1950s. His verdict was that contemporary clothes were boring : "There’s no colour. Whereas the 17th, 18th century, they are fabulous”.
In addition to historical illustrations, Victor enjoyed drawing animals and spent a lot of time observing them in zoos. He recalled : "One of my favourite drawings I did in London Zoo, of a fantastic male gorilla. He sat there and stared at me for a long time and when I finished the drawing and walked away he came up to the fence, right up to the edge. And other people nearby said, ‘Show him, show him your picture of him,’ and so I turned around and showed the picture to him and it was quite amazing. He took it all in, with his eyes wide open. I don’t know what he thought of it but he was definitely puzzled”.
In 2012 the discovery of the skeleton of King Richard III under a car park in Leicester led to the University commissioning Victor to capture his combat in the 1485 Battle of Bosworth.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gswlhoZ6rP0&t=5m34s
"A great tree in the park has fallen, a tree many took for granted. He was just always there, drawing and painting our history for us. For so many young people, the first Viking they ever saw, the first castle or king, was drawn by Victor. He also happened to be always most kind and generous".
Victor's advice to would-be artists was :
In acknowledgement to Zoe Toft, whose 2015 interview with Victor provided substance and insight into his work and thinking.