Rákóczi, Basil (1908–79), painter and psychoanalyst, was born 31 May 1908 in Chelsea, London, son of Ivan Rákóczi, Hungarian composer, violinist, and artist, and Charlotte May Dobbey, who went by the name ‘Dolly Wilce’ and was an artist's model from Co. Cork. His parents, who were married by gipsy rite, did not live together long; his name appeared on his birth certificate as ‘Benjamin Dobbey Wilce’. His mother married (c.1911) the Rev. Harold Beaumont, whereupon he was known as ‘Benny Beaumont’, under which name he exhibited until he became ‘Basil Rákóczi’ by deed poll in 1938. He was educated at the Jesuit College of St Francis Xavier in Brighton, Sussex, England, the Brighton school of art, and the Académie de la Grand Chaumière, Paris. He worked briefly as an interior decorator and commercial artist, but when his marriage (1930) to Natacha Mather broke up after two years (with a divorce in 1938), he turned his attention to psychology and painting, and these remained his lifelong obsessions. With Herbrand Ingouville-Williams, he founded in 1935 the Society for Creative Psychology at 8 Fitzroy St., London. Rákóczi was self-taught in this discipline, although he had undergone Freudian psychotherapy and was sporadically able to earn his living as an analyst. At one of the society meetings he met the artist Kenneth Hall (1913–46), who became his closest friend, and the two founded the White Stag group, which took its name from a Hungarian emblem for creativity and was intended to introduce subjectivity into psychology and art. They began using their dream material for paintings which they termed ‘subjective’ and exhibited in the avant-garde Wertheim Gallery in London. As pacifists, they decided, with the outbreak of war, to come to Ireland. Rákóczi was also motivated by a desire to return to his mother's roots.
In August 1939 they took a cottage near Delphi, Co. Mayo, where they remained until early 1940 when, missing city life and needing a suitable school for Rákóczi's son Anthony, they moved to Dublin. Here they launched the Irish branch of the Society for Creative Psychology and, being naturally gregarious, soon had a large circle of bohemian friends, including Mainie Jellett (qv), Evie Hone (qv), and Patrick Scott (qv), the writer Olivia Robertson (qv), and the English painters Nick Nicolls and Stephen Gilbert. Due to the unstable period several in their group were under garda special-branch surveillance. The White Stag's first Dublin exhibition (April 1940) was at 34 Lower Baggot St. and featured ten artists, who were praised by the Irish Times for their freshness and originality. A December show included works on loan by painters such as Sickert, Picasso, and Frances Hodgkins, which gave an international dimension to the group. Rákóczi had his first Dublin solo exhibition in November 1940, where he showed his expressionist and surrealist paintings, whose fluidity and purposefully childlike qualities were helped by his technique of drawing with a pencil dipped in wet paint. Together with these ‘subjective’ paintings were more conventionally representative ones of Irish landscape and Dublin street scenes. The White Stag group continued to show regularly over the next five years, showcasing artists such as Edward McGuire (qv), Nano Reid (qv), and Patrick Scott. Its most important event was the exhibition of subjective art held at 6 Lower Baggot St. in January 1944. The catalogue was introduced by the eminent English art critic Herbert Read, and wide press coverage was guaranteed. The Irish Times and Evening Mail were enthusiastic, while the Irish Press and Irish Independent were scathing: the latter saw subjective art as ‘the periodic outpouring under a new name of the fantastic and the grotesque’ (5 January 1944). The following year appeared Ingouville-Williams's book Three painters (Rákóczi, Hall, and Scott), which heralded them as harbingers of a new trend in twentieth-century art. It quoted Rákóczi's comment that study of children's and primitive works ‘purged art of all inessentials and robbed it of the meritorious and superficially attractive’ (23). Rákóczi had two more solo exhibitions in 1945; the Dublin Magazine gave him a largely unfavourable review, condemning his formal mannerisms and his anaemic, unsubtle colouring. The critic S. B. Kennedy, writing later on the same exhibition, noted the boldness of concept, simplicity, and feeling of movement.
At the end of the war the English members of the White Stag group left Ireland, with Rákóczi departing in March 1946. He later moved to Paris, where he lived the rest of his life, but kept in contact with Dublin and continued to show in the Royal Hibernian Academy until 1952 and in the Irish Exhibition of Living Art until 1960. The Society for Creative Psychology met in Dublin until 1963, with Rákóczi as a frequent guest speaker. He died 21 March 1979 in London. His work was exhibited in Paris (1990); in the European Modern Art Gallery, Dublin (1991), and in the Gorry Gallery, Dublin (1996). S. B. Kennedy wrote the introductions to the catalogues for the Irish retrospectives and in his full-length work, Irish art and modernism (1991), he praised the White Stag group for bringing freshness to the Dublin art scene, but concluded that it had little lasting influence on Irish artists. Examples of Rákósci's work are found in Kilkenny art gallery, TCD, the university of Limerick, Manchester city art gallery, and Auckland city art gallery, New Zealand.