Meet Bulgarian Modern Artists

National Gallery of Bulgaria

Through the Collection of National Gallery in Bulgaria 

Welcome to the National Gallery in Sofia.

Anticipating the Twentieth Century - The Art Changing Narratives
The Liberation of Bulgaria (1878) marked the beginning of a new epoch in the development of Bulgarian art. In the 1880s and 1890s, artists—Bulgarians and foreigners—arrived in Bulgaria. Irrespective of the place of education, their nationality, or individual preferences, they professed a common ideal—the faithful depiction of nature. A descriptive and ethnographic approach towards the subject matter, accuracy, and tangibility in the portrayal of typical characters, the milieu, the details, and nature, constituted the essence of their art. Most fully and consistently, their views were defended in the genre composition and portraiture that defined the appearance of Bulgarian painting in the late nineteenth century

The most popular Bulgarian painting was created in a village public house in the vicinity of Sofia.

The Irish journalist James Bourchier served as the model for the dancing peasant.

A precise, classically built composition and a purity and laconicism of form are characteristic of the harvest scenes of the artist. He represented a landscape panorama brought to a uniform tonality.

The talented sculptor Boris Chatz sought to achieve a tangibility of the image, accuracy of detail and depiction of the characteristic features of Bulgarians from different regions in his ‘genre’ portraits.

In 1914, Věšín completed his masterpiece, which, with the power of its emotional intensity and with his masterful colouring, became the brightest example of the genre in Modern Bulgarian art. Veshin’s freedom of painting, his rich palette and energetic brush, paved the way of modern painting for the next generation of Bulgarian artists.

In the 1890s, the first Bulgarians who had studied sculpture in Munich, Marin Vasilev and Zheko Spiridonov, actively joined in the artistic life of the country. Along with realistic portraits of political and cultural figures, they created works that expanded the thematic and genre range of Bulgarian sculpture.These first examples of sculpture, were organically related to the academic realism widespread in Europe during the second half of the nineteenth century. In Bulgaria, it is through descriptive realism of the form that art became related to the European art practice of the nineteenth century.

Bulgarian Impressionists
The appeals to modernisation of Bulgarian art in the early twentieth century were most convincingly and consistently supported and realised by a group of artists usually known as the ‘Bulgarian Impressionists’. Casting aside the naturalistically descriptive genre painting, they oriented themselves towards small-scale motifs in portraiture and landscape, fundamentally changing the nature of painting. The freely framed composition and pure colour, the modulation of line, and the playing with texture, were only some of the innovations of their pictorial approach and language.

Nikola Petrov is undoubtedly the most prominent representative of that young generation. Each of his paintings reveals new sides to his exceptional talent.

Nikola Petrov’s landscapes meticulously carried out with expressive brush strokes to approximate painted mosaics, exuded light and colour.

Endowed with a keen sensitivity to the values in art, he created brilliant exemplars of plein air painting. In his short creative path, he opened up new horizons for modern art and added a European dimension to Bulgarian painting.

“The Quay in Messembria” gave yet another proof for the aspirations to modernity. With his keen feeling for composition and an ability to materialize his perception of colour, Yordan Kyuvliev created landscapes that ranked among the best examples of Bulgarian impressionism.

Kyuvliev, who, died young, literally discovered plain air painting for the Bulgarian art at the beginning of 20th c.

Along with landscape, portraiture became another principal genre of Bulgarian ‘Impressionistic’ painting. The oeuvre of Elena Karamihailova and Nikola Marinov outlined the main trends in this sphere, their attention being directed to the emotional state of the model and its spiritual closeness to the artist.

This kind of ‘mood portrait’ was typical of Bulgarian art from the first decade of the twentieth century and was developed into a gallery of dreamy, slightly sentimental female images.

Nikola Marinov holds a special place in the history of Bulgarian art. He created artworks that subdue with their elegance of tones and undertints, skilfully combined with the light and air and, moreover, categorical as a plastic construction. Each of his portraits and every composition, regardless of form, theme, or time of creation, are a world complete in itself, woven from moods and saturated with emotions (‘Portrait of the Artist’s Wife Frederica”, circa 1914).

Elena Karamihailova, the first female Bulgarian artist with an academic art education, painted a series of women’s portraits and compositions with female figures in a casual, intimate setting. Her art is characterised by a marked finesse and sophistication. Her images are immersed in a special vibrating milieu, built with a brush, sometimes thick and covering, sometimes delicate to the point of transparency, and a colour scheme muted yet still rich in shades of silvery grey.

By means of her art, Karamihailova connected Bulgarian painting and its complex amalgam of Impressionist achievements with the post-Impressionistic practice characteristic of the ‘Fin de siècle’—‘the style around 1900’ in Germany and Central Europe.

Alongside the painters, Andrey Nikolov, the great master of marble sculpture, also began his creative career towards the end of the first decade of the 20th c. He combined the academic trend in sculpture with the psychological state of the images and the nuanced modelling of forms enveloped in a kind of ‘sfumato’.

The exquisite figures and faces, fascinate with their lyricism, achieved through his masterful command of the material.

The plastic beauty and richness of the marble stand out particularly vividly in ‘Spirit and Matter’ (circa 1924), a work that has become a model in Bulgarian art of easel sculpture of the European spirit and form.

Modernism  and the National Idea
The concept of upholding the signature national appearance was one of the most stable ideas in the development of Bulgarian art of the first half of the twentieth century. Although artists from different generations took different approaches to its interpretation, they bore one resemblance: they turned to the imagery of Eastern Orthodox and the sources of folklore traditions on the level of subject matter and content while, stylistically, they were influenced by modern European tendencies.

The movement for native art that emerged in the 1920s was a natural expression of this concept. The society of the same name, founded in 1919, united artists who shared the idea of ‘creating an art national in spirit’.

The images from those years often symbolically loaded, were developed in an idyllically romantic atmosphere by means of decorative stylisation.

This stylistics corresponded to the fashionable trends in European art of the early twentieth century.

In the 1930s, following the national tradition Bulgarian art actively turned in the direction of the search for plasticity. Figurative techniques exploited new trends, synchronous with the times, towards a synthesised form and a new vision of pictorial space.

One of the great figures, Vladimir Dimitrov–Maystora, developed his mature work at that very time. Through an expressive artistic language built on vibrant juxtapositions of colour, in the conditionality of the depicted visible, the artist conveyed his personal philosophy. Entirely concentrated on native themes, he revealed the world of the village through the idealised images of common people. In them, he saw the essence of the Bulgarian spirit.

Dimitrov–Maystora's compositions on the theme of ‘Wedding’ (1935) move beyond the concept of the genre scene and, through their ritual expression, become a symbol of universal values.

Variety of Individual Artistic Concepts
The 1930s brought maturity to the works adherents of classicism in modern Bulgarian art. They were people of strong creative talent and stern champions of individuality in artistic style. For the entire generation of young artists who had graduated from the National Academy of Art around 1930 (among them Vera Nedkova , Ivan Nenov, Kiril Tsonev and many others), loyalty to the established norms became a thing of the past. They made free use of ideas offered by the European culture, created their own style and imposed their own view of art. Their ability to benefit from the abundance of national and foreign experiments soon became symptomatic for the period. In painting, they created artistic synthesis from the complex interrelationship of space, volume, line and colour, by granting full equality to subjects, genres and motifs, deleting all differences and blending all elements, with the variants depending on the artist’s personal interpretation of concepts. With its wealth of images and techniques, painting of the 1930s reflects the materialized aspirations of several generations of Bulgarian painters. It constitutes an integral part of the European artistic process preconditioning the development of art in the second half of 20th c.

Vera Nedkova was one of the most active female artists during the 1930’s. She joined the Association of New Artists and participated in the exhibitions it organized. Her works formed part of the trend towards a new interest in Objective Reality

Ivan Nenov’s 1930’s work is characterized by a new interest in Objectivity, shared by other artists in Bulgaria. Some compositions bear testimony to a pronounced, belated interest in Cezanne and Cubism as ‘The Glass Jug’, 1933 and ‘Beggar’, 1933.

One of the main modern trends in Bulgarian art of the 1930s was post-Cézannisme. The constructively built forms and pure architectonics characterize the compositions, enhanced through the contrast of light areas and dark tones. The paintings of Kiril Tsonev are among the most prominent examples of this tendency. In the early 1930s, he travelled to Mexico and Cuba and became acquainted with the monumental works of Mexican artists José Orozco, David Siqueiros, and Diego Rivera. It was then that he painted ‘Alley in a Tropical Park’ (1932), one of his most famous landscapes.

Some artists since 1920s spent their path of life and work beyond the boundaries of Bulgaria. Absorbing and interpreting different modern trends in art they created individual stylistic lines, based on their sensitivity and perception of colour and form, thus enriching the European art scene.

Jules Pascin was a Bulgarian-born French Expressionist painter. Known under the pseudonym of the “Prince of Montparnasse”, he painted fragile petites filles, erotic scenes, or models in casual poses. He regularly exhibited prints and drawings in various important Parisian salons, including the Salon des Indépendants and satellite exhibitions of the Berlin Secession.

The artistic nature of the two brothers Nikolay and Ivan Abrashevi brought them at the beginning of the 1920s in Europe, then in Brazil and finally in the United States. Nikolay Abrashev’s work was influenced by post-war tendencies in art, transforming individual elements of Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism and Futurism. While in Brazil, he actively participated in the formation of Brazilian modernist movement under the pseudonym Nicola de Garo. In the United States the Abrashev brothers settled in New York. In 1927 Nikolay and his brother established the Abrashev School of Art, which existed until their demise.

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