The Wandering Shepherd: Boris Georgiev

By Varna City Art Gallery

Boris Georgiev of Varna 1888–1962. Born on 1st of November 1888 in Varna, Boris Georgiev was one of the few Bulgarian artists at that time whose art reached an enviable stand and recognised contribution to 20th century culture. His exhibitions gained him the recognition of the critique in Germany, Italy, India and Brazil though he was regarded more an innovator than a modern artist. 

Boris Georgiev (1950) by Boris GeorgievVarna City Art Gallery

It was only during the last decades, mainly thanks to the generous do-nation made by his adopted daughter, Virginia Jacometti-Georgiev from Italy, and to a number of jubilee and dedicated exhibitions shown between 1999 and 2015 that his art finally received its well deserved appreciation and popu-larity. Boris Georgiev from Varna obtained his art education in Saint Petersburg and at the Bavarian Royal Art Academy in Munich. He had deep knowledge of art spanning both ancient to contemporary art, thanks to the collections he had seen at the European museums and art galleries. He surpassed and broad-ened the narrow national boundaries of Bulgarian art enriching its stylistics of the 1920s and adding new spiritual content. His artworks are unique with their universal pictorial and plastic language as well as with his inclination to the East and the eastern philosophy, blended with the aesthetics and human-itarian ideals of the Italian Renaissance.The exquisite beauty of the drawing, the colour, the unique painting tech-nique in his pictures express artistic talent of a genius as pointed out by Assen Vassiliev, a great researcher and historian of Bulgarian art. His artworks were regarded as ‘apparitions of another world’ because their imagery was created by the force of intelligence and imagination which visually opened up the coded aesthetic and spiritual formulas of the religious canon in art.

Boris Georgiev (1950) by Boris GoergievVarna City Art Gallery

Boris Georgiev had a considerably rich and interesting life story and creative career biography. Moreover he was well-known worldwide as a portrait paint-er and an intellectual. This is what he wrote about his life: My life history is that of a lonely wanderer who strayed from one country to another due to his inward need to search for a spiritual contact with kindred souls in or-der to read straight from the book of life and nature.In the portraits of Rabindranath Tagore, Peter Dunov, Albert Einstein, Cardi-nal Merry del Val, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Princess Rajkumari Amrit Kaur Singh, the artist uniquely captured the vivid expression on the faces, the vibrating intellectual energy of their creative nature. He was one of the most famous artists of that time and although he was more referred to Symbolism, his art promoted Idealism through which he best and profoundly expressed his ideas and feelings. The creative artist believed that apart from the popular aesthetic impact, the works of visual art had another more supe-rior mission, to further the spiritual advancement of mankind.A lonely wanderer of the world: that is his presence through his paintings; that was his journey in art, and we can hardly compare him to any other Bul-garian artist. Boris Georgiev, the man and the artist had an unique talent and was endowed to belong to the elite of world personalities of the twentieth century for whom art that conveyed the values of humanism was found the only way towards spiritual elevation of civilisation.

HYDERABAD PRINCESS, NILÜFER (1950) by Boris GeorgievVarna City Art Gallery

The portrait of Durru Shehvar, Princess of Hyderabad was the last portrait that Boris Georgiev painted in India. On 1st July 1936 he travelled back from Bombay to Trieste on board the freight-passenger ship Arabia.
Princess Durru Shehvar was daughter of the Turkish Sultan, Mehmmed/Mohammed VI, wife of the son and heir of the last Nizam of Hyderabad and cousin of Hyderabad Princess Niloufer.

The artist received a special commission to paint her portrait and travelled in his caravan from Delhi across the jungles to the Blue Mountains in Southern India. There and then he created two identical portraits of the regal Durru Shehvar in his own unique technique fresco on plywood. The first was given to the Princess while the second portrait the artist took with himself back to Europe to show it at his exhibitions. In 1950 Boris Georgiev made another artist’s replica of the portrait of Princess Durru Shehvar.

HYDERABAD PRINCESS, NILÜFER (1950) by Boris GeorgievVarna City Art Gallery

„The most beautiful woman I have ever painted in my life“: this is what Boris Georgiev wrote about the Indian Princess Nilüfer.
Princess Nilüfer was the cousin of Durru Shehvar, the other great princess of Hyderabad. She was the daughter of the poetess Sarojini Naidu whose poetic art was much appreciated by Rabindranath Tagore.

Boris Georgiev was deeply involved in painting her portrait and he put his heart and soul into it. He contemplated Nilüfer’s ultimate beauty reaching the world around her and with his psychological astuteness sensed and depicted the pain buried deep in her soul.

The harmonious play of the tender transparent hues on her white sari brings out her pale translucent skin and the dignity in her posture all in unison with the aura of nature and in harmony with the light and the chiaroscuro.

The divine beauty of the Princess’s eyes makes the portrait unforgettable.
In 1950 Boris Georgiev made an artist’s replica of the portrait for his exhibition in Brazil.

A WANDERING SHEPHERD (1922) by BORIS GEORGIEVVarna City Art Gallery

‘Allegory. It represents the human being as a friend of all animals’, Boris Georgiev wrote about this early work of his autobiographical cycle. He showed it for the first time at the exhibition in memory of his sister, Katya who passed away at an early age. It was held in the exhibition hall of the National Academy of Arts, Sofia. Thus the public encountered the artist’s artwork for the first time and during that fascinating and deeply engaging exhibition, the critique shared: dominating with its supreme humanism, this is rare and exhilarating art with a benevolent aim – to help by stretching out a fraternal and loving hand to all the peoples on the planet.

The artwork’s philosophical content refers to ideas the of the Good Shepherd and can be viewed as an attempt to convey visually the synthesis of spirit and nature, ideas and reality. The idealistic, creative approach was to represent through symbols the unity of inner and outer life of man and his elevation in coalescing and harmonising nature and the world beyond. In the sacred and universal resounding of the Wandering Shepherd a kind of mysticism can be traced, typical of religious art.

Boris Georgiev considered that particular artwork the summit in his art: I created a new picture which is, perhaps, the most exquisite, the strongest and deepest work of mine both in sensitivity and thought. It was simply titled The Wandering Shepherd (Il Pastore errante).

WHITE SYMPHONY (1929) by Boris GeorgievVarna City Art Gallery

The lyrical landscape White Symphony belongs to the so called autobiographical cycle of Boris Georgiev’s artwork, referring to the first period of his creative work.

We find the absence of the human figure but, the human presence is felt. The artist left a wonderful narrative about the landscape: Up the steep slopes, tenderly rounded by the sparkling cloak/garment of the snow, the diamond light of the new day solemnly was spreading around and suddenly changing in colour with the hues of the rainbow, at the same time smiling but somehow freezing and unattainable on the smooth surface while on its way covering the dents and fringes of the slope with dark blue shades...

THOU SHALT NOT KILL! (1935) by Boris GeorgievVarna City Art Gallery

For the artist the painting Thou Salt Not Kill! is the Allegory of the Hunter to whom a spiritual message, “Thou shalt not kill, life is sacred for all living creatures” was passed on at the crack of dawn with the joy of life arising in all creatures of nature.

Boris Georgiev created the picture in India in 1935. It is characteristic of his beliefs and world views influenced by the Buddhist teachings to find the divine by turning to nature. With the painting the artist sent an ethical appeal to the people not to be cruel to their akin spirits of nature – the animals.

The drawing is dominated by a warm monochrome colour scheme with overlapping gold ochre and orange. The figure of the gazing warrior- hunter at the fore front of the composition and the mild lines of the playing in a circle deer through the rising sun rays in the distance are sinking in the warm, misty light filled with universal peace and harmony. The motif of the carefree deer playing around can be found in other drawings and paintings carrying the symbolic meaning rendered by Boris Georgiev (e.g. Wandering Shepherd).

MY MOTHER (1942) by BORIS GEORGIEVVarna City Art Gallery

Boris Georgiev’s mother, Milka Ivanova Haralambieva was born in 1868 in the town of Veliki Preslav. She was a woman endowed with a strong spirit, clever and eager to learn. The artist included portraits of his mother in all his exhibition thus showing his respect and gratitude.

The elderly woman was always depicted seated under the archway of a gallery behind which in the background space, same as in the Renaissance paintings.

A vast panorama opens towards the local hills and slopes. All the details in the narrative carry a symbolic meaning suggesting the spiritual suffering of his mother.

Reminding of a halo, behind the archway a yellow sunlight peeps through.
The strong radiance throws light on the fringes of her dark scarf and the white hair and glides diagonally across her face focusing on her elderly hands.

In the depiction of his mother the artist achieved the sense of supreme tenderness, deep sympathy and real human love.

PORTRAIT OF MILA ONE YEAR OLD. (1945) by Boris GeorgievVarna City Art Gallery

The children’s portraits from the artist’s late period in Italy reveal his acute sensitivity to nature. The portrait is of Boris Georgiev’s niece, Mila who was then only one year old. Judging from the date it was created, the rather still expression on the face and the doll-like pose of the girl, it was based on a photograph.

The trees, the clouds, the waved by the wind fine hair, the stretched little hand, the girl’s look as if gazing at something invisible reveal to us an idealistic, hyper realistic work abundant in detail – blooming field daisies and tender blades of grass.

The winding serpentine of the river lit with golden, mild sunlight peeping behind the clouds all in sheer contrast with the snow clad peaks of the Venitian Alps. The magic flow of the dynamic and static in nature with the child’s face were mastered to perfection.

YOUNG PONTIGGIA (1948) by BORIS GEORGIEV DI VARNAVarna City Art Gallery

During the 1950s in Italy the artist created a gallery of commissioned children’s.
Having attained perfection in the drawing techniques, he made a deep and aesthetic interpretation of the face with the artistic dexterity of a great visual artist.

The portrait drawing of the boy seems to have been created on the spur of the moment with no corrections. The purity of the child’s soul reflected on his face embodies goodness and beauty. The colour scheme and the drawing are in harmony, hues are merging, blended with precision and delicacy. They are all bright and transparent conveying the child’s serenity, peace of mind and innocence.
Giuseppe Pontiggia (25, 1934 – June 27, 2003) was an Italian writer and literary critic.

PORTRAIT OF ALBERT EINSTEIN (1929) by Boris GeorgievVarna City Art Gallery

In 1929 the world famous scientist Albert Einstein organized an exhibition of Boris Georgiev art at the Schulte Gallery in Berlin. For the first time his portrait painted on the occasion of Einstein’s 50th anniversary towards the end of 1928 was shown to the public. It was painted.
In 1929, upon Einstein’s request, the artist created two graphic jubilee prints of the portrait printed in London and Berlin. The graphic portraits differ from each other in colour, signature, background, dating, hues and size.

The Varna portrait of Einstein is one of the first London prints. The image is on the whole page, the drawing is lineal, the forms are shaped with dexterity of line. There are transparent light hues on the face using the lavi technique. The portrait painting of Albert Einstein was on show at all of Boris Georgiev’s exhibitions together with the letter of the great scientist. In his publications the artist included some of Einstein’s wonderful writing of a genius about his art:

Your art made me feel as if abiding those spheres, away from the earthly problems and suffering, where the soul can find tranquility and respite. We, the poor apparitions in the brief cycle of birth and death, are engulfed by the nostalgia and the unattainable love towards each other. Both the artist and the model feel that and you must be proud and joyous to have conveyed that mission.

PORTRAIT OF YORDANKA DIMITROVA KALICIN (1923) by Boris GeorgievVarna City Art Gallery

The woman portrayed was Yordanka Dimitrova Kalicin (1890 – 1972), sister of the mathematician and academician, prof.Nikola Dimitrov Obreshkov.

The picture was painted in 1923 in Varna. It has all the distinctive features of Boris Georgiev’s style in which the line, his most expressive medium renders plasticity of the depiction, embraces with a contour the figure, separates the colour spaces, finely moves around the shapes and pulsates in the light and chiaroscuro.

The graphically clear and stylised approach emphasise the sense of finesse corresponding to the resemblance of the model. The portrait was owned by Yordanka Kalicin’s son, Nikola Stilyanov Kalicin, professor of physics in Sweden (1918 – 1970).
On 29 April 2011, her grandson, Georgi Georgiev Kalicin donated the portrait for the collection of Varna City Art Gallery.

BANU SINGH (1933) by Boris GeorgievVarna City Art Gallery

‘A portrait of an old Indian’, Boris Georgiev wrote about Banu Singh’s portrait.
During his stay in India the artist painted portraits of famous personalities, leaders and ordinary people, and he deeply admired the richness of the inner world of the Indians. The image of Banu Singh takes central stage in the composition of the painting Meeting the Pariahs in India which Mahatma Gandhi called: Daridra Naraana.

The name Banu Singh might refer to the legendary, perhaps non-existent Indian poet of the middle ages. The Bengalese version of the name, Bhānusim. ha (Sun Lion) is the pseudonym under which the young Rabindranath Tagore published in the Bharoti magazine his first poems about Radha and Krishna which made him famous.

PORTRAIT OF SIJKA GREKOVA (1923) by Boris GeorgievVarna City Art Gallery

The portrait is of Sijka Grekova (Meteva) (1897–1967). In 1929 she became wife of prof.Svetoslav Grekov, one of the founders of the Higher Trade School (today the University of Economics), professor of mathematics and Chairman of the Commerce and Industrial Chamber in Varna.

The portrait of Sijka Grekova was made in 1923 when Boris Georgiev opened his first solo exhibition in Varna. The artist gave it as a present to prof. Grekov with the following dedication: To my friend at heart, Svetoslav Grekov with fraternal devotion. Boris Georgiev, Varna, 12 September 1923.

The portrait is a study, however it conveys the typical artistic mastery of the artist to quickly capture the character of the model and render it emotional individuality. It was bought by a private collector for the Varna City Art Gallery collection in 1985.

PARIAH (1935) by Boris GeorgievVarna City Art Gallery

In his notes about India, Boris Georgiev wrote: During my frequent visits to Gandhi in his habitat Ashram in Wardha, every evening thousands of those martyrs would come round to find a little solace in their tragic lives with the Apostle of Good who had been fighting for their freedom and that was why he was killed by the Brahmins.

The study depicts the face of an old Pariah who I saw one evening. He was seated next to Gandhi with a touching expression of goodness on his face and a glance turned upwards towards God to find soothing for his suffering. The image of that old poverty stricken man whose life rested only on the spirit,

later became part of the monumental composition of Boris Georgiev’s well-known painting, Meeting the Pariahs or Daridra Naraama. What the artist saw in his tragic face embodied the social inequality and suffering which for ages on end divided the people in Indian society. The portrait painted in sanguine has a great emotional impact.

PORTRAIT OF MMS GROPLERO OF UDINE (1940) by Boris GeorgievVarna City Art Gallery

Since 1937 to the end of his life Boris Georgiev often changed the towns he lived in Italy depending on the commissions for portraits he received – Positano, Milan, Rome, San Pellegrino. The portrait of Mms Groplero of Udine was also commissioned.

The background in the painting – the landscape and the imposing architecture of the house – emotionally add to
the painful expression on the young woman’s face as if the material has subdued the hidden sufferings of the soul. The natural beauty, the gracious pose, the elegant hands, the expensive attire and ring suggest her aristocratic background. The portrait differs from the typical saloon portraiture as Boris Georgiev conveyed most truly the atmosphere of a woman checking her breath when appearing in front of other people.

PORTRAIT OF JAWAHARLAL NEHRU (1936) by Boris GeorgievVarna City Art Gallery

Concerning his five year stay in India Boris Georgiev shared that not only he crisscrossed the country but he also learned Hindu and Sanskrit and got acquainted with many Indian leaders. After painting the portraits of Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi in their ashram in Wadhra, he painted other eminent Indian personalities. One of those was the future Prime Minister, Jawarhalal Nehru. In his memoirs he wrote about the portrait:

I got acquainted with one of Gandhi’s associates, a very intelligent and rather handsome man who had given up his privileged life as a Brahmin to become the most significant supporter of Mahatma Gandhi in the struggle for the independence of India and the rescue of the pariahs.

Despite his more rational and less mystical beliefs that differed those of Gandhi, he shared the ideals for non violence (ahimsa). Devoid of any idealization, the portrait of Jawaharlal Nehru conveys true physical and spiritual beauty.

Credits: Story

Curatorship and text:
Plamena Dimitrova-Racheva
Art critic, Director of Varna City Art Gallery

Photographer: Aleksandar Nikolov

Designer: Cesar Pimentel

All rights reserved to Varna City Art Gallery

Credits: All media
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