It was typical that the very day I was hoping to put my new E-book on Bulgaria online. I stumbled on yet another great but neglected Bulgarian painter….And all thanks to family, friendship and drink!
My eldest daughter will visit me (with her husband) for the first time in a week and I therefore had to find a bed settee. A visit to IKEA soon produced the goods - which lay in pieces in the spare room for a week or so…. My friend Yovo promised to came to the rescue on Wednesday – and I duly set off to the nearby CasaVino to ensure he was properly recompensed for what proved to be 2 hours of work….
As I hit the park, I decided to see if the Vaska Emanouilova gallery had anything new to show and was quite stunned by what I found – an exhibition of the work of Iakim Banchev (1884-1967) – a magnificent portraitist and landscape artist who captures, for me, the essence of Bulgarian art and society in the first half of the 20th Century
Admitted 1903 to the National School of Drawing in the studio painting of Ivan Markvichka and Ivan Angelov, he was part of the student flow to the Art Academy in Dresden, where he stays until March 1904. Then he goes to Turin - where he graduates and stays for five years. In 1905 he takes part in an exhibition with his work "Nude" and received First Prize (the picture is located in the Turin Museum).
He returned to his native Lovech, bringing with him his paintings from his workshops in the academies - a few of which were purchased in the early 50s by Sofia City Gallery,
He works as a military artist in the Balkan Wars and creates dozens of large-scale canvasses immortalising the horror of war (now part of the collection of the Museum of Military History in Sofia).
But he wasn’t able to break into the official art world and headed across the Atlantic hoping to find work as an architect. In summer 1923 he settled in Manhattan – but his hopes to find work as an architect quickly evaporated and he was forced to go back to his painting from which he earned enough money to return to his beloved Mina.
Financial difficulties forced him to leave again and, from July 1927 to July 1933, the Banchev family lived in the US but saved enough from portraits to allow them to return to BG and buy in Sofia a property at 5a "August 11" St where he designed his own studio on the top floor .
In the remaining three decades of life he worked in the pharmaceutical office of his brother Ivan. After Sept 1944 he withdraws from the artistic partly because of the change in tastes but mostly because of his bad bourgeois past.
Despite attempts after the political changes in the country to adapt and to participate in exhibitions, his works are never admitted. “As a kind of reward for his modest nature, UBA accepts one work in 1949 but doesn’t display it. He sank into the solitude of his own studio, where he painted and then destroyed the works to avoid trouble - Sometimes doing portraits on order for a ministerial office with pictures of Botev, Levski Georgi Dimitrov. Portraits not signed. Jakim Banchev meets death on the doorstep of his home on January 19, 1967”.
Here’s a brief TV programme on the exhibition which runs at the Emanouiliva Gallery until the end of the month.