Pleven is a city in the northern part of Bulgaria which looks rather forbidding from the heights of the main Russe-Sofia road above which skirt it – densely-packed fingers of white high-rise blocks pointing to the sky. You can imagine the Russian troops in 1877 surveying the settlements as they struggled to break the Turkish siege…..
It has two famous artistic sons – the caricaturist Ilyia Beshkov ( ) and the grand old man of Bulgarian art, Svetlin Roussev, who was Chairman of the Bulgarian Union of Artists from 1973-85 and whose amazing collection in the Sofia Atelier which bears his name (just down from the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral) I had discovered only in December. But is actually one of a pair – the other being in Pleven – to which I made a slight detour on Friday on my way to Bucharest….
The city is approached by strange, empty dual carriageways which suddenly disgorge you into bustling traffic buzzing around a series of hills. It is a couple or so years since I last visited its Ilyia Beshkov gallery – to whose concrete carbuncle I was guided by intuition…..The same happened yesterday… I swung right up a hill and soon caught sight of the old low-slung building on the left which is the National History Museum, with a park on the right which turned out to contain the Svetlin Roussev Gallery….Fortunately there is still uncontrolled parking in the quiet area just under the Beshkov Gallery.
Svetlin Roussev had apparently acquired thousands of artefacts during his time at the heart of Bulgarian painting – passed on presumably by his colleagues. In the last half of the 80s he fell out of favour with the authorities for the stand he took on various issues – and I was shown with some glee in the Sofia library a copy of the one of the Encyclopedias of Bulgarian art from which most of his entry had been airbrushed from history….
His Pleven collection has found an appropriate location in an old Ottoman Hamam – which has one of the most beautiful interiors I have seen. Beshkov cartoons start the tour and my camera was just about to spring into action when I was checked by one of the younger attendants – the first time this had happened in all my tours of regional Bulgarian galleries. Fortunately I was able to use my link with the Sofia gallery which I phoned to have things sorted out.
But the same happened when I popped in to renew my acquaintance with the Beshkov gallery – and this time no friends in high places to help!
What, I wonder, is the thinking here? I use no flash; the gallery offers no books whose sales might suffer from art enthusiasts with cameras? In any event I was informed that if I sent a written request in advance, I would be allowed…..It was so cold on my last (winter’s) visit that I had been left alone – the attendants. wrapped in their furcoats had been huddled in a side-room in front of an electric heater!
So bad marks to an unwelcoming Pleven…..I will not forget the woman whose spiteful hand is trying to block a Boris Denev painting I really wanted to have join the small file I have on one of my favourite Bulgarian painters.......(so many fall into that category!!)