what you get here

This is not a blog which opines on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers to muse about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

The Bucegi mountains - the range I see from the front balcony of my mountain house - are almost 120 kms from Bucharest and cannot normally be seen from the capital but some extraordinary weather conditions allowed this pic to be taken from the top of the Intercontinental Hotel in late Feb 2020

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Banned artists in Bulgaria

I visited three exhibitions last week here in Sofia as the snow threatened and then arrived at the weekend – first at the National Art Academy which was showing some of their collection accompanied by a superb 200 page catalogue called Painting Collection (1896–1940) (Museum Collection of the National Academy of Art); then the excellent City Gallery which was showing a rather disappointing exhibition of Sirak Skitnik; and finally, the refurbished National Gallery which is at last showing beautiful work from its collection – at least on the second floor (and if you ignore the temporary exhibition of an artist who doesn’t even figure in the updated version of my booklet on Introducing the Bulgarian Realists – how to get to know the Bulgarians through their paintings). 
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This updated version (not yet online) includes the details of another 40 artists I've been able to add over the past year – as well as the links I discovered today to two of the books in my extensive collection of books on Bulgarian painters – the terrific production on the Art Collection of the National Bank of Bulgaria and also a link to an old book I found a year or so ago in the antique bookshops here - Socialist construction in the work of Bulgarian artists (Sofia 1954). This gives reproductions of more than 30 typical paintings of the period – glorifying the life of the worker.  
I find it remarkable how little reference I find – particularly in the art books here – to the problems artists experienced in Bulgaria both in the immediate aftermath of the communist takeover in September 1944 or in the two decades which followed. Famous artists such as Boris Denev and Nicolae Boiadjiev suffered from bans. And I stumbled today on two more examples - Konstantin Shtarkelov (1881-1961) was the most famous of a clutch of outstanding Bulgarian watercolour painters (including Pavel Francalijski; Yordan Geshev and Kriskaretz). Shtarkelov came from a very poor family and lived in poverty in Odessa and Moscow as a youth and met the key Russian artists of the time before returning in 1909 to Bulgaria. He did portraits but preferred to draw landscapes from Rila and Pirin Mountains, Sofia and Tarnovo regions (see pp 39-42 of the Bulgarian Bank book for 4 examples).  He was also a war artist in 1912–1913 and 1917. His works were exhibited in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Venice, Germany and Hungary.

But, after September 9 1944, his work was banned and forgotten because of "his ties with the Palace". They call him the "official artist of the bourgeois regime and royal favorite " ... Konstantin Shtarkelov was expelled from the artists’ union and spent five months in the Central Prison before living a life of destitution. According to an extensive article I found about him on the Artprice website he did eventually manage to hold a much visited exhibition of his works in 1960. It attracted mixed reviews and he died less than a year later.
I was also very pleased to come across today this little story about Vasil Barakov (1902-1991) - one of the first Bulgarian artists to show industrial landscapes 
in 1948-1949 a group of artists, including Vasil Barakovo, Zlatyu Boyadziev (one of Bulgaria’s best) and Zdravko Alexandrov were sent to paint three months in Romania, mainly in the area of ​​Baia Mare (Transylvania) and around Ploesti. Barakov returned to Bulgaria with many landscapes, portraits and sketches, which captures features of Romania. In early 1949 the group made a joint exhibition. Only three days later it unexpectedly closed. Critics accuse the authors of formalism. They do not reflect reality in brotherly Romania.
"My father - says son of Vasil Barakov - Dr. Miroslav Barakov - was mortified. He knew that the paintings were good – as did his colleagues but did not show his external feelings, did not react emotionally. But, after these serious charges in those dangerous and difficult years, something snapped in him and he almost ceased to paint… well, from time to time, he did a still life but focused instead on on film posters, book design. Often our salary saved my mother a teacher of mathematics.This went on for 10-12 years. "In 1967, however, the ice around the great master of the brush crushed. He was awarded the title of Honored Artist. In 1973, the maestro made a commemorative exhibition in gallery "Rakovski" 125 in the capital. When he went in the morning in the exhibition hall, the artist finds there the other great master of the brush - Ilia Petrov.  
Bulgaria has had a museum of socialism for a year or so which I;ve not so far been tempted to visit. But this rather superficial assessment  suggests that I should give it the once-over. Certainly "leftists" such as Ilyia Beshkov and Marko Behar had no problems flourishing in the new regime but quite a few others suffered greatly....


  1. The Maltz Museum has been buying-up artworks of Marc Breed's and destroying them.
    -UPI Newswire


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