The attempts to overcome the academic line in painting date back to the beginning of the 20th century. The foundation of the Association “Contemporary Art” (1903) has been involved with the trends in art drawing upon Western European painting. New genres in Bulgarian painting have been established with portrait and landscape painting taking the lead. Developments involving the one-figure composition, the still nature, the naked body and the intimate -psychological portrait have started to take shape. This period has been historically bound up with the new Bulgarian painting and in the hall are presented the basic trends, characteristic of its development from the academic realism, the expressive and synthetic painting of the 1930s up to the lyrical landscape.
In 1928 two of the most famous artists of the Dobroudzha region Nikola Tahtunov and Atanas Popov opened a joint exhibition in Dobrich. There is a publication preserved, by the journalist P. Kaliakrenski reporting the event. He writes that Atanas Popov is one of the first marine painters of Northern Dobroudzha. The landscape “Kaliakra” is an impressive canvas, where nature has been reproduced with a lot of energy of the artistic construction. The landscape of Georgi Urumov “Balchik-the Bridge” has been carried out in the plastic expressive manner with coarse, form- modeling, picturesque strokes of the brush . The picture seen from “a bird’s eye view” represents the panorama of the Town of Balchik, the artist’s favorite theme.
In the 1930s, when the striving for an independent expression is predominating in the aesthetic attitudes of the Bulgarian artists, processes of renovation of the plastic expression and the stylistic view in painting are taking place. In Mario Zhekov’s “Tiny Monastery” in a colorful harmony through coarse strokes of the brush come to life contrasting lights and shadows, warm and cold hues. The work is distinguished by the idyllic subject-matter, by the constructiveness of the picturesque structures and the contrasting sounding of colors.The romantic mood of the period manifests itself very distinctly particularly in the “Lady’s Portrait”-1936 by Stoyan Sotirov, which is one of his few signed and dated works from the 1930s. An artist with a clear and monumental expression, he creates works in various genres, the landscape, the composition on historic and social themes etc. The portrait of the young woman is distinguished by the free artistic interpretation as far as composition and picturesque matter are concerned, the energetic movement of the masses of hues upon the surface, the rhythm of light over the forms, the elaborate palette of cold and warm tones.However the most thrilling seems to be the radiation of the image, possessing an interesting spiritual world that the artist has undoubtedly come in touch with.
The period of the 1930s up to the early 1940s was marked by the appearance of a number of talented artists whose works became synonymous to innovation, experiment and success both in the country and abroad. They united in the “New Artists’ Association” (1931) and their pictures were in unison with the newest European tendencies towards modern realism. The woman’s portrait by Boris Sharov reflects this influence together with a gradation of genres in it. Fitting the portrait image of a young woman with exquisite features of her face, finesse of the crossed arms over her breasts and the exquisite apparel, into the picture with the spring landscape brings originality and poetic metaphorical expression. The portrait “Head” by Naum Hadzhimladenov dates back to the mid-1940s. The work is distinguished with its bright psychological characteristics of the image and the strength of the emotional disposition. The portrait is rich with the wealth of the colors of the plastic picturesque surface and with the economical luminosity of the face, radiating serenity and tenderness. It bears the stamp left by the movements of the “playful and spontaneously responding hand of the artist”, Ruzha Marinska.
The landscapes of the Renaissance towns are a favorite topic in the works of art of the Bulgarian artists after the 1930s. The neo-impressionistic method of expression fills the landscape with lots of light that penetrates into the small confined spaces of the cobble-stoned narrow streets, sliding along the overhanging eaves upon the colorful carpet of flowers in the lovely courtyards. The awareness of the Bulgarian spirit, of the native is predominating in the picture of Danail Dechev “Koprivshtitsa”. The beauty of Bulgarian nature, the national virtues of the common people who have bound up their lives and labor with the earth and its fruits take up a central part in the works of the artists united in the movement “Native Art”. One of the most outstanding representatives is Vladimir Dimitrov-Maystora. The portrait composition “Kyustendil Girl” is an artistic incarnation of the beauty of live nature and man. The bright colors have enveloped the young woman as a festive hymn, a symbol of vitality, natural beauty and spiritual cleanliness. The image of the Bulgarian Madonna goes beyond the boundaries of the portrait image and turns into a symbol of the relationship between man and earth.
Probing deeply into the spirituality and psychology of his contemporaries Stoyan Venev represents with a sense of humor their simplicity and naive combative spirit. The figured composition “Mountain Men” is a summarized and stylized representation of the images of the Bulgarian peasants. The picturesque canvas is monumentally built up with the plastic sounding of the bright, warm hues alternating and drawling like a folk song, merging into one another like a woven rug.
As far as Bencho Obreshkov is concerned, well-known as one of the greatest masters of still life and the multi-figured compositions of Bulgarian lifestyle, the picture “Market Day” is one of the most characteristic ones of the artist’s works. The composition takes up several plans as its thematic center focuses on the image of a young Bulgarian peasant woman put in the foreground . The picture is a constructive one with a clean line, accentuating the structure of forms with the colors having an expressive impact. By and by over the decades the creator’s world turns into a thematic center of his art. The still life and the portrait, the interiors where the objects of art like pictures, books, paints, brushes etc. in combination with household objects become a favorite motif for the artists. They give the work an interesting meaningful and artistic accent. It is decisive for Bencho Obreshkov’s “Still Life” as well, presenting in the foreground a jug with lemons, a book, a vase with flowers and fruit against the background of a picturesque portrait.
One of the masterpieces of the collection is the landscape “Balchik” by Nenko Balkanski, distinguished with its clear composition, built on the basis of the play of light in space. The spontaneous coming into touch with nature characteristic of the author is manifested here as well. There are various developments taking place in the composition, going along in parallel bringing different associations in the static of the architectural urban surroundings. Despite the subject-matter of the picture being a very common one, it has a metaphoric sounding, enigmatic stillness and a deep spirituality.
The auto-portrait of Vera Lukova (1960) follows the trend of the salonart, brush in hand, a gesture manifesting creative energy and her belonging to art. The bright colors and symbols, united in an artistic, unromantic sounding are characteristic of her picturesque language. One of the artists,with distinctive, vital philosophy strongly bound up with the national originality is Zlatyu Boyadzhiev. In the composition “Winter- Skating-rink” (1965), he achieves an elaborate artistic image of the pantheistic entity of the world, where the people can overcome the forces of chaos and transience.His simple narrative language is entertaining, the colors bright as if taken straight from the sunny palette of nature. The artist’s “Shaggy” brushcreates vibrating outlines and picturesque layers, turning painting into a celebration of the hues and the dynamics of life.
With their play of colors the works of Aleksandar Petrov “Mothers” and “Window”, created in the late 1960s, and early 1970s have contributed a lot to breaking the bonds gripping the colorful expressiveness in the Bulgarian painting. Characterized by his stylized forms and bright decorative colors the artist achieves mildness and serenity in his compositions, a harmony of man and his surroundings.
The tendency towards simplification of the artistic image and a return to the stable form is characteristic of the monumental composition of Boyan Petrov “Spring Waters”. There the striving for the objective world being more convincing , brings forward the form as a bearer of the ideological and plastic qualities of the images. Young peasant women in colorful apparel depicted against the background of the spring wealth of colors fill in the canvas and if the motion goes on even beyond its frames. The subject-matter of the country lifestyle has been transformed into a festivity full of rituals. The striving for creation of a national style is one of the essential aspects and a significant trend in the art of the 1970s.