This major exhibition of the painter Konstantin (Kocho) Garnev (1893–1966), prepared by the teams of the Victoria Gallery and the National Gallery, presents a forgotten artist unknown to the general public.
More than eighty years after his first solo appearance in Bulgaria, and after a brilliant career in Europe, Konstantin Gаrnev ‘is returning’ to his homeland with one hundred and twelve oil paintings. The fact that he had lived in Germany, and that his plastic heritage had remained there after his death, today predetermines the episodic inclusion of his works in exhibitions or on the art market in Bulgaria. The happy occasion of these paintings’ return to Bulgaria makes this exhibition unique. It shows, for the first time, Garnev’s entire oeuvre created after the second half of the 1940s. This provides an opportunity for the public and art specialists to appreciate its high value and to convince themselves of the powerful painting talent of a modernly formed European artist who has remained firmly connected with his Bulgarian roots.
On the occasion of the 125th Anniversary of the birth of Konstantin Garnev, the owner of the Victoria Gallery, Pavel Todorov, donated to the National Gallery’s collection one of the few preserved early works of the artist—’Oktoberfest’, which dates from the 1930s.
Konstantin Garnev was born on 18 January 1893 in the village of Libyahovo (now Ilinden). Between 1912 and 1921, he studied intermittently at the School of Drawing in Sofia. During the First World War, he was seconded as a war artist. In 1922, he moved to Germany, settling in Munich, where he lived for the rest of his life. He was admitted as a student of painting to the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, where he studied between 1923 and 1931 as a pupil of Professors Hermann Groeber and Franz von Stuck.
In the mid 1920s, he became actively involved in the artistic life of the Bavarian capital as a member of various artists’ societies, and took part in many general exhibitions. Garnev’s first solo exhibition was in 1930 at the Kunstverein München. Between 1926 and 1934, he travelled all around Europe, also visiting North Africa, Morocco, Palestine, Turkey, Syria, and Jerusalem.
In 1934, he arranged his first solo exhibition in Bulgaria, which was opened with a speech by Prof. Ivan Lazarov at the Preslav Gallery in Sofia. The numerous reviews of the exhibition highly praised the works of Garnev, who had maintained close ties with his Bulgarian colleagues. As a member of the Society of New Artists in Bulgaria, he sent his paintings for participation in general art exhibitions in Sofia. In the autumn of 1940, Garnev arranged a representative exhibition at the Lenbachhous (the largest private gallery in Munich), which was rewarded with resounding success.
Many of the artist’s works created during those years were destroyed in the bombing of Munich during the Second World War. After 1945, he continued to paint and to take an active part in the artistic life of Munich. A founding member of Munich’s Union for the Protection of Fine Artists and the Pavilion Society of Artists (of which he was also chairman), he took part in the annual exhibitions of the organisation and a number of other joint exhibitions. After years of absence from Bulgarian artistic life, he was invited in 1965 to participate in the National Painting Exhibition in Sofia with his work, ‘Female Rider’. He died suddenly on 1 September 1966 in Munich.