The central focus of this exhibition is the Palace, one of the oldest buildings in the very heart of Sofia, closely related to the history of the city and of Bulgaria. The Palace presents itself with its character as it was on the cusp of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; it is also appreciated as a physical locus created both by architects and artists and by the people who inhabited it. The Palace was a topos, a place of power and culture, a metaphorical image of the head of state, Prince Alexander I of Battenberg, and of Tsar Ferdinand I. The exposition occupies the spaces where their official life took place and relates the history of the new Bulgarian art at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries.
The primary idea is to trace its emergence and development in post-Liberation Bulgaria through a new focus concentrating on the connection between art and state and its cultural policies. As is well known from historical sources, the Bulgarian monarch paid specific attention to figurative art, frequently visited exhibitions, and encouraged and supported artists. This attitude of his was a conscious manifestation of a cultural policy towards the overall development of the young but strengthening state, gradually acquiring the characteristics of a purposeful collection.
The exposition is organised around several logical foci. One of them is Tsar Ferdinand I’s collection of paintings, part of which is currently in the National Gallery. Other emphases are placed on the first Bulgarian court artists, as well as on major events in the artistic life of Bulgaria recreated through documents and a special selection of works. The first generations of Bulgarian artists such as Ivan Dimitrov, Anton Mitov, Ivan Angelov, Jaroslav Věšín, and the younger Nikola Mihaylov, Nikola Petrov, Atanas Mihov, Alexander Bozhinov, and one of the first female professional artists, Elena Karamihaylova, are well represented. Without restricting itself, the exhibition chronologically covers the reign of Tsar Ferdinand I (1887–1918), a time when the new Bulgarian art took its first steps and, within a short period, aspired to catch up with European artistic achievements.
The exhibition is set out in seven galleries on the second floor of the Palace. In one of them, known as the Red Salon, an attempt has been made to ‘revive’ the Palace: it is now arranged with the paintings that were there at the time of the Tsar.
One of the accents the exposition is the ‘Portrait of Prince Alexander I of Battenberg’, painted in 1881 in Sofia by the German painter Konrad Wilhelm Dielitz, a famous master of portraits of European rulers, and purchased in 2019 by the state.
The project partners are: Sofia City Art Gallery, the National Academy of Art, the Central State Archives, the Loran Gallery, and lostbulgaria.com