Josef Oberbauer was the first artist to devote most of his artistic efforts to the depiction of Sofia. His documentary-style watercolour paintings and drawings provide invaluable evidence of what the capital city and other cities throughout Bulgaria looked like in the late 19th and early 20th century. A passionate traveler, he drew pictures of the cities of Nesebur, Veliko Turnovo, Tryavna, being attracted by houses of worship, old houses, cemeteries, fortress walls remains, open air markets, inhabited with an impressively diverse multitude of people wearing various traditional garments. These paintings-cum-authentic documents captured the spirit of an age, gradually giving in to the pressure of Europeization.
He was particularly interested in places whose mission it is to preserve spirituality, such as monasteries and churches. He painted a series of paintings featuring the St. Sofia Basilica, the most prominent of the capital city’s landmarks at the time, allowing the viewer to trace the architectural transformations underwent by the said church. He also depicted the Rila Monastery, churches in the city of Nesebur, the Bachkovo Monastery, the “Forty Holy Martyrs” Church in the city of Veliko Turnovo and many others.
In his capacity of chief draughtsman at the Sofia Municipal Council, he drew a plan of the neighbourhoods of Banishor and Draz, featuring the remains of the northern part of the ancient city of Serdica’s fortress wall. The said plan provided the basis for the his watercolour painting ”Reconstruction of Ulpia Serdica”, where he combines fact and imagination to represent the image of the ancient city.
It is interesting to study the new developments in the city and trace the various transformations it has undergone. Some places have stayed the same, others have been destroyed. Oberbauer’s images of Sofia convey a sense of relaxation, yet also of anxiety, caused by the awareness of the passing of time.
Oberbauer’s paintings were a reproach for the city planners of his time and their negligent treatment of the remains and traces of ages gone in a time of dynamic changes. They are also a cautionary tale for architects of today.
The exhibition features 78 drawings and watercolour paintings, as well as the most interesting of his original hand-drawn maps of the city. The exhibition is the result of the combined efforts of the Museum of Sofia History and the Sofia City Art Gallery.
An exhibition catalogue is available