The collection of Sofia Art Gallery presents the Bulgarian art from the end of 19 c. to date. From the first academic artists before and after the Liberation, through the influences of the Impressionism, Symbolism and Secession, to the changes during the 1930s, the collection shows the beginning of secular art in the country in its entirety. The collections house works from the first years of the Socialist government after 1944, from the time of the cult of personality and the subsequent “détente“ in the beginning of the 1960s. The 1970s and 1980s are widely represented. In the last decade, the efforts of the team have been directed both towards the enrichment of the available collection and to the integration of the contemporary forms of art in the museum policy.
The collection started in 1929 by the first curator Kosta Valev. It began as a collection of works by Sofia artists or mostly of works dedicated to the city’s history and present. Today, this is only one of the directions. The collections of the museum continue to receive works which mark the changes in the city. Another tendency, which has persevered since the very beginning and has developed over the years, is the collection of portraits of representatives of the intelligentsia and public figures. In 2008, following a serious collection campaign, the gallery presented to the public its collection of self-portraits of artists, consisting of over 200 works.
Over the years, the completion of the collections has enjoyed different intensity. The establishment of the City Gallery as an independent institution in 1952 heightened the activity in this respect. The main source was the solo exhibitions, the group artistic exhibitions and the competitions whose subject was Sofia. The first one was announced in 1964, and the last one was organised in 1989. The most difficult was the period 1991-2007, in which the museum had no budget for preemptive purchases and relied only on donations.
The collection is divided into four departments: Painting, Sculpture, Graphics, and Contemporary Art and Photography. The latter is the newest one and was established in 2004 in response to the occurring changes in art and the artistic life.
The collection of SAG is representative of the development of the Bulgarian art from the end of 19 c. to date. It covers all periods, tends, styles and names. This is evidenced by the “Possible History” project, realised in 2012-2013. The research is based on the museum collection and is the first attempt to provide another viewpoint on the history of art after the changes in 1989.
The Painting collection in SAG is the oldest and richest. Today it houses over 3,700 paintings, whose larger part is performed in oil paint. An also considerable collection is that of watercolours. Being large in terms of time span – from 1878 to date, the collection reveals relatively completely the genre and stylistic characteristics in the development of the Bulgarian fine arts, which allows for almost overall outlining of the artistic processes in the country after the Liberation.
The collection, called in its first years the “picture collection“, was accumulated mainly from donations by municipal and government institutions, as well as of a number of private persons, including artists. The establishment of the gallery as a separate cultural institution in 1952 initiated the purposeful pre-emptive purchase of works from solo and group art exhibitions.
Some artists are represented by one or two works, whereas others – by more than ten. Nevertheless, the collection houses significant works of a number of prominent artists such as Anton Mitov, Ivan Mrkvička, Nikola Petrov, Ivan Milev, Vladimir Dimitrov – Maystora, Dechko Uzunov, Kiril Tsonev, etc. Among this host of masters, there are also paintings by contemporary artists such as Sasho Stoitsov, Milko Bozhkov, Svilen Blazhev, Andrey Daniel, Vihrony Popnedelev, Gredi Assa, Stanislav Pamukchiev, Bozhidar Boyadzhiev, Nedko Solakov, etc.
Being a capital city gallery, SAG has the richest collection of images of Sofia, perpetuated in the canvases of the Bulgarian artists. In it one can see old Sofia with its pre-Liberation markets, Sofia during World War II, to the modern global city with its escalators and new silhouettes. The Painting department also houses one of the brightest collections of portraits of Bulgarian artists and intellectuals. A collection that is still being supplemented today.
In 2003, the collection was published in a scientific catalogue.