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 sculpture collection of Sofia City Art Gallery is one of the richest in the country both in number and in variety and quality of the works. Unlike the good state they are in their documentation throughout the years hasn’t been kept so accurately especially that part concerning their origin and the ways of their joining the museum collection. Today it is extremely difficult to recover the history of each separate work especially of those dating back to some more distant periods. There is some partial general information which throws light as to how the works have been acquired. Some of the evidence about this is given by the first director of Sofia Art Gallery Atanas Zhekov who writes that during his stepping into office there wasn’t even a simple list of the works in the gallery.¹
As I have already mentioned in the preface to the scientific catalogue of painting, the archives of SAG keep some written orders by the Sofia City Public Council (the earliest from 1950) which each year appointed commissions to purchase “museum exhibits and objects for the need of the capital city museum” or “paintings, sculptures and others”. The members of the commission varied from 5 to 14 people including by rule of thumb a representative of the gallery, someone from the Department of culture under the Sofia City Public Council and a representative of the Union of Bulgarian Artists – for years on end this was invariably Dechko Uzunov, But there could also be people from the Academy of Fine Arts, the National Art Gallery, the Bulgarian Academy of Science, the Museum of History of Sofia and even the Museum of Military History.
The first record of buying particular works are from a general Art Exhibition in 1954/1955. What follows are written statements for purchases from the Exhibition of Teacher Artists and the Exhibition of Women Artists in 1960. A few works came from the Jubilee General Art Exhibition dedicated to the 25th Anniversary of the Socialist Revolution, 1969, the General Exhibition of Sofia Artists, 1970, the Man and Labour General Art Exhibition dedicated to the 10th congress of the Bulgarian Communist Party, 1971, the general Art Exhibition marking the 50th Anniversary of the September uprising 1923, 1973, the Man and Labour General Art Exhibition, 1973 and so on.
After 1975 the purchasing of works from General Art Exhibitions traditionally continued but one could also notice the beginning of a serious professional completion of the funds by names of authors. This period coincided with stepping into office as a director of Atanas Neikov (1974-1985) who had a special attitude to sculpture and, judging by the collection, contributed a lot to its enrichment with valuable works. In 1975 was given the start of the programme for collecting plastic works for the outdoors exposition now situated mainly in the City Park and the park exposition of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The period between 1975 and 1985 was definitely the most active and fruitful one in terms of the sculpture collection. It did not only grow in number but also became richer in quality contemporary works. Undoubtedly special attention was given to the opportunity of purchasing works by the classics of Bulgarian sculpture. Thus for example in 1975 nine from all the ten plastic works of Marko Markov were added to the collection. The efforts of the team though were directed mainly towards evaluation of the contemporary works and the choice of the most significant ones. Thus the Sculpture fund acquired works by Alexander Dyakov, Dimitur Boikov, Georgi Chapkunov, Valentin Strachev, Angel Stanev, Lyubomir Dalchev, Pavel Koichev, Tomas Kochev, Velichko Minekov, Emil Popov, Ivan Pramatarov, Margarita Poueva, Lubomir Prahov, Ivan Rousev, Snezhana Simeonova, Vezhdi Rashidov, Milan Andreev and other authors from several generations. In the period 1975-1976 alone for the outdoors exposition were purchased works by: Nikolai Shmirgela, Kroum Damyanov, Ivan Neshev, Alyosha Kafedzhiiski, Alexander Dyakov, Galin Malakchiev, Valentin Starchev.
This is the right moment to mention one considerable acquisition. On 4th February Vaska Emanouilova donated to the Sofia Art Gallery 90 sculptures, 48 water-colours, 35 drawings as well as 15 paintings by the great artist Kiril Petrov. A gallery named after her was founded at 9 September 6th Str to host the collection but unfortunately it existed no more than a decade. Owing to the efforts of Sofia City Art Gallery, the support of eminent Bulgarian intellectuals and Sofia Municipality the permanent exposition was open to the public again on 21st December 2006 in the newly-founded gallery at 15 Yanko Sakuzov Blvd. Since the donation has been placed in a separate fund and is the subject of a singular catalogue², it is not included in this issue yet occupies an honorable place in the collection of SAG.
If we are to look at the collection of Sofia Art Gallery from the point of view of historical periods we have to admit that it does not possess works by the patriarchs of Bulgarian sculpture Marin Vasilev and Zheko Spiridonov. It is only Boris Shats who is represented with three pieces. It is a well known fact that in 1949 thirteen sculptures from this collection were transferred to the newly founded National Art Gallery and Shats’s works are among these. From the generation which worked at the beginning of the 20th century SAG possesses only five sculptures by Andrei Nikolov. We are in a much more favourable position with the authors who started their active career between the 20ies and 40ies like Vaska Eamnouilova, Mara Georgieva, Marko Markov, Vasil Radoslavov, Ivan Founev, Dona Boyadzhieva, Anastas Doudoulov, Mina Ivanov, Ivan Lazarov, Dimo Louchianov, Peter Ramadanov, the animalists Vassil Zidarov and Pando Kiselinchev (SAG possesses only late works by Nikolai Shmirgela and Lyubomir Dalchev). What strikes is the exclusively good collection of fourteen works by Assen Peikov but also the absence of names like Michael Kats, Kiril Shivarov, Vasil Gachev, Lyuben Dimitrov.
In the next decades the picture is much more abundant especially when speaking of the 70ies and the 80ies of the 20th century. The reasons for that are on the one hand the extensive state policy of completing the museum collections and on the other the personality factor I mentioned above. The works from that period outline the categorical trends which took on during that period – the active introduction of the small plastic forms, the variety in the materials used (stone, bronze, wood, terracotta, gypsum, polychromatic materials) and above all the new rendering of the conventionality of form. I will only mention a few sculptures which are emblematic for the period under discussion: Dimitur Boikov’s Prometheus, 1977; Ivan Varchev’s XX Century, 1971; a whole series of monumental works by Lyubomir Dalchev – Victory, Mathausen, Insurgent, The Samuil Warriors; Alexander Dyakov’s War (Matter and Spirit), 1965; Alyosha Kafedzhiiski’s Figure, 1970 and Lying Figure, 1978; Galin Malakchiev’s Hiroshima, 1980; Valentin Starchev’s Requiem, 1977. Pavel Koichev and Tomas Kochev are also among the authors from that generation who stand out with their specific interpretations.
There is also a good representation of the next period in the development of Bulgarian sculpture when the tradition of unification of the dimensions is continued in combination with more intense spatial dynamics and unfolding of the composition. This can be seen in Emil Popov (15 works), Angel Stanev (14 works), Ivan Slavov (3 works), Vezhdi Rashidov (8 works). What can be added here is the alternative approach of Boyan Radoslavov, Ivan Rousev, Margarita Poueva, Stafan Lyutakov, Boiko Mitkov, Ziatin Nuriev, Peter Panchev and others.
As far as the genre variety is concerned we are bound to conclude that sculpture heads and portraits constitute a major part of the collection. From the very beginning Sofia Art Gallery has always paid special attention to the portraits of eminent Bulgarian public figures and intellectuals. The sculpture fund doesn’t make any exception. There one can find very significant portraits of popular Bulgarians: Vasil Levski by Ivan Varchev and Vladimir Ginovski, Yane Sandanski by Kiril Anev, Todor Vlaikov by Peter Balabanov, Vladimir Vazov by Mara Georgieva and Vasil Zidarov, Geo Milev by Spartak Dermenzhiev, Ivan Vazov by Dragan Lozenski, Yanko Sakuzov by Dimo Luchiyanov, Nikolai Rainov, Elin Pelin, Stoyan Buchvarov and Lyuben Karavelov by Marko Markov, Nikolai Rainov and Geo Milev by Peter Ramadanov, Chudomir by Malden Miladinov, Alexander Stamboliiski by Krustyu Popov.
There is a collection of portraits of artists which is also of great interest: Andrei Nikolov by Velichka Believa, Nikola Terziev by Dimitur Boikov, Ilia Beshkov by Ivan Varchev, Boris Angeloushev, Lyuben Zidarov and Alexander Zhendov by Vladimir Ginovski, Vaska Emanouliva and Kiril Petrov by Kitka Delibaltova, Vaska Emanouilova by Mina Ivanov, Kiril Petrov by Vasil Radoslavov, Lyuben Prahov by Spartak Dermendzhiev, Atanas yaranov by Pavel Koichev, Stoyan Venev by Yordan Kruchmarov, Vasil Stoilov by Asen Peikov.
In the end I have to point out that the latest major acquisitions for the Sculpture fund are from 1989, 1990 and a few from 1991. Since then it has been completed solely on the basis of donations mainly on the part of the authors themselves. Which practically means that a 15 year period of dynamic and intriguing development of Bulgarian art has remained lost for the museum collection. I hope that the publishing of this catalogue will throw light on this issue and will help for its consideration. The museums and indirectly the state and municipal authorities are seriously indebted to the Bulgarian culture and historical memory.
 "Information about the present state of Sofia City Art Gallery and some problems the gallery should solve" 26th March, SAG Archives
Vaska Emanouilova. The Life of Form, published by SAG, Sofia 2005