Fairy-tale world of Ivan Milev
The Sofia City Art Gallery shows 125 works by the founding father of Bulgaria’s secession art
1 July, 2017
Arap [a dark-skinned man] Kidnaps White Girl, 1923.
The fairy-tale world of the artist is populated by wonderful and frightening creatures.
Until 6 August, a noteworthy exhibition at the Sofia City Art Gallery will draw visitors with the significant body of work of the great Bulgarian artist Ivan Milev (1897-1927), who brought Bulgarian painting into the fold of European modernism.
Directions, a collection of 125 pieces on loan from 10 museums and galleries across the country, is an expression of reverence to one of the most original and recognisable aesthetic phenomena in the 1920s Bulgarian visual arts. The event marks the 120th anniversary from the birth of the artist, who died of influenza before the age of 30.
The name of the exposition is Directions as it is an attempt to outline some of the genres (easel and mural painting, drawing, illustration, stage design) and themes (folklore, social themes, religion, mysticism) explored in the known or preserved part of Ivan Milev’s fine art production. On display are works tracing the connection to the folklore and fairy-tale element in his art, the themes of religion, mysticism, fatalism, the native art movement and secession, the decorative style and the short-lived Bulgarian modernism. Quite deservedly, Ivan Milev’s magnificent colour palette is compared to that of Gustav Klimt and Alphonse Mucha, as the Bulgarian artist was very much up-to-date with the latest art developments of the time.
Ivan Milev was born on 19 February 1897 in Kazanlak. He started his artistic career by documenting WWI on the frontline before he was accepted into the State Academy of Art in 1920. In 1925 he graduated with honours in Design. Aside from painting, he did illustrations and set designs, even interior designs. Milev lived a life of destitution, scraping to get his degree and afford the materials to be a freelance artist. As irony would have it, nowadays his image is on the 5 lev bill.
Ivan Milev was a remarkable raw talent, who had a dazzling rise to prominence before his career was cut short by an untimely death. In terms of a profound insight into the Bulgarian national fate, he is the most prominent 1920s figure, art experts say. His extremely authentic decorative style is influenced by the secession movement, widespread in Europe at the time, but is closer to the national traditions and iconography.