‘Donated Artworks’ tell their stories at the Sredets Gallery

Notable paintings and sculptures from the NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ treasury in one exhibition for the first time

Bulgarian text: Magdalena Gigova

Translated by: Nigrita Davies


Remarkable works by world-renowned artists, which have for the first time left en bloc the treasury of the ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ National Endowment Fund, are presented in the ‘Donated Artworks’ exhibition.


The paintings, drawings, and sculptures are on display at the Sredets Gallery of the Ministry of Culture until 18 November. The exposition is unique in that all the pieces tell a story and were selected precisely for that reason.


The guests at the exhibition’s opening included Andria Brulet-Rodriguez, the US Deputy Ambassador; Antonina Stoyanova, Chair of the Values Foundation and wife of former president Petar Stoyanov; Iva Doichinova, Director of Radio Sofia; and Snezhana Yoveva-Dimitrova, Director of the State Institute for Culture at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Slava Ivanova, Executive Director of NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’, stated in her opening speech: ‘With the “Donated Artworks”, we are trying to show that sponsorship is alive and that, through the Fund, has found its realisation in our country since the establishment of NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ in 1981, to the present day. Behind each of the works lies an interesting story. I should like to thank the Sredets Gallery, where we hold an exhibition every year, for their excellent cooperation. Until now, it has always been a question of introducing individual artists. This is the first time we are showing such a collective exhibition, and I believe it is donorship, the generous gestures, that unite all the works. I should like to add another comment. This year, NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ managed to renew an agreement of extremely high status—that of official relations with UNESCO. The Fund is the only organisation in Bulgaria to have been granted such standing, and I think that the period ahead will again be filled with many events and initiatives that will be in sync with this high estimation.’


The featured artists and donors include: Atanas Katchamakoff (1898–1984), Bencho Obreshkov (1899–1970), Mihail Simeonov (1929–2021), Dimitar Kazakov – Neron (1933–1992), Greddy Assa (1954), Houben Tcherkelov (1970), Yuri Bukov (1947), Dragan Nemtsov (1935), Elza Goeva (1928), and members of the Committee of Culture, the Dimitrina and Ignat Kaneff family, Canada, and Elizabeth and Dr Herbert Schaffer, Germany.


In addition to information about each artist, the Fund’s team has, unusually, appended to each artwork quotes dedicated to the artists, sourced from monographic studies, catalogues, and articles by Bulgarian and foreign art historians, experts, and journalists. Among them, the names of Dora Vallier, Aksinia Džurova, Bistra Rangelova, Georgi Lozanov, Witold Dalbor, and Harry Minetree stand out.


The personal stories of the artists are also worth telling, because they are a veritable wellspring of Bulgarian pride. We shall quote some of them to arouse your curiosity to look for more details of their amazing lives.


Atanas Katchamakoff was born in Lyaskovets. He studied Sculpture at the Academy of Arts in Sofia, under Prof. Ivan Lazarov. In 1924, he travelled to Paris, and the following year to New York, where he won first prize in an exhibition for his marble sculpture ‘Indian Woman and Child’. From 1930, he worked for major film productions in Los Angeles. He established a studio in Palm Springs and remained there for almost the rest of his life. He held solo exhibitions in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco.


Between 1982 and 1984, Katchamakoff visited Bulgaria and donated works for an exhibition to be arranged in Lyaskovets. He also exhibited at the National Art Gallery and in his native town.


The current exhibition includes four colour drawings by Atanas Katchamakoff from the series, ‘The History of Bread’, as well as the sculptures ‘Indian Woman and Child’ (1930, gypsum and bronze) and ‘Indian Woman and Children’(1930, bronze), all of which the artist donated in 1982 to NEF ‘13 Centuries Bulgaria.


Mihail Simeonov was born in Plovdiv. He studied Philosophy at the St Kliment Ohridski Sofia University, and then graduated in Sculpture from the class of Prof. Lyubomir Dalchev at the National Academy of Arts [NAA], Sofia. Between 1954 and 1965, he created many significant monumental works, including ‘Zahariy Zograph’ (NAA), ‘The Uprising of Asen and Petar, 1186’ (Veliko Tarnovo Art Gallery), and a monument to Paisius of Hilendar, erected near the Church of Saint Sophia. In 1965, he emigrated to Tunisia, where he lived and worked until 1971, after which he settled in the USA and embarked on his grand undertaking, ‘Cast the Sleeping Elephant’. Exhibitions of the project were held in Kenya, Milan, Stockholm, Basel, Geneva, Zurich and New York. A cast of a sleeping, wild bull elephant was made in 1980 in Kenya, without harming the animal. In 1998, the ‘Sleeping Elephant’ bronze sculpture was installed at the United Nations headquarters in New York and unveiled with a speech by Kofi Annan.


In 1984, Mihail Simeonov donated to the Fund the collage of ‘Cast the Sleeping Elephant’ (oil on canvas, gypsum), part of the entire ‘Cast the Sleeping Elephant’ enterprise.


Hristo Stefanoff was born in Kazanlak. He became a student of Prof. Mrkvička. In 1925, at a general art exhibition, he presented his historical canvas on the Battles of Stara Zagora (1877–78), which was highly praised by specialists and Tsar Boris III himself.


The following year, Hristo Stefanoff left for Budapest. He travelled, producing paintings throughout Europe, Africa and America. In 1934, he settled in Poland, where he married Irena Płudowska and adopted Polish citizenship.


During World War II, he enlisted in the anti-fascist movement; he was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to a concentration camp in Bergen. Released in 1945, he succeeded in finding his wife, who had also experienced the horror of the camps. The couple initially settled in the Netherlands, where Stefanoff worked successfully in the field of easel and monumental painting, and later moved to Montreal, Canada. At the end of his life and career, the artist set up a cultural centre in Val-David that comprised his museum, an art school where he taught, and student dormitories.


Dimitrina and Ignat Kaneff of Toronto, Canada, bought the painting, ‘Seascape’, for BGN 25,000 and donated it to the Fund on 18 July 1985.


In the exposition, there are two portraits by an unknown artist whose story is also worth retelling. In 1987, Elisabeth and Dr Herbert Schaffer presented NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ with oil paintings portraying Dr Mischaikoff and his wife, dating from about 1900. In a letter to Ognian Iliev, Consul General of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria in West Berlin, they explained:


‘We met Ms Helene Maria von Schack, maiden name Mischaikoff, born on 2.10.1892 in Zürich, died in November 1955 in Berlin, and her sister Maria Mischaikoff, born on 3.2.1899 in Samokov, Bulgaria, died on 3.10.1956 in Berlin; both buried at the Heerstraße Cemetery in Charlottenburg, at the end of the war in a village near Pirna in Saxony, where we and they were evacuated. We were friends until their death.


‘The mother of the two ladies was alive after the war but died soon after and was also buried at the Heerstraße Cemetery in Berlin Charlottenburg; we no longer remember in which year. We do not know when the father died.


‘Their modest inheritance includes the two oil paintings of their parents. The father was the personal physician of the Bulgarian King Ferdinand; he studied medicine in Zürich, where the older daughter was also born, and after the First World War, he had to leave Bulgaria, together with King Ferdinand. The mother was a stately and resolute woman. Since the two sisters were childless, their two paintings ended up in our house after their deaths. We have kept them until now in order to hand them over one day, in the case of the Bulgarian authorities showing interest, which is what we are doing with this letter.


‘Additionally, we attach some photographs: of the father, of the mother, and of the two sisters Maria and Helene, taken shortly before their deaths.’


You can listen to the speech of Slava Ivanova, Executive Director of NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’, here:


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