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Mincho Katsarov, the artist celebrated in Paris but virtually unknown in Bulgaria

| updated on 1/21/20 4:35 PM

In 1891 a fourth child was born to the family of Todor Katsarya from Brezovo – Mincho. The child was born with an underdeveloped right hand but was to pick up the paintbrush with his left hand because he was ordained to be an artist – more celebrated abroad than in his own country which he left in 1921.

At the time he had only had three exhibitions – in Plovdiv and in Sofia where he studied at the art academy with renowned artist Ivan Mrkvička. What drove him to emigrate in 1921, was, according to his niece’s son Venelin Valyavicharski:

His ambition to excel, his longing to see and feel the big hubs of art. He first went to Vienna, then to Paris. His first exhibition in the world capital of the arts was in 1942 at Cambacérès gallery, followed by two more in 1946 and 1949 – at the prestigious galleries „La Boétie”[1] and „Pleyel“.

The philosophy of non-valence of Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, which he was committed to since his school years, ran like a red thread through his life.

During his years in Vienna he made the acquaintance of Tolstoy’s secretary Valentin Bulgakov and struck up a correspondence with him. Thirty-three pages from this correspondence, written by Katsarov to Bulgakov, are kept at the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art.

Mincho Katsarov painted mostly portraits and landscapes. But it was Ludwig van Beethoven that was to become his ruling passion.

I lived in Vienna – the city where music streams from every open window. I listened to Haydn, Bach, Mozart, but my inner antenna was attuned to the sounds of Beethoven, says artist Venelin Valyavicharski, quoting the reminiscences of the painter, and goes on with an incident described by him:

Once, out of curiosity, I took a walk in the cemetery in Währing in Vienna which was close to where I lived. And, making my way through the shrubs with some difficulty, I suddenly saw a clearing where there was a huge tombstone with the inscription Ludwig van Beethoven on it. Destiny ordained that the place where I live shall be connected with the first grave in which Beethoven was buried[2].

Intrigued by the life and destiny of the composer Katsarov sought out letters by Beethoven and documents connected with him, and even travelled to Germany. Perhaps he felt they had a bond of some kind, Valyavicharski says:

The artist had a physical disability – an underdeveloped hand – while, at the end of his life, the composer lost his hearing. Still, what intrigued him most was Beethoven’s genius and he devoted a cycle of 36 portraits to him. He sold replicas of these pictures but kept the originals for himself – for a tour of the European countries he was planning, he was also holding talks with the US. But his plans were never to be. His health suddenly took a turn for the worse and in 1953 he died in Paris.

But where are the originals of Mincho Katsarov’s paintings now? Nobody knows.

I don’t have any information about the paintings, Valyavicharski says. I surfed the internet and found a collection of replicas of works of his belonging to the chairman of the Association Beethoven France Dominique Prévot. I got in touch with him and he told me that many of the pictures are in private collections.

Two other paintings – portraits of Valentin Bulgakov and of Leo Tolstoy’s granddaughter Tanya which Katsarov painted in Varna - were bought by the Russian museum in Prague. World War 2 put an end to the museum and, according to Valyavicharski, these pictures were taken to the Tolstoy museum in Moscow.

In our day works by Mincho Katsarov – albeit as replicas and photographs – can only be seen in the building of the town hall in Brezovo, where Radnyu Shopov from the tourist centre in the town tells visitors about the life and work of the artist. Any information about Mincho Katsarov available in Bulgaria leads to the town hall in Brezovo and the tourist centre. And to the book “Mincho Katsarov” written by his niece Vasilka Katsarova-Valyavicharska.

[1] Today the Bulgarian Cultural Centre is located near „LaBoétie” gallery on the street in Paris of the same name.

[2] The composer’s remains were later transferred to the Vienna central cemetery.

Photos: private library


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