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Dimitar Gyudzhenov - the painter who chronicled Bulgarian national memory

King Simeon the Great at Constantinople, paited 1927

"Once in my adolescent years I used to love this artist very much. Reproductions of his works were a permanent decoration in Bulgarian schools
“, the writer Dimitar Avramov recalls in his book dedicated to painter Dimitar Gyudzhenov. “Nowhere else did the distant history of our people seem so heroic, majestic and glorious: kings - beautiful and dignified, their deeds - wise and useful, warriors - brave and irresistible, clothes, weapons, palaces, temples - all lavish, glamorous and unwavering .

Dimitar Gyudzhenov and his portrait of King Simeon – 1927

As if to testify to an undying "golden age" in which there is no mention of failure and misfortune”, Avramov adds.

Indeed, connoisseurs and people involved in art history portray Dimitar Gyudzhenov, who was born 130 years ago, as an artist-chronicler of the ups and downs in the historical path of the Bulgarian nation. In complex compositions, his paintings reveal personalities and events that occupy a central place in our national consciousness because of their moral greatness and political significance. The painter’s artistic legacy includes 50 historical and battle compositions, about 2,000 sketches with oil paints and watercolours, many small paintings, icons, oil decorations, and several folders with hundreds of pencil drawings.

An interview with Dimitar Gyudzhenov is preserved in the Golden Fund of the Bulgarian National Radio, which reveals pages of his life forgotten over the years:

"My youth passed through the flames of the Balkan War and the First World War. In those years the whole nation was in military uniforms, me too. Drawing sketches and paintings of the battle field was my duty as a military artist. I witnessed fateful battles for Bulgaria. I watched live compositions of soldiers, horses, cannons. I experiences first-hand the trepidations and trials of warfare .On the other hand, two years in Paris in 1913-14 with a master of historical painting had its impact. Soon my passion for military themes grew into deep interest in history painting."

Rain at the front line – 1916

What attracts him most to a historical plot?

"It must be significant, a sort of pinnacle in our national development. Some examples are Khan Kubrat and his sons, Simeon in front of the Byzantine capital, the meeting of General Gurko in Sofia and others. Each of these topics contains some great a feat of the spirit and the will. I have tried to convey this feat to the spectator, with means of expression understandable to him. I have not sought originality and self-serving art in the clarity of the expression of the idea. Perhaps I carry something of the spirit of the Revival masters. They felt the need to illustrate our history and to put a factual and educational content into these illustrations."

As for the ability to capture the spirit of the time in his paintings, Gudzhenov reveals that this is the result of a lot of work and a number of consultations with historians who are his contemporaries. "In history painting, I think that more than anywhere else, it is necessary to combine the scientific with the artistic type of thinking," the artist believes.

The first Bulgarian kingdom as well as Tsar Boris the Baptizer of Bulgarians are the epoch and the personality from the Bulgarian history which gave food for inspiration for the artist. Gudzhenov defines Tsar Boris as an exceptional ruler, but also as a particularly dramatic figure who could not fail to attract the artist-historian.

English version Rositsa Petkova

Photos: archive


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