An exhibition “Georges Papazoff – The Illuminator” is on at the National Gallery in Sofia in Bulgaria’s capital city until March 19 2023.
Papazoff’s creative path led him from Yambol to Paris. This extensive exhibition marks the 50th anniversary of his death and is his first significant retrospective in Bulgaria since the 1988 exhibition, George Papazoff. Artworks from the Fund of the Petit Palais Museum, Geneva, also held in Sofia.
Papazoff was born in 1894 in Bulgaria, and died in 1972 in Vence, France.
Throughout his 78 years, he trod a long path from Yambol to the major European capitals.
He lived in Prague, Vienna, Munich, and Berlin, before settling in Paris in 1924.
According to the 1982 Dictionary of Surrealism compiled by writer and art historian Edouard Jaguer, “Papazoff is undoubtedly one of the forerunners of what we now call the ‘abstract surrealism” of the mid-1920s, alongside Miró, Ernst, Malkin, and Masson’”
His oeuvre is also associated with Expressionism, Cubism, Fauvism and Dadaism; his infinite imagination sent him on journeys in different stylistic directions and to diverse zones of consciousness. Difficult as it is to categorise him within a single movement, Georges Papazoff certainly bore the spirit of discovery and experimentation of the first half of the twentieth century.
Curator Maria Vassileva has included in the exposition more than 100 paintings and drawings from the National Gallery in Sofia, the Georges Papazoff Art Gallery in Yambol, the Association des amis du Petit Palais Museum in Geneva, Switzerland, the National Museum of Modern Art in Zagreb, Croatia, as well as from the corporate collection of Universal Investment Advisory SA, Geneva.
Most of the works are being shown in Bulgaria for the first time.
According to Vassileva: “Georges Papazoff was a typical example of the universal movements of the first decades of the 20th century, when boundaries were provisional and art was a powerful unifying instrument. His oeuvre, even today, connects several countries and continues the multilingual dialogue on true values”.
Across seven galleries on the second floor of the Palace, the exhibition design by architects Kirill Ass and Nadia Korbut follows a chronological and thematic perusal of the artist’s oeuvre in the context of European Surrealism.
Viewers have the opportunity to admire some of his earliest drawings, whether created in Prague or prompted by his encounters with the German Expressionists in Munich and Berlin, as well as frottages and sand compositions that Papazoff produced in the 1920s.
Works inspired by Bulgarian folklore tradition are included: ‘The Apron’ (1927), ‘Fire’ (1925–26), ‘Composition’ (ca. 1925), and ‘The Bulgarian Strength’ (1928).
А central place is assigned to the portrait of the artist’s mother, and to paintings dedicated to his friend André Derain. A portrait of Georges Papazoff by Derain is also on display.
One of the exhibition’s highlights is Papazoff’s 1957 version of Henri Rousseau’s ‘Sleeping Gypsy’ of 1897, which is accompanied by the series, ‘Circus Dogs’ and ‘Gladiators’, also developed at that time.
The artist found great inspiration in the sea and created a number of works on marine themes, as well as landscapes of the Dordogne region of France. A significant portion of his oeuvre was also occupied by the series titled ‘Bathers’, on which he worked from the 1920s into the 1960s. Prominence is given to paintings from the ‘Éclaireurs’ (‘Illuminators’) series, relating to his wartime memories and the soldiers on reconnaissance who illuminated the battlefield with lanterns to assess the situation at the front. In stylistic terms, these paintings constitute his original artistic contribution, where traces of Cubism, Futurism and Surrealism are to be found. Their deep symbolic nature predetermined our adoption of the series heading as the title of the present exhibition.
Vassileva is the author of a rich catalogue (in Bulgarian, French and English) that includes unfamiliar works and hitherto unknown facts concerning Papazoff’s oeuvre.
The study places the artist in the context of the most current trends in global art from the first half of the twentieth century and traces his active involvement in them, as well as the role he played in their establishment. The National Gallery will publish a catalogue (in Bulgarian and English) of the works of Georges Papazoff held in its stock. A translation of his autobiography, ‘Georges Papazoff. In the Footsteps of the Artist’ (with the original title: ‘Sur les pas du peintre. Suivi de documents et témoignages’, Galerie de Seine, Paris, 1971) will be on sale in the bookstalls at The Palace and Kvadrat 500.
In parallel with the exhibition at the Palace, guest works by Papazoff from the art galleries in Sliven and Yambol can be viewed in Hall 7 of Kvadrat 500—where his artworks are traditionally on display in the National Gallery’s permanent exposition.
This exhibition was made possible with the financial support of the Ministry of Culture of Bulgaria, and courtesy of Mr Gueorgui Vassilev and Universal Investment Advisory SA, Geneva.
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