I went to the newly renovated National Art Gallery yesterday.
And it’s official.
It feels modern while still retaining the classic architectural details that in the past made it a palace as well. From outside, the building looks more or less the same. From the foyer inside, there’s also not much of a noticeable difference. The difference is in the gallery space itself and what a difference it is.
The renovations are exactly what the former royal palace needed. The building is lovely from the outside and the marble staircases inside are grand but until the recent renovations the interior of the building was rather shabby and falling into disrepair. If you’re a long time reader of my blog you may remember me detailing this before.
The floors were by far the worst. In places the parquet was curing up or worse rotting and the floor would give under your feet. All of this lead to the floor squeaking and groaning under your feet which I guess isn’t bad if you’re the parent of teenagers and you’re trying to keep them from sneaking out at night but it’s not great for an art gallery.
So the floors are fixed, the walls are painted, the plaster detail in the ceiling has been cared for, the lighting has been updated and I think there’s a new roof. Impressively, the ballroom has been opened up. There are no longer hideously ugly displays in there and for the first time you can get a sense of the grandeur that the room must have had in the past. There were also a couple of things I didn’t notice or couldn’t have known but that I read about in a Bulgarian Radio piece on the museum, the electrical wiring has been updated as was the plumbing but the biggest change is that now the space has been made handicap accessible.
What’s more, there’s a great exhibit of Vladimir Dimitrov’s work to celebrate the re-opening of the gallery and 130 years since his birth. For those of you not in the know, Dimitrov is a big deal in Bulgaria.
Vladimir Dimitrov (sorry there’s not much information about him on wikipedia) is an iconic Bulgarian painter. So much so that his nickname is The Master.
Yes. The Master. I love the way Bulgarians pass out honorifics to their country men.
He is known and loved for painting women and children from around the Kyustendil as well as scenes from rural Bulgaria related to agriculture.
I was familiar-ish with his work before going to visit the exhibit. It’s hard not to have a cursory knowledge of the man and his work when you’ve lived in Bulgaria for four years. I hoped that this would be enough because museums in Bulgaria have a bad habit of not labeling works in English or not translating biographical information into English.
However, I found myself pleasantly surprised that all of the paintings were labeled in both Bulgarian and English and that all of the Bulgarian text in the exhibit was also translated into very good English. Bravo, bravo!
Now I like art galleries but one of the things I regret is that I never took an art history course in college. I keep meaning to read more about art history, to get a book or to take a course but I’ve never done it. Instead, I poke around galleries. I admire colors, lines and paintings as a whole and figured that’s enough. Thus, I have no formal language for describing Vladimir Dimitrov’s work. That’s probably okay.
One thing that I really liked about this exhibit was the way it was curated. For many of the oil paintings also on display are the sketches and preparatory work that he did before getting to the work of painting the piece. In this way, it’s as if you get a new perspective and insight into his work. You can see how his point of view and focus developed through the sketches but you can also see what concerned him and the elements that he practiced in preparation for the actual painting.
There is also a wide range of his work in this exhibit from landscapes to self-portraits and a little bit of everything in between.
I spent about two hours in the museum but I took my time. This was easy to do seeing as even on a Saturday afternoon there were only a few other couples strolling through the gallery with me. I suspect that it’s even more quiet during the week.
Don’t let the National Art Gallery’s website fool you. It’s open even though in the English version it says it’s still closed and the pictures are all of the pre-renovation gallery. Now all you have to do is find the time to go and explore the gallery. You won’t be disappointed.
There’s a lot to love about this space. This is Sofia at her best. What’s more an adult ticket is only 6 leva (or 3 euro) making it a great deal in terms of museums across Europe.