Celebrating Ivan Milev: A Painter Honored on Bulgaria's 5 Leva Banknote

Society » CULTURE | Author: Diana Kavardzhikova |May 2, 2024, Thursday // 11:00
Bulgaria: Celebrating Ivan Milev: A Painter Honored on Bulgaria's 5 Leva Banknote

Ivan Milev Lalev was a Bulgarian painter and scenographer regarded as the founder of the Bulgarian Secession and a representative of Bulgarian modernism, combining symbolism, Art Nouveau, and expressionism in his work. He is defined as "the most Bulgarian artist". Milev was inspired by the everyday life of people, folk songs, legends, and customs in his country. He was born in the so-called ‘Karnеnska mahala’ neighborhood in Kazanlak on February 19 (March 3 new style) 1897 in the family of shepherd Milyu Lalev and the housewife Maria Ivanova. The path of the artist began in his hometown Kazanlak, unfortunately, he remains not very well known among his fellow citizens, and also among his compatriots.

Despite growing up in extreme poverty, Ivan Milev's childhood and youth were characterized by resilience and determination. Instead of succumbing to his circumstances, he cherished his paintings and was reluctant to sell them, refusing to become just another merchant. "It's hard to feel like a king and live like a beggar!" - Milev has repeatedly told his friends. Some of them tried to find an explanation for this contradiction in his paintings. On one hand, he loved the poor, he painted representatives of the poor people, on the other - in many of his paintings he brought incredible splendor and oriental pomp.

Milev's work has left a significant mark on Bulgarian culture and art. He is the author of poems and prose. It is not by chance that he was chosen among the most honored Bulgarians whose portraits we see on the lev banknotes.

Ivan Milev began to paint as a schoolboy. He finished the last year of the Kazanlak Pedagogical School but did not graduate. His drawing teacher was the artist Zahari Zhelev. He actively painted the surroundings of his town. In the autumn of 1916, he was mobilized and enlisted in the Air Force.

In 1917 he was a soldier on the Romanian front. On 18 November of the same year, while on leave, he opened a two-day solo exhibition in Kazanlak. He was demobilized in 1918 and the following year graduated from high school in his hometown. He worked as a teacher in the village of Korucheshme, Haskovo region from 1919-1920. This period proved to be important for the artist's work. His romantic soul found rich material for subjects among the guileless village people, subject to legends and fairy tales.

In 1920 he was admitted to the National Academy of Arts in Sofia. In 1920 - 1922 he followed the general course, and from 1922 - 1925 he moved to the Decorative Department under Professor Stefan Badjov. During his studies, he made three solo exhibitions. He collaborated with the newspaper Red Laughter (Червен смях, Cherven smyah) as an illustrator and caricaturist. In 1922 he drew the covers of the books "Смърт"(Death) by Vladimir Polyanov, "The Blue Chrysanthemum" (“Синята Хризантема”) by Svetoslav Minkov, "Fantasies" by Edgar Allan Poe, Hans Heinz Evers’s “The Horror”, and others published by Ed. Argus. He made the cover and illustrated Lamar's poetry collection "Arena", published by “Т. F. Chipev“. In August 1923 he visited Constantinople, Athens, Corfu, Naples, Rome, Florence, and Venice with a group of fellow students. He became closely acquainted with the achievements of the Italian Renaissance and Baroque. In January 1924, together with Ivan Penkov, he carried out the scenography of Leonid Andreev's "The One Who Slaps" ("Тоз, който удря плесници") at the National Theatre, for which he also designed other productions. On 29 June 1925, he received a certificate of completion of a full course with full honors from the Academy of Arts, specialty "Decoration".

The same year (1925) he received the State Prize for Art for his work "King Marco". He went to Vienna to cure his fragile health. On his return, he married the young and gifted opera singer Katya Naumova and the following year (1926) his only daughter Maria was born. On 25 January 1927, the artist died suddenly of influenza - just three weeks before he turned thirty.

After his death on 27 February 1927, a posthumous exhibition was organized at the Trapkova Gallery in Sofia. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth, an anniversary retrospective exhibition was organized at the National Art Gallery and the Kazanlak Art Gallery in May-June 1997.

Milev is a master of the tempera and watercolor technique in Bulgarian fine art. He is no stranger to social themes. His extraordinarily distinctive decorative style was influenced by the modern Secessionism of the time in Europe but was more related to folk traditions and icon painting. His 1924 portrait of Anna Kamenova is in the Secession style and is distinguished by decorative flamboyance, stylization, and exotic details.

Ivan Milev's works are kept in the National Art Gallery, the Sofia City Art Gallery, and the Kazanlak Art Gallery.

Thirty works of the artist were left after the bombing of Sofia in the vault of the Commercial Bank (BNB, DSK) by his wife. Among them are some of his finest paintings from his most mature period (1925-1927). When in 1957 his relatives wanted to withdraw them in connection with an exhibition on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of his death, it turned out that the paintings had disappeared. Their fate remains unknown, it is assumed that some of them are outside Bulgaria. The thirty paintings were documented in 1937 by Evdokia Peteva-Filova in a monograph on the tenth anniversary of his death.

5 BGN banknote

The image of Ivan Milev is depicted on the 5 Leva banknote (issue 1999 - 2009). The background is embedded with details from the painting "Art and the Crown of Thorns" („Изкуството и тръненият венец“), decorative motifs from other works of the artist, excerpts from his letters, and a monogram from a poster for his first exhibition held in 1925 in Sofia.

On the reverse side of the banknote, there are fragments of the paintings "Жетварка" (Harvesting), "Българска мадона" (Bulgarian Madonna), and "Змейова сватба" (Serpent's Wedding).


Ivan Milev's art

Ahinora (1925)

The title of the painting refers to the famous story of the writer and artist Nikolay Rainov "Tsarina Ahinora", as such he named the wife of the Bulgarian ruler Khan Asparuh. This is one of Ivan Milev's most striking works, which is currently housed in the Ahinora Museum, dedicated to the painting of the same name in the town of Kazanlak. In 1922, Milev turned to the subject to create the first version of "Ahinora".

Three years later, the artist returned to the subject again, resulting in the final version of the painting. Even today the painting is shrouded in mystique and provokes various questions: Did the image of Achinora reflect the portrait characteristics of a particular woman from the artist's private world? Over the years, two persistent assumptions have gained ground that have no confirmation. The first is that the painting is a portrait of Ivan Milev's wife Katya Naumova. The second is that the image of Ahinora is a portrait of Anna Orozova, wife of the wealthy rose merchant Alexander Orozov. Ivan Milev created Ahinora's portrait using tempera paints and gold bronze on delicate white cardboard, immortalizing her as one of Bulgaria's most enigmatic female figures.

Ahinora, 1922

Self-Portrait (1920)

Portrait of Anna Kamenova, 1924

Sleeplessness, 1920

More Bulgarians you should know about:

Dechko Uzunov

Rayna Knyaginya

Peyo Yavorov

We need your support so Novinite.com can keep delivering news and information about Bulgaria! Thank you!

Culture » Be a reporter: Write and send your article
Tags: Ivan, Milev, Bulgarian, painter, banknote, art

Bulgaria news Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency - www.sofianewsagency.com) is unique with being a real time news provider in English that informs its readers about the latest Bulgarian news. The editorial staff also publishes a daily online newspaper "Sofia Morning News." Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency - www.sofianewsagency.com) and Sofia Morning News publish the latest economic, political and cultural news that take place in Bulgaria. Foreign media analysis on Bulgaria and World News in Brief are also part of the web site and the online newspaper. News Bulgaria