National Art Gallery (Bulgaria)

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Coordinates: 42°41′47.33″N 23°19′36.43″E / 42.6964806°N 23.3267861°E / 42.6964806; 23.3267861

The National Art Gallery edifice, the former royal palace of Bulgaria
The former royal palace in 1917.
Closer view of a part of the building

The National Art Gallery (Bulgarian: Национална художествена галерия, Natsionalna hudozhestvena galeriya) is Bulgaria's national gallery and houses over 50,000 pieces of Bulgarian art. It is located on Battenberg Square in the capital city of Sofia, occupying most of the historic and imposing edifice of the former royal palace of Bulgaria, having been established in 1934 and moved to the palace in 1946, after the abolition of the monarchy.

The royal palace, a typical example of Second Empire architecture with chateauesque connotations, was constructed in two stages, the first lasting between 1880 and 1882 during the rule of Knyaz Alexander Battenberg, when Austro-Hungarian architects under Viktor Rumpelmayer worked on the building. It was inaugurated on 26 December 1882 and constituted the representative part of the palace, encompassing the administrative ground floor, the ballrooms above and the service third floor. The second stage, during Knyaz (later Tsar) Ferdinand, saw the construction of the palace's east wing by Viennese architect Friedrich Grünanger, who incorporated elements of Viennese Neo-Baroque. The east wing was where the apartments of the royal family were located, but some service premises (including a lift) were also located there.

Meanwhile, the National Archaeological Museum was established. It was the first national institution to have an art department in the country, which was founded in 1892. It collected examples of contemporary Bulgarian art. The department grew into the State Art Gallery in 1934 and was moved to a separate building. Among its exhibits were works by Bulgarian National Revival artists, foreign art and works of first-generation Bulgarian painters from after the Liberation of Bulgaria in 1878.

After the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a Communist government in Bulgaria following World War II, most of the palace was given to the National Art Gallery since its building was destroyed by the bombing raids in 1943 and 1944. Fortunately, all of the paintings it had housed were preserved, and together with the royal art collection already exhibited in the palace formed the stock of the National Art Gallery.

The medieval art department was formed in 1965 and occupies the crypt of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. In 1985 the foreign art section became independent as the National Gallery for Foreign Art and was moved to the former Royal Printing Office, an imposing Neoclassical building in Sofia.

The National Art Gallery houses not only examples of contemporary and National Revival art, but also the country's largest collection of medieval paintings, including more than four thousand icons, a collection comparable in quality and number only to that of the Benaki Museum according to the director of the gallery, Boris Danailov.

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