Ivan Milev:
On the path
of suffering

Han Hadji Nikoli Gallery, Veliko Tarnovo

21.3.2023 — 31.10.2023

Plamen V. Petrov
Katya Hristova
Kristina Beleva
Georgi Sharov
Tsvetan Ignatovski
Albena Dimitrova

“A fatal day. At night I dreamed of terrible things. Thousands of shells rained down on my head and pieces fell at my feet. I heard their roar and hid in a nook, from where I could see many bodies writhing in the smoke.” These are the first words that the artist Ivan Milev wrote down in his first and only remaining diary, titled On the Path of Suffering. The record dates back to November 6, 1917. At that time, Ivan Milev was only 20 years old, and he had less than a decade of life left ahead of him. A decade in which he would not only enter the wonderful world of art, but also succeed in establishing himself as one of the brightest phenomena of our country’s cultural history in the 20th century. And his artistic legacy, the largest portion of which is today part of the collection of the Art Gallery – Kazanlak, is evidence of a presence that was amazing in its sensitivity, fixed on suffering, but not only in words.

The exhibition Ivan Milev. On the Path of Suffering is the artist’s first independent presentation in Veliko Tarnovo and part of the program of the team at the Art Gallery – Kazanlak to promote the artist’s legacy. The exhibition, carried out as a joint initiative with the gallery at Hadji Nikoli Inn in the old capital city, is a natural continuation of the cycle of exhibitions realized last year in Rome (Italy) and Vienna (Austria) – two cities that Ivan Milev visited in 1923 and 1926, respectively. The year 1926 was a turning point in the artist’s short life. Then he would not only receive the true recognition of his talent, as well as becoming a father, but he would also make the priceless gesture of donating one of his greatest works – the painting Ahinora – to his native town. A painting that can be seen in the current exhibition only from March 21 to 31. This is the last planned journey of the painting away from Kazanlak, where the opening of an independent museum of the work – the House of Ahinora – is about to take place.

For Ivan Milev, the year 1926 was also connected with another journey, this one to Veliko Tarnovo. On July 26, in a letter to his wife, the opera singer Katya Naumova, he wrote with painful sincerity: “I got on the train and for 11 levs I went to Tarnovo. I’ll leave it for later, when we see each other, to talk about this city – it really is Spain. I have to come here for at least a month to be able to convey what impressed me. It is a fairy tale. The two of us need to go, and that will happen soon.” This was the artist’s first visit to the capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. His desire for a quick return never came to fruition because, only a few months later, on January 25, 1927, death would overtake him, as unexpectedly for his relatives and friends as it apparently was for the artist himself. Ninety-seven years after Ivan Milev first set foot on the cobblestone streets of Veliko Tarnovo, he returns to this city he described as a fairy tale. Though the artist is no longer with us, the residents and guests of the city will have the opportunity in the coming months to gaze into his imaginative world, at his creative endeavours, some of which have not been shown to the Bulgarian public. To see works reflecting Ivan Milev’s wanderings on the path of suffering. Works that are a kind of penance by the artist.

The exhibition includes works from the inventory of the Art Gallery – Kazanlak. The exhibition will be accompanied by two lectures dedicated to the artist’s life and creative path. For the first time in Veliko Tarnovo, the newest scholarly edition by the Kazanlak Art Gallery’s team will be presented; it is dedicated to one of the artist’s most emblematic works, The Legend of Mt. Athos, which is now kept in a private collection.

About the author

Ivan Milev was born in Kazanlak in 1897 and in his short life until 1927 managed to establish himself as one of the most significant Bulgarian artists. Back in 1925, the author will visit Vienna for the first and only time, but although he probably meets bright examples of the Austrian Secession, he will remain deeply connected in his work with his roots, with his homeland. And the artistic creed he professes, he himself defines as follows: “Modernism, ultra-modernism, decadence and I don’t know what names the new ventures in our country, which time, the century give birth to, are called today. For the artist, it seems to me, it would never matter what he is – whether Impressionist, Symbolist or Expressionist – when he charts his path. He does not even cope with these or those schools and directions, because art in itself is not a school, it does not tolerate a school and a path and all sorts of worn-out morals, which should already be sent to the archives of oblivion.”