Andrey Nikolov The sculptor who found Bulgaria too small

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Andrey Nikolov

The sculptor who found Bulgaria too small

At the dawn of the 20th century, a poor Bulgarian student named Andrei Nikolov, arrived in Paris having won a scholarship to train in sculpture. Tutored by the great Antoine Mercier, Nikolov would provide the national art of sculpture with European dimension. Born in Vratsa in 1878, the sculptor is one of the most prominent figures on the Bulgarian cultural scene. He belongs to the first post-Liberation generation that led Bulgarian culture on the road to world standards. He enrolled in the first class of the newly created Drawing School, today the National Arts Academy. Failing to graduate, he left for France as a student, and then returned to Bulgaria on an invitation to become a professor and teach. On his return, he won a contest for a soldier's monument in Vidin, dedicated to those killed in the Serbian-Bulgarian war. It is unique worldwide: the fallen warrior does not exude heroic triumph from feats and victories, but only the grief of a fratricidal war. Today the monument stands in front of the train station in downtown Vidin and every year the memory of the fallen is commemorated there on Unification Day.

With his work, Andrei Nikolov trashed the norms of the Bulgarian capital yet to emerge from the oriental mud. Nikolov himself argued to have succeeded in clearing a great deal of "stiffness" in art teaching out of the way. In 1914, he left for Italy with his wife and child, where the Great War found him. The threesome, which turned into a foursome before long, had no way to return home, so Nikolov spent the following years living and working in Italy. What enticed him back was the conversation he had with Alexander Stamboliyski, who invited him back to the homeland. The ambitious prime minister wanted to showcase Bulgaria away from the rural outback image it had and as a country where artists at European level could work. So in 1920 the sculptor returned and launched an exhibition to a huge success. The state is bought some of his works he has brought back from Italy. Up until 1927, Nikolov was living between Rome and Sofia, and then decided to finally return and built himself a house. Designed to have huge ateliers, the building wasn't beholden to any of the styles popular at that time. Its authors were his fellow countrymen - the Oryahovo architects Ivan Vasilyov and Dimitar Tsolov. Today this is the well-known Red House in Lyuben Karavelov Street, Sofia.

Having resettled in the Bulgarian capital, Andrei Nikolov kept working. His is the lion figure in front of the Unknown Soldier Monument, as well as iconic works such as "Spirit and Matter", "Mother's Kiss", "Craving", "and Lyuba", the busts of Yana Yazova, Alexander Balabanov, Elin Pelin, Alexander Stamboliyski, Tsar Boris III, etc. Some of them are on display in the Ivan Founev Art Gallery in Vratsa. Others feature in the National Gallery or in museums and galleries around the world. Andrei Nikolov continued to work and teach till the end of his life in 1959.

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