The Union of Bulgarian Artists is a non-profit creativity association bringing together, through its territorial network, visual artists and art critics from all over the country. Founded in 1944, the Union is in fact the result of a half-century of historical experience of Bulgarian artists in the building of an organization capable of protecting their rights and constructing the necessary cultural infrastructure warranting adequate art life.

Author of the historical articles:
Plamen V. Petrov


Association of North Bulgarian Artists


The Constitution of the Association of the North Bulgarian was approved by Order No 3508, of December 20, 1920, of the Minister of Peopleʼs Education. The goal of the Association was to organize artists from north Bulgaria, to provide opportunities for them to present their work to the general public, provide support for their free development, promote their art through exhibitions, reproductions of the best works of its members, lectures, classes and the publication of a bulletin of the Association. A curious goal listed in the Associationʼs Constitution was “to work to bring all artistsʼ organizations together in a Bulgarian Union of Artists” – an idea that was indeed implemented years later. The Association stood for the idea to “use the offshoots of the native art in a contemporary sense and monitor the development thereof, as well as the development of art abroad”.

Among the first who signed the Constitution of the Association were artists such as Atanas Michov, Dimitar Vichev, Christo Kazandzhiev, Angel Spasov, Boris Lazarov, Cyril Shivarov, Dimitar Krachkov etc. In the years up to 1944, when the Association was formally discontinued, its members produced their own general art exhibitions. However, despite the Association pro-active position, its art events preserved their regional character and would not be admitted/attracted to the general art exhibitions that were organized in Sofia after the 1920ʼs. This forced its more active members to become simultaneously members of some of the other artistsʼ organizations. Prominent among these were Angel Spasov, Cyril Shivarov, Atanas Michov etc. Despite all this, they continued their membership in the Association of North Bulgarian Artists.

The New Artists' Society


The New Artists' Society entered the art scene in April, 1931. Among its founders were: Boris Ivanov, Vaska Emanuilova, Vera Lukova, Dragan Lozensky, Ivan Funev, Mara Georgieva, Nikolay Shmirgela, Peter Mladenov, Stoyan Venev, Stoyan Sotirov. The following came on board later on: Alexander Zhendov, Alexander Stamenov, Assen Vassilev, Bencho Obreshkov, Boris Angelushev, Boris Eliseev,. Boyan Petrov, Bronka Gyuriva, Vera Nedkova, Vesselin Staykov, David Peretz, Dimitar Draganov, Docho Bayramov, Eliezer Alsheh, Ivan Nenov, Ivan Penkov, Cyril Petrov, Cyril Tsonev, Lyubomir Dalchev, Mara Tsoncheva, Marko Markov, Nenko Balkansky, Pencho Georgiev, Preslav Karshovsky, Raphael Michaylov etc. The constitution of the Association emphasized that one of its main goals was to organize all artists of novel views on art who had quit their old memberships and those who had so far kept away from any other artists’ organization.

An important point in the constitution was the statement that the Association aimed to enhance the status of artists and maintain it at a suitable level (in terms of personality and vocation, so that they could meet the demands of their calling), and oppose the careerism that was pestering art all too often. Regarding aesthetic experiments, the Association pursued the introduction and spreading of a contemporary aesthetic taste among the intelligentsia and the general public so that people would be better equipped to decode the works of the new artists and get closer to their artistic quests. Even at its very beginning, the Association identified itself as a union of artists who “oppose art for artʼs sake, but uphold art that is an engine in the process of social development – of progressive worldview”. This “leftist” orientation of the Association, however, did not warrant its continuation after 1944, when it was legally closed down and a large number of its members became members of the newly formed Union of Artists in Bulgaria.

Union of the Artistsʼ Associations in Bulgaria


The Union of the Artistsʼ Societies in Bulgaria was established on November 21, 1931, and the protocol of incorporation, features the signatures of those who confirmed the founding of the Union: Andrey Nikolov and Dimitar Gyudzhenov on behalf of the Association of Artists in Bulgaria; Alexander Andreev and Stefan Badzhov on behalf of the Contemporary Art Society; Preslav Karshovsky and Simeon Velkov on behalf of the Association of South Bulgarian Artists; Ivan Lazarov and Sirak Skitnik on behalf of the Native Art Society; Miladin Lazarov and Ivan Ivan Ivanov on behalf of the Association of the Independent Artists; and Akexander Zhendov and Ivan Funef on behalf of the newly established Association of the New Artists. Among the main objectives of the Union were the organizing of exhibitions, competitions and initiatives, the regulation of the competition system for memorials and historical paintings, and the implementation of social policies to provide security for its individual members.

Organizationally, the supreme managing body of the Union was the Congress. The Union Council and the Auditory Council reported to the Congress. The resolutions of the Congress determined the decisions on issues related to art policies. The first Congress was held on September 17 and 18, 1932, in the salon of the “Graff Ignatiev” secondary school, in Sofia. The events of September 9, 1944, prompted the convening of two general assemblies by the end of that same year, on September 19 and December 10. The resolutions led to an apparent reform of the Union, which in fact discontinued the existing organization and replaced it with a Union of the Artists in Bulgaria.

Other associations over the 1904 – 1944 period


  • The Society of Woman Artists in Bulgaria  / View from the first exhibition in the State Academy of Arts, 1928

Up until 1944, a number of other organizations of artists were founded, associating their members based on various principles. Notable among these were the Union of South Slavic Artists “Lada” (1904), The Artistsʼ Section of the Association of the Women of Higher Education (1924), the Association of the Icon Painters and Woodcarvers (1925), The Association of the Russian Painters in Bulgaria (1929), The Association of Applied Artists in Bulgaria (1930) etc. Today, most of these artistic organizations remain largely unknown and their role in the organized art life has been studied only fragmentarily.

Emblem of the Union of the South Slavic Artists Lada  / Design by Haralampi Tachev, 1906

Other inadequately studied topics are the private art galleries and the “government-organized competitions”, which were an organic part of the art life in this country. It is a fact, however, that the political changes of the mid-1920ʼs led to the first attempts to centralize the art scene. The result was the first general art exhibition (GAE), in September 1927 – the forum that over the following decade, and after 1944, became the main vehicle to present the artistic achievements of the different creative unions. However, some groups remained isolated from these forums. The same happened after the Union of the Associations of Artists in Bulgaria was set up in 1931.

Union of the Artists in Bulgaria


The first constitution of the Union of the Artists in Bulgaria was formally approved by Decision No 207 of June 8, 1946, of the Ministry of Interior. Members of its managing body were Ivan Penkov, Nenko Balkansky. Ilia Petrov, Nikolay Shmirgela, Metody Balalchev, Nikola Tuzsuzov, Bpris Kotsev, Evgeny Poptoshev. Ilia Beshkov, Stoyan Venev, Lyubomir Dalchev.

According to Art. 2 of the Constitution, the Union aimed to unite all artists of Bulgaria for the progressive development of visual arts in this country;  to cooperate pro-actively for the implementation of the art policies of the state; work to improve the work conditions of Bulgarian artists, members of the Union, and provide for the all-round protection of their professional interests; work for the progressive development and flourishing of the visual arts within the process of the building of the national culture. Further, the main document of the Union stated that members could be all Bulgarian artists of proven artistic capacity, evaluated by the artistic leadership of the organization. Banned from membership were authors of proven anti-national views and activities and those who obstruct the organizational or professional work of the Union; who fail to perform the duties they had undertaken; whose behavior ruins the reputation of the Union or their colleagues and who fail to pay their membership fee per the terms as set forth by the Union Constitution. In order to provide a closer link of the Managing Council of the Union and the members thereof, as well as for the competent addressing of specific issues of the visual arts, the Union of the Artists in Bulgaria will set up sections per genre. In all regional centers where there are more than five regular Union members, groups will be formed and these will maintain a direct administrative communication with the management of the Union.

In the attempt of the authorities to control the intelligentsia and establish their new directives on thinking in art, in February 1949, the Constitution of the Union was revised substantially. The union was to be managed by a Plenum and the institution of the “comradesʼ court” was introduced for the first time. This was appointed by the Plenum and consisted of three individuals, who elected chair and a secretary among themselves. The Union Comradesʼ Court functioned according to a special set of rules, approved by the Annual General Assembly and the Plenum. It deliberated on and tackled issues, disputes, offenses etc. between individual Union members, rather than actions or violations affecting the interests or the reputation of the Union or going against the terms and conditions of the Union Constitution, these being subject to ad hoc investigating committees, specially appointed for each individual case by the Presidium of the Union. The comradesʼ court decisions were to be approved by the Presidium and, as a final sanction, by the the Plenum. The resolutions of the Presidium were to be approved by the Plenum and by the Annual General Assembly.

Following the April Plenum of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party of 1956, the ruling elite declared their willingness to reform their government policies. As an attempt to reflect these changes, in 1959, the Union of the Artists in Bulgaria was renamed to Union of Bulgarian Artists.

Union of Bulgarian Artists


Though renamed, the Union of Bulgarian Artists preserved almost intact the package of tools and procedures introduced to control the art scene in Bulgaria. Over the following decades, the main art forum remained the General Art Exhibitions, which were most often topical. In an attempt to sort of “democratize” art life, regional general art exhibitions began to be organized. This decentralization led to a substantial change in the art life in the country, which, in the 1970ʼs and 1980ʼs prepared the soil for the radical changes in the management of the Union, which, following the political changes of 1989, set off on its  current path.

From 1959 to date, the Union has been managed by a Chairman, and the list of those who took the position is as follows: Stoyan Sotirov (1959 – 1963), Nikola Mirchev (1963 – 1965), Dechko Uzunov (1965 –1970), Nikola Mirchev (1970 – 1973), Svetlin Rusev (1973 – 1985), Christo Neykov (1985 – 1989), Anton Donchev (1989 – 1990), Ivan Gongalov (1990 – 1992), Borislav Stoev (1992 – 1996), Lyuben Zidarov (1996 – 1999), Christo Charalampiev (1999 – 2004), Ivaylo Mirchev (2004 – 2011), Lyuben Genov (2011 – to date). Today, as a non-profit legal entity, the Union brings together thousands visual artists, organized by sections based on creative principles.