In 1969, in the course of his research on the origins of modern art, Andrei Nakov discovered the work of the painter Georges Papazoff (born in Yambol, Bulgaria, in 1894 – died in 1972 in Vence, France) in the reserves of the Katherine Dreyer « Société Anonyme » collection, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, USA.
A Bulgarian artist who worked in Germany before settling in France in 1924, during the twenties and thirties Papazoff had a flamboyant international career, exhibiting in several European countries and in the USA. Remarked upon at an early stage by the writer Henri-Pierre Roché (a friend of Duchamp and Brancusi’s agent), Papazoff’s work quickly found its way into the major American collections of which Roché was one of the regular advisers.
DOn his return to France in 1970, A. Nakov went to Vence (Alpes Maritimes), where Georges Papazoff led a secluded life in a house he had had built at the edge of the Grand Place. The friendship that quickly developed enabled A. Nakov to convince the seventy-year old artist to return to the Paris scene, and this culminated in a one-man exhibition at the Galerie de Seine in 1971. The painter died shortly afterwards in Vence. A note in his will requested that the young art historian known in France should write a monograph on his work.
Intense work on the painter’s archives was followed in the spring of 1973 by the monograph Georges Papazoff : Franc-tireur du surréalisme, published by the Éditions de la Connaissance in Brussels.
Since then, the defence of Papazoff’s work has remained within A. Nakov’s sphere of interest. An updated version of the 1973 publication is planned: it will include numerous documents and works discovered over latter years in Bulgaria and in Western Europe, notably a considerable amount of the artist’s correspondence.
A RETURN TO BULGARIA
Throughout his life, Georges Papazoff remained a Bulgarian painter – fuelled until his last breath by an idyllic vision of his childhood and his country. He was eager to see his art return to Bulgaria and receive the recognition there that he once missed so much.
In 1934, his sole attempt to exhibit his paintings in Sofia suffered a complete failure. His letters from that time, sent from Bulgaria to Western Europe, show the extent to which he had to fight society’s rooted negativity and the anti-modernist recoil that led to the rejection of his paintings. The experience was too painful for him. He had made major efforts, publishing texts on modern art and donating a large oil painting to the National Gallery in Sofia – a donation he presented as one by his friend and collector Rolf de Maré instead of himself.
To say that Papazoff is little known in Bulgaria would be untrue. But we should point out that while his name is recognized, his work remains misunderstood, if not rejected, despite quite a few paintings residing there, and most of all, despite the existence of an excellent monograph written by Kiril Krastev – a friend of Papazoff and an intimate connoisseur on his work, Krastev was an outstanding art historian and critic, acquainted with the avant‐garde between the two World Wars, but sadly unknown outside Bulgaria. Is this not essentially the fate of all modern Bulgarian art abroad ?
So we do not have to ask ourselves why Papazoff’s art still remains, both in Bulgaria and abroad, mired in a soft ‘modernist’ haze that hinders its genuine understanding and a recognition that will eventually become lasting and, finally, conclusive.
I think that in post ‐ 1944 Bulgaria this was the consequence of many decades of resistance, if not hostility, to modern culture and espetially to the frigile modern culture between the two World Wars. The brutal elimination of the cultural and in particular the modernist elite began with Geo Milev’s brutal murder, followed by that of Vaptsarov – two tragic events among so many others – and continued to intensify after the Communist dictatorship was established. Another cultural stratum, a generation that did not have the time to assert itself, became the victim of anti-modernist violence and socio‐cultural ‘cleansing’ brought about by anti‐Western resentment associated with the political catastrophe of the Habsburg ‘monarchy’ regrettably, but inevitably imposed by Western powers. The phantoms of an unconscious Russophilia further complicated the orientation of the new elites, guilty on the other hand of para‐fascist inclinations. Enough layers of social culpability were present to facilitate the antimodernist mission of the new philistines.
Thus did the lacking and now impossible cultural continuity suppress the very foundations of the vision of twentieth century modernity. In the absence of such local foundations, Papazoff’s work can hardly be appreciated in its entirety, assessed on its merits and conclusively recognized. For this to happen, we must recover, or rather create the backbone of an authentic vision of modernity. Only then will Papazoff find his rightful place, which he is undoubtedly due in this new Gradus ad Parnasum..
In the early summer of 1970, when I first met him in Vence, he lived entirely apart from the world of Paris. He was deeply disappointed by the rejection of the Parisian artistic scene, then dominated by André Breton’s undisputed surrealist hegemony. Here we should recall that from the very start of his career in France, Papazoff refused the tyrannical rule of André Breton. And if such a refusal is worthy of respector even admiration, its consequences were fatal for the appreciation and consequently to the survival of his work in Paris. Many years after Breton’s passing. Papazoff’s fate it remains marred by that notoriety.
In 1972, I managed to convince him to return and exhibit his paintings in Paris, where he was again ill‐received after 1945 (due to his friend André Derain’s unfortunate visit to nazi Germany). His sudden death after only a few months, and his daughter Myriam’s destructive attitude gradually stifled the interest generated by his exhibitions in the early 1970s. Papazoff’s name again fell into the obscurity from which I had sought to remove it. Only after Myriam’s passing did Papazoff’s situation begin to change. The modest return of interest to his paintings observed in Paris over the last few years (bold exhibitions at the Lacombe gallery and recently the Vazieux and Laurentin galleries) will become permanent only after Papazoff’s work has been appreciated for its true pictorial and poetic value in his native country. When true Bulgarian collectors, private and public, elevate his artistic message. The day that Bulgaria establishes a clear vision of twentieth century art will be a victorious day for Papazoff’s work. On that day, a new cultural identity will be accorded its place in Bulgaria. From that moment on, Papazoff’s work will not only be understood, but it will also become necessary and therefore desired.
Andrei Nakov, Paris, September 2012 © Copyright Andréi Nakov, 2012
Ce texte constitute l’introduction (version originale, française) du catalogue de l’exposition Papazoff (en langue bulgare) qui eu lieu à l’automne 2012 à la galerie « Rakursi » de Sofia.
- Georges Papazoff : Franc-tireur du surréalisme, éditions de la Connaissance, Bruxelles 1973.
Where to find it