The above pearl of wisdom was one of the many takeaways from the exhibition presenting the comprehensive works of Bulgarian painter Vera Nedkova (1906-1996), or Вера Недкова, which I visited on January 7 at the National Gallery, housed by the Bulgarian Royal Palace of the pre-Communism days.
Taking advantage of the half-empty city, and in an effort to forget the trouble I had with a frozen cold water pipe in my kitchen (it was -13 at noon!), I paid a visit to a lingerie shop close to the Russian Monument (Руски паметник) and then to Nedkova’s exhibition, in an exquisite conclusion to a wonderfully contemplative day.
As additional reading, and if you care to take a look at a very comprehensive coverage of Bulgarian realist painters, please take a look at the wonderful and carefully annotated book, and blog, of Scottish social scientist Ronald Young, whom I admire for his deep and loving involvement with Bulgaria.
Throughout her artistic life, Vera Nedkova painted a lot of self-portraits and portraits of her sister, mother and brother. The self-portraits are particularly interesting to examine because, apart from keeping track of time, they’re like self-study etudes, transmitting something of the mood and the personality traits of the artists themselves.
I was a bit bewildered by this self-portrait, but a possible key to understanding it is a sentence from an exquisite book called Time & Beauty, Art Nouveau in the Bulgarian Cities, a 2014 publication edited by Vittore Collina and graphically designed by Ayumi Higuchi:
“The mascaron, or mask, usually depicting a female face, is a distinguished decorative motif [on building facades] that contains a wide range of messages encoded in the deep symbolism of the style. It embodies the powerful feminine origin – beauty and love, life and fertility. In a deeper semantic sense, the mask is a link between love and death (between Eros and Tanatos).”
Interestingly, the same semantic sense of the feminine origin can be observed at the cover of a Communism-time book on beauty and style I have discovered as an early teenager. It is really ridiculous in places, but still, I have learned a lot from it. It mainly deals with the outer manifestations of style, elegance and poise, such as grooming, good clothes and good posture. It says almost nothing on substance. People had to queue and plead with booksellers to get quality books during communism, and knowledge on any subject was generally mystified, so substance was a hard thing to get one’s hands on. I rather believe it’s the same today, though for different reasons.
A lot to learn from Vera Nedkova on style and substance, Boryana
PS. An old-time Russian waltz for you. Or something more playful, if you’re in the mood. C’est si bon…