On the 5th of September 2022 the “Hristo Tsokev” art gallery marks a 60 – years anniversary since its founding.

The event will be celebrated with an exhibition “FATES”, which introduces the history of the gallery through artworks of authors, connected to its creation and development (from the year of 1962 until today). The exposition includes a documentation part as well, which marks notable events for the fund of the museum. Laid out is information, about people who, through their work give a considerable contribution for the establishment of the gallery as a cultural institute, which keeps and protects the cultural heritage.


The “Hristo Tsokev” art gallery was founded on the 5th of September 1962, and initially it functions as an art department of the History museum – Gabrovo. Its history is connected with the names of Kancho Tsanev, Mincho Minchev, Mitio Solakov, Nikola Nikolov and many other famous Bulgarian artists. The longest serving worker of the gallery is the artist Simeon Abanos, who in the period of 1975 – 1998, has taken the duty of proprietor, member of the gallery council and director.

The data we have today, about the initial fund is scarce. There is information, that some of the paintings have come into the fund of the museum, as a donation from the Historiography association in Gabrovo, founded during 1920, under the initiative of Dr. Petar Tsonchev, Ekim Andreichin and Enio Nikolov. The 27 paintings, marking the basis of the future collection of “Old masters”, are provided by the National art gallery.

In 1962 the exposition, which is held on the second floor in the house of Kolio Karagiozov, consists of hardly 40 artworks – paintings and sculpture. Among the authors, we distinguish names such as Ivan Murkvichka, Yaroslav Veshin, Vladimir Dimitrov – the Master and others. A central place in the exhibition is set for Hristo Tsokev, who is introduced through five paintings – portraits of famous people from Gabrovo, from the late Revival period.

From a publication in the then local newspaper, it becomes clear, that the goal, which the founders of the gallery set for themselves is: “To trace, collect and exibit for the citizens the best artworks of the artists from the town and region, both the ones of the older artists, and those of the younger. This way, the visitor will have the opportunity to acquire a deeper understanding about the development of the visual arts in the Gabrovo region, to get to know its most formidable representatives and their artworks. The art gallery will be taking an important place in the cultural life of the area for inspiring of the aesthetic sense within the working people.”

In order to fulfill this important and uneasy task, as a proprietor of the gallery is employed the graphic artist Gavrail Vichev, who was born in 1932. According to the museum documentation, he completed his basic duties, very well together with those of a fund manager and a tourist guide.

The frequent leaks from the roof and the only one employee, put to a test the future of the newly founded permanent exposition.

From the archive documents of the historical museum, kept at the State Gabrovo archive, we understand, that the first gallery is closed and the paintings are staying in a storage building, during the course of four years.

In 1967, the cellar, which is held at the basement of the community center “Aprilov – Palauzov” is remodeled as a gallery. Thus Gabrovo citizens once again have the opportunity to get in touch with the cultural heritage of one of the most notable names in the Bulgarian art from the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. During the same year the prominent Bulgarian sculptor Mitio Solakov is employed as a proprietor

The specific of the cultural life during the second half of the 20th century, sets the character of the so called Group art exhibitions. This fact in particular, turns out to be a prerequisite for a new large exhibition complex to appear in Gabrovo. The archive documents point to the fact, that a basic credit for this goes to the group of Gabrovo artists. In the annual statements, about the activity of the local history museum in Gabrovo, which are kept in the State Gabrovo archive, the personal help and merit of Nikola Nikolov is underscored many times.

Thus in 1974 the gallery becomes a separate institution with its own building, built for the first edition of GAE “Man and labor”. Its organizers are – Committee for art and culture, Union of Bulgarian artists, the central council of BPS and Local council for art and culture – Gabrovo. The first edition takes place under the name “GROUP ART EXHIBITION ON A WORKERS TOPIC”, and a chairman of the jury is Svetlin Rusev.

According to the art critics in the 70s and 80s of the 20th century, GAE “Man and labor” has all the basis to be seen as a particular account of the Bulgarian artists. At the same time it is inarguably a promise for the near future, because one of the most interesting achievements in painting at that time are the work of young artists.

The last edition of GAE “Man and labor” is in 1988.

In 1975, the International painting plein – air “Bozhentsi” starts to take place. With small interruptions it does so up until this day. It is organized at the unique architectural-historical reserve in the village of Bozhentsi near Gabrovo.

The tradition is broken twice, as the host is changed once for the ethnographic museum “Etar” and once to the Sokolsky Monastery.

Throughout the years, the organization was made mainly by the group of the Gabrovo artists. The names of Nikola Nikolov, Ivan Kanchev, Ivan Hristov – Groga, Mincho Minchev and of many other Gabrovo artists are connected to the history of the plein – air.It takes place during the autumn, and from 1977 a parallel spring edition, in which young authors participate, begins taking place as well. It was held in the beginning of April, when was the Spring vacation of the University students. The first participants in the so called “youth plein – air” were: Iordan Lazarov, Dimitrinka Grancharova, Tsvetan Kolev, Dianko Kolev, Ivan Kanchev, Ivan Tsachev, Amalia Mincheva, Mincho Minchev, Ivan Barakov, Ivan Bankov, Ema Verterova and Tsetsa Velikova.

The painting plein – air “Bozhentsi” is of an exceptional importance for the Gabrovo art gallery, as through it, in the fund forms a rich collection of contemporary international art.

From 1987 the gallery bears the name of the born in Gabrovo Hristo Tsokev. He is one of the first Bulgarian artists with an academic education, having graduated from the Moscow school of art.

In the eve of the 60-th anniversary, the fund of the gallery consists of more than 3000 artworks of one of the most famous artists in the Bulgarian art from the second half of the 19th century until this day. The artworks are allocated in the following funds – paintings, sculpture, graphics, international plein – airs, icons and applied art. From the middle of the 70s of the 20th century until today, the gallery mainly counts on the national exhibitions, in order to renew its collections. From a great importance the filling of the funds are several key donations, made throughout the years. A particular attention has to be given to personal merit toward the donation acts of prof. Ivan Kanchev.

Today the gallery has a large, specialized exhibition spaces, with a total area of 1500 sq. m. The represented, in them artistic exhibitions are ever more oriented toward a new audiences. During the last years the staff of the “Hristo Tsokev” art gallery directs its efforts toward the finding of balance between the museum content, representing the fund of the gallery and new means of expression. Many events, following the tendency for actualization of the museum content and the offered cultural product, are defining the image of the gallery as a contemporary and attractive museum institution.

The present day vision of the gallery is defined, by several large scale forums: National exhibition “SPRING SALON OF THE WOMEN ARTISTS”, National painting triennial “BRIDGES”, National biennial for contemporary art “TEMPORARY BALANCE – CONSTANT TREMORS”, International painting plein – air “BOZHENTSI”.

Nelly Nedeva

Translation by Nikolay Georgiev