Mosaics have a unique status in modern Bulgarian art as a monumental art form. It is not one of the more typical forms of art in Bulgaria either before or after Bulgaria’s Liberation from Ottoman rule in 1878. Its development over the course of modern Bulgarian history varies considerably by historical period.
The major periods for the development of mosaics in Bulgaria are from 1878 to 1944, 1944 to 1989, and 1989 to present day.
In the beginning of the 20th century, mosaic art in Bulgaria was used mostly in church decoration and was not a popular art form otherwise. There are no examples of secular mosaics made between 1878 and the beginning of the 20th century. Mosaics became more popular as a monumental art form in Bulgaria because of Western European influence.
The earliest 20th century mosaics in Bulgaria closely resemble paintings with soft color transitions, light and shading effects, and the pursuit of visual depth. The drive to establish a national identity for a Bulgaria recently liberated from Ottoman rule had a strong influence on the arts at the time. Architects and artists turned to shapes and structures in medieval Bulgarian architecture, including ornamental styles. Building façades were decorated with brightly colored polychrome friezes, terracotta decorations, and, rarely, mosaic panels.
Although Bulgarian artists worked in a variety of artistic media, the mosaic had still not become popular in monumental wall decoration. This was partially due to a lack of state funding and the difficult financial situation after WWI but was also because of a lack of previous mosaic art traditions in Bulgaria. Due to socio-economic changes, the accumulation of wealth by some elements of society, and Austrian and German influences, wall paintings and mosaics gradually began appearing in interior spaces. The wealthy in particular started to commission mosaics, wall paintings, and ceramic panels for their homes and offices.
In the late 1920s, artistic life in Bulgaria had already begun to change, and by the 1930s, the government had invested heavily in the construction of large public buildings that needed decoration. Government commissions of mosaics made with expensive and high quality materials became the norm, and art turned into a means for the state to express its wealth and authority. Bulgarian mosaics from the 1930s were influenced by the German movement “Neue Sachlichkeit,” which saw a return of realism in art after the vagueness of impressionism. While mosaics of the 1920s were more graphic with clean lines and contrasting colors, those from the 1930s saw the appearance of figures and a wider color palette, partially due to their incorporation of a wider variety of materials. During the 1940s, mosaic decoration was predominantly found in private homes while state commissions were rare and mosaics were no longer utilized in church decoration.
Key artists responsible for mosaic art between 1878 and 1944 are Anton Mitov (1862-1930), Haralampi Tachev (1875-1941), Ivan Penkov (1897-1957), Dechko Uzunov (1899-1986), Ivan Kozhuharov (1934-1994), and Ivan Nenov (1902-1997).