The beginning of the Art Gallery was laid in the 1930s, when the white-stone town was within the borders of Romania. The romance of the picturesque sea bay attracted many Romanian artists who captured its beauty in their canvases. This predetermined the appearance of a place where they could be displayed. Thus, in 1937, a building near the sea was converted into a museum-gallery, which was also the first of its kind in the whole of Southern Dobrudja. It contains interesting collections, some of which are 55 paintings, rare old printed editions, several ancient statues /one of them is a torso of the god Dionysus/, as well as marble heads, epigraphic monuments and coins. It lasted until 1940, when Southern Dobrudzha was returned to Bulgaria. All exhibits from the museum and gallery were loaded on the ship Oitus and exported to Romania. Historical upheavals briefly put an end to gallery life in the town.
In the 1960s, the local community began to make efforts to rebuild cultural institutions. A collection of artworks was undertaken, with the National Art Gallery donating 76 works of painting, graphic art and sculpture by Bulgarian artists. With the donations of local residents, the first exhibition opened on 25 May 1965 in the current building of the Balchik History Museum. Credit for the organization and selection of the artworks goes to Klara Petkova (1908-2003) and Nikola Daskalov (1924-2001).
An important factor in the development of art in Balchik is the establishment of a caricature gallery with a permanent exhibition, which is housed in a separate building on “Cherno More” Street. Established in 1979, it collects in its collection works by famous Bulgarian and foreign cartoonists such as Tenyo Pindarev, Assen Grozev, Lyubo Marinov, Herald Kretschmar and others. The Cartoon Gallery lasted until 1987 and its collection became part of the collection of today’s Art Gallery.
Due to the growth of the art department’s collection, the need arose to separate it in a new building. This is the beautiful and stylish, former gymnasium of the town. It is in the very centre of Balchik, in one of its quiet streets, where from high up overlooking the sea, visitors enjoy one of the most wonderful views in the White Town. The building was constructed at the end of the 19th century and subsequently reconstructed with funds from the 1300 Years Bulgaria Fund, and in 2015, after a complete renovation of the interior space, the gallery opened with a completely new look. Its renovation was accomplished with the help of the Balchik Municipality, and the conceptual project, which included the characteristic elements of Balchik – stone and wood, was created by arch. Ivo Popov.
The art gallery is located on two floors. On the first floor there are five halls for temporary and visiting exhibitions and a hall for foreign art. In the central hall is a statue of the god Dionysus /replica of the Greek original, discovered in the town in 1945 – symbol of the ancient name of the town Dionysopolis/. The foyer, which welcomes visitors and guests, is used to show films related to the art and history of the city.
On the second floor is the permanent exhibition of the gallery with works of contemporary Bulgarian art – painting, graphics and sculpture. Its thematic-exhibition plan was made in 2008 by specialists from the Institute of Art Studies at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. The permanent exposition is divided into two main zones – art from the first half of the 20th century and from the transitional period (until the end of the 1950s) and art from the second half of the 20th century. /from the beginning of the 1960s to its end/. The best represented is the pictorial section. There are works by established names such as Vladimir Dimitrov – the Master, Bencho Obreshkov, Dechko Uzunov, Tsanko Panov, Stoyan Venev, Ilia Petrov and other significant Bulgarian artists, whose paintings are collected in the hall of the so-called old masters.
In the area dedicated to art from the second half of the 20th century, there are works that speak about the earlier stages of the work of famous, contemporary artists. Oriented mainly towards the sea and the coastal landscape, the exposition offers many valuable landscapes of old Balchik painted by Bulgarian classics. The works of 11 Romanian artists who painted Balchik during the Romanian occupation of Dobrudja hold their place in the gallery’s collection.
The largest collection of works by the famous Bulgarian cartoonist Todor Tsonev, which have been donated by the author for ten years, are also one of the treasures of the gallery. These are 413 drawings, lithographs, cartoons, graphics and caricatures, as well as all 108 issues of the newspaper “Satira”, which the artist published together with the art historian Maria Ovcharova in the period 1990 – 1999.
We cannot fail to mention the Balchik-born sculptor Boris Karadzhov – Karadja /1906-1982/. His talent was discovered by the great Romanian sculptor Stork, who insisted that the young man complete his artistic education in Romania. Boris Karadzhov graduated from the Art Academy in Bucharest /1932/, where he later became a teacher and professor. The talented Dobrudzhian returned to Balchik every year. At the opening of the gallery’s exposition in 1965, he presented his work “Pieta”, occupying a central place on the second floor.
The Art Gallery in Balchik is a cultural centre where festivals and concerts are held every year, solo and joint exhibitions, literary evenings are organized. Visiting artists present their works in various fields of art – painting, sculpture, graphics, applied art. Every year, artists participating in plein air workshops come to the White Town, transforming its beauties into paintings. Many of them enrich the gallery’s collection and participate in future thematic exhibitions. In May, the European holiday “Night of Museums” is traditionally celebrated. It is marked with a rich program of exhibitions and concerts, bringing together the citizens and guests of the city.
In 2012 Balchik was declared the festival capital of the Balkans. A huge contribution to this prestigious award is the activity of the art gallery in the town and of the significant international plein air and symposia that meet here – for cartooning, for painting and for contemporary art.