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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Ivan Mrkvička

A Marketplace in Plovdiv, 1888, Ivan Mrkvicka
Bulgarian-Macedonian Woman,
1931, Ivan Mrkvicka
Whether we realize it or not, we all owe quite a debt to artists in the past for allowing us to at least imagine what life was like hundreds of years ago. Even as little as one-hundred years ago, were it not for artists, we would have only vague, softly focused, black and white images of our ancestors, and little idea of how they worked, played, prayed, lived, loved, laughed, and tried to be happy, despite what seems to us a very crude, harsh, sometimes even desperate way of life. It matters little to anyone but art historians what the artists' names were, or their lifestyles, even the dates of their births and deaths, so long as we can at least place them in the right century. And if that's true of artists in our native countries, it's doubly so when we contemplate foreign countries, especially those of such a culturally diverse area as Europe. We have less trouble identifying with western Europe. But once our minds seek out the countries of eastern Europe, often we throw up our hands in frustration and move on to thoughts more comfortably in line with our own mundane, daily existence. Once we encounter countries we can hardly pronounce; have difficulty spelling; and still more difficulty finding on a map, especially given the fact that governments and boundaries keep changing all the time, we simply give up. Ivan Mrkvicka (I haven't a clue how you pronounce that last name) is one such eastern European artist who can help along this line.
Ivan Mrkvicka Self-portrait, 1926
Not that it matters particularly, but...let's just call him Ivan...was Czech-born, in 1856, though he lived and worked most of his life in Bulgaria. He lived to be eighty-two. He studied art in Prague and Munich then became a high school art teacher (I can identify with that). About that time (1888) he painted A Marketplace in Plovdiv (top). Study the painting. Don't think of it as some kind of great art (it isn't). Think of it as a full-color snapshot taken through the lens of a state-of-the-art photographic time machine from a 21st-century research and development laboratory allowing us to see, if not visit, the distant past through the eyes of a single individual--our 32-year-old Czech-Bulgarian friend, Ivan.

Observe all the little details (there's a zillion of them). It's a partly cloudy day, the place is busy, noisy, crowded, and as odiferous as we might expect under the circumstances. The market is nothing if not colorful. Be on the lookout for pickpockets, this is Gypsy country, after all. Watch where you step, this is horse country too. Don't just stand there, buy something, these people aren't out here working on their suntans, you know. Don't pay full price, bargain, haggle...that's half the fun. It's probably not a good idea to buy snack food, by the way. You don't have to know the language just point. That's it, you get the idea. I'm hoping you also get the idea of how valuable these un-famous genre scenes by un-famous artist are in allowing us to not just know the past, but understand it as well.

Rachenitsa, 1894, Ivan Mrkvicka

Now, try visiting Ivan's local watering hole (above) in the same manner. It's alright to clap along with the music. I also got us an invitation to a Wedding in Momchilovts, (below). Come on, Ivan will be so disappointed if we don't show up.

Wedding in Momchilovts, Ivan Mrkvicka



  1. Sharpness to differentiate individuals among mass with colour is a significant credibility of such work.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I'd not noticed that quality in Mrkvicka's work but you're right. Great observation.