At 98, Lyuben Zidarov is the oldest book illustrator in Bulgaria—and to mark this milestone, he is having an exhibition at a relatively small private art gallery in Sofia called Rakursi. There will be about 40 original works on display, commemorating the six editions of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales that Zidarov has illustrated over six decades. These literary classics are the love of his artistic life as book illustrator.
The moment I saw Zidarov’s work, I wanted to share it with PRINT readers. There is a freshness that once again proves that while artists age, great art does not. The illustrations below are pages from a monograph, Lyuben Zidarov the Illustrator, published in 2019.
Born in 1923 in Veliko Tirnovo, Bulgaria, Zidarov began his artistic career in his school years as early as the late ’30s, creating some of the first Bulgarian comic strip series. He graduated with a degree in painting in 1947 from the Sofia Academy of Fine Arts.
During the next three decades he worked as a book illustrator, creating the images for over 200 books of Bulgarian and world heritage literature—among those Andersen’s Fairy Tales; Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island; E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Tales; Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn; adventure classics by Alexandre Dumas, Jules Verne, Karl May and Mayne Reid.
During the ’60s and ’70s he was awarded with gold and silver medals at the international book fairs of Leipzig, Moscow and Bologna.
From 1980 onward he focused on oil painting and aquarelle. Beginning with his iconic one-man show, Self-portraits, in 1979, he is credited with inventing a distinctive personal style described by art critics as “Satirical Self-Ironical Painting.” Since then he has regularly staged at least one annual one-man exhibition, including the Retrospective at the National Art Gallery in Sofia.
Zidarov is the most influential living Bulgarian book illustrator. Among the accolades received in the course of the last few years were the Big Prize at the First National Exhibition of the History of Comic Strip in Bulgaria, the Grand Award of Sofia Municipality and the Golden Age Medal from the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture.
His work, as you’ll see, belies his years.
(Thanks to kid’s book historian Leonard Marcus for introducing me Zidarov’s genius.)