Christo Stefanoff (1898-1966)

Professor Christo Stefanoff was born April 6th, 1898 in Kazanlik Bulgaria, on a radiant Easter morning. Surrounded by an orgy of colors on every side of him, when still a youth he tried to set down on paper and in colors the wondrous beauty he gazed upon. After attending the elementary and another school at Kazanlik, he went to the grammar school at Rustsjock. There his drawing teacher, Christo C. Tzojeff, encouraged the young man to study art. Young Stefanoff himself felt obliged to do so. 

1920. At the Art Academy in Sofia he works under Prof. Ivan Markwiczka, a Czech. The master is exacting, the pupil's work gains his approval. Stefanoff learned a great deal from Markwiczka who also helped him considerably in later years. 

1924. He concludes his studies with Prof. Markwiczka; the following year he is already spoken of in high terms. 1925. Stefanoff paints a panorama of the battle of Stara-Zagora in 1877-1878, Bulgaria had been under Turkish domination for five long centuries. Bulgaria is free once again. King Boris III himself, the
Ministers of Art, of War, pay homage to his talent. That same year King
Boris III confers upon Stefanoff the title of Professor, for the "most
beautiful work".
1926. He goes to Vienna. Is restless and works. The seeker finds
a new technique it provides, him intense pleasure: his palette-knife
1927. He goes to Budapest, Where he works in the studio of the
famed Hungarian portraitist Philip Laslo. The Bulgarian's character
compels him to go ever forward into the world . He visits one country
after another, But first Horthy, Regent of Hungary, buys a picture of
Stefanoff. He then goes to Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest, Trieste,
Venice, Rome. King Victor of Italy buys a picture. Mussolini poses for
his portrait. Naples, Madrid. The Spanish President Zamora buys a
picture. Barcelona, Paris, Lyons. The President of Switzerland buys a
picture. Casablanca, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt. The Hindu poet
Rabindranath Tagore sits to Stefanoff. Cairo, Jerusalem, Damascus,
Bagdad, Ankara, Adrianople, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, Holland.
1931. He exhibits his works in Chicago where the wealth of
color and originality of his works are thought highly of. After Chicago
he visits Hollywood where he meets with various personalities and Film
stars like Greta Garbo and Conrad Veidt.
1934. Eastern Europe, Poland, several years pass during which
Professor Stefanoff travels, works, roams from country to country
across continents, painting sovereigns and poets, film stars and labourers,
flowers and rags. Kings and Presidents treasure his composition in there
private collections and many other public collections around the world.
Many world personalities sat for portraits by Professor Stefanoff
including Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, Mussolini, President
Zamora of Spain, President Motte of Switzerland, Rabindranath
Tagore the Hindu Poet, Greta Garbo, Conrad Viedt a few of a long list.
Then a period of rest well deserved by Prof. Stefanoff.
He not only works, he also exhibits, he also sees. He sees with the
eyes of a true artists, he sees the beauty of the Polish landscape. The
history of Poland captivates him, all this attracts his attention and
touches his very soul.
The history of its country, the history of its art, Prof. Stefanoff
not only listens eagerly but he wants to feel part of it. When in Poland
he organizes exhibitions for charitable purposes. The paper "Polonia"
of September 30, 1934 wrote: "the numerous visitors resound this Balkan's
artist's praises" and Dr. Ernest Kaleta referring to the exhibition writes
on October 21: " The exhibition was a complete success sold all the
pictures exhibited."
1935. He exhibits in Lodz, the "Kurjer Lodzki" writes: " The
character is so remarkably well rendered and elaborated that this
canvas can vie with the best classical works to be found in the big
collections of the west."
The "Oredownik", an illustrated national and Catholic daily
writes, on November 7 : " Roaming through the world with palette-
knife . . . A visit to the exhibition of Prof. Stefanoff is like having a
glimpse of an unknown, refulgent world radiating a wonderful energy."
Polish history exercises an irresistible influence over him.
1937. He marries a Polish girl, Irena Pludowska.
1939. He is naturalized a Pole. As so often happens, he is more
patriotic than the patriots. He exposes at Warsaw, The "Kurjer
Warszawski" of October 24 writes: "Prof. Stefan off is pre-eminently an
impressionist of international standing". The well-known art critic, Dr.
Witold Dalbor, writes in the "Kurjer Pozananski" " The art of Stefanoff
differs, from what we generally see, in its power to depict and its
characteristic method of painting. His art does not differ in form, for
three is nothing remarkable in naturalistic drawing and composition,
but what strikes the spectator is his peculiar manner of applying the
paint by means of a palette-knife. In his work, the paint does not
produce an effect by the coloring on a flat surface, but by its very mass.
The mass effect of the paint dominates and creates an impression of
splendour. It suggests life and affects every one of our senses. The artist
does not use his paint as a medium to realize a picture; it is the picture
Bydgoszcy, Exposition for the National Defence Fund.
The" Ilustrowany Kurier Codzienny" of June 6, contains the following:
"Stefanoff is a peerless colorist who deserves our fullest admiration."
1939. World War II
The sky ablaze, red with flames. That is massacre and
manslaughter. The Germans occupying his country. The Polish people
are flocking into the underground resistance movement. The ever
seeking artists is constantly on the look out for new themes for his play
of colors, he keeps on seeking even now. He is looking for means to
rescue compatriots out of the clutches of the oppressor.
1941. He is arrested on the 12th of July. Is kept in a cellar during
two months and afterwards imprisoned in the Nazi Security prison in
Berlin on the command of the Warsaw Security Service. No more
colors, no more beautiful displays for the time being for the ever
thirsting soul.
1943. Arrested in Lemberg. He is living in a small cottage with his
wife in the High Tatra at Zakopane, where he figuratively spoken
although constantly living on a volcano, nevertheless in between his
hours of "duty" finds time to work at his paintings. The little cottage
shelters their whole property, his paintings, photographic reproductions
of the masterpieces he has sold, documents, in fact many objects of
considerable value to him.
1944. The Gestapo is tracing his whereabouts, they came and
took wife and husband with them, his life's work destroyed, utterly
nullified lost for always. Two months imprisonment at the Gestapo
prison in Zakopane, afterwards followed the usual never ending
deportation. To begin with imprisonment in the disreputable old
"montlupi" prison in Krakow. Following that prisoner number 93494 in
"Gross Rosen", prisoner number 111706 Nordhausen "Dora" and after
that "Bergen-Belsen".
There the artist's hands, which formerly were creating wonderful
masterpieces with palette-knife and palette, were manufacturing "V1's"
and "V lI's"
1945. April 15, the day of liberation! April 23, the first divine
service is held in the open air. A mass is celebrated at the alter that was
designed by the artist. An emotional prayer was said, many tears shed.
No news about the loss of his wife. April 28, the men's section of the
concentration camp Bergen is situated at 3 miles distance from the
women's section of the camp Belsen. A women is running along the road
from Belsen to Bergen. On her way she meets a man in camp dress with
the initial "P" marked on the breast. She asks the man if there are many
polish men in Bergen. The man tells her there are many men from
various camps and tells her to follow him to the camp, but the
Hungarian guard at the camp gate does not allow Irena to enter. " I
shall be back in half an hour" says the Pole he takes her name and looks
through the registers. The pole finds the professor in the company of
several priests and officers. He tells the professor that he has met his wife but nobody
believes him and are angry that he has the nerve to make such a gross
joke. "If it is true what is her name" says Stefanoff who is beginning to
cherish a slight hope. "Irena" replies the man. This is to big a shock for
the tormented artist and he collapses. In the meantime his wife succeed
in persuading the guard to let her enter the camp in search of her
husband. In front of the barrack two exhausted human beings in the
most miserable rags embrace in an inseparable bondage.
The British military Governor does all he can to assist the artist,
who has meanwhile been transferred to Stalag XI-B near Fallingbostel,
Germany. He finds refuge with his compatriots, the Poles, in Western
Germany. He stays there for well over a year with the first anti-tank
division, who asks him to paint a triptych for Breda, a town in Holland.
All the hardships and horrible experiences were not capable of breaking
the nerve of the artist. His liberators provide him with linen and paint
and he returns to his beloved work. The triptych of Breda a present to
the poles which is now hung in the town hall as a counter piece to a
painting by Velasquez, a commemoration of a liberation of Breda from
an older date.
1946. After the horrors of war and concentration camps the Prof.
Holds his first exhibition at Breda with great success. The radiant
wealth of colors and beauty displayed a sparkling joy and warmth:
In Breda Prof. Stefanoff begins his glorious successes. The
"Bredasche Courant" on October 22 writes: "A worthy remembrance
of one of the greatest instances in Netherlands History so full of
vicissitudes" on the October 20 the same paper wrote "His paintings all
of which show how much he commands the technique of the palette-
knife, the striking light and personal energy, they must necessarily
attract attention" There is also a very large painting illustrating the
presentation of the standard near Monte Casino where 1000 Polish
died in the fight for the liberation of the Netherlands. This painting was
purchased by the town of Breda for the sum of 3000 guilders.
1946-1947. Professor Stefanoff organizes in Breda the Polish
Catholic Association, of which he is later on elected President.
1947. Exhibition at Oosterhout. The daily "Oosterhoutsch
Nieuwsblad" of February 15 comments, "Oosterhout may be grateful to
its Town Council for having taken this initiative and carried it out. The
whole show presents itself as an abundance of colors with the greatest
ability and skill."
Exhibition at Hertogenbosch. The Daily "Oost Brabant" writes on
May 20: "The master of the Palette-knife has given proof also of being a
capable designer."
Exhibition at Maastricht. At Maastricht Stefanoff exhibits under
the benevolent protection of his Excellency Dr. F. Houben, Her
Majesty's Provincial Governor for Limburg. The "Gazet of Limburg"
in its edition of June 16 describes him as" an excellent portraitist and
an especially fine colorist".
Exhibition at Tilburg. This exhibition was held under the auspices
of the Tilburg Cultural Association. Comments in the "Tilburgsche
Courant" of July 14, "Stefanoff is a master of light and color, adored
and renown as a portraitist, but not less genial as a landscape and still
life painter."
Breda. The "Bredasche Courant" of October 27 " As far as
landscape paintings are concerned his conception is sound and
Amsterdam. In November of that year Stefanoff's paintings are
exhibited in "Arti et Amicitae". The inaugural speech was held by Prof.
Dr. Anton van Duinkerken. The" Het Vrije Yolk" of December 7, " A
famous painter in Amsterdam".
1948. Valkenburg, Limburg. Stefanoff exhibits his paintings in
Castle Chaleon. Several newspapers deliver comments such as The
"Weekly World Chronicle" of July 10 "big masterpiece under the title"
COMR4DES IN ARMS" a polish soldier of the 1st armoured division
with a soldier of the Netherlands underground army fighting for the
liberation of the Netherlands in October, 1944. This painting was
presented to Her Majesty the Queen (H.R.M. Wilhelmina) on the
occasion of the 50th anniversary of her reign."
1948. Sittard. The weekly "Maas en Mijn" dedicates a
contemplative article to this painting stating among others "Well
considered and well balanced work."
1949. Tilburg. The daily "Dc Stem" of March 26: "His work is
well worth being classed among that of famous painters"
1949. Valkenburg. Castle Chaleon. In this connection the weekly
"Maas en Mijn" at Sittard writes: "Once more we were fascinated by
the artists typical style of his paintings, reproducing the limburgian
landscapes, creating sceneries so wonderful and full of sparkling sun,
lively and rich in colors."
The Catholic weekly "Ret Lan van Valkenburg" of July 22
writes: "A famous painter in Valkenburg"
1950. Jubilee exhibition in the Municipal Museum at Roermond.
In the "Gazet van in Valkenburg", Saturday, March 11 edition, the
well known critic of art and poetry, Leo Maas, wrote: Christo Stefanoff,
seeker of light. In order to imbue us with the atmosphere of his country,
the Balkan Peninsula." The name of the Rumanian Royal poet Carmen
Sylva was mentioned. It would have been better to mention the other
renowned Rumanian poet, living in immigration in Paris, Helen
Vacaresco, the author of so many morning songs and especially well
known for her Rumanian ballads of the Rhapsody de la Dambovita;
melancholy popular songs sparkling with color and with a religious
Because all that Vacaresco sung, Stefanoff composed in colors in
his paintings; his compatriots, his farmer from the Carpathians, his
Hungarian intellectual, his Bulgarian oxes, his Macedonian with the
gypsies, in fact his country with all its typical sceneries and beautiful
colors, with its fascinating music and its intoxicating fragrance of its
summer roses.
1952. Montreal-Canada. The Montreal star, Friday, March 21:
"Noted European Artist Settles in Montreal to carry on Work".
Bulgarian born Christo Stefanoff, considered to be one of Europe's
most famous artists, has selected Canada as his home.
"La Presse" Montreal, Tuesday, March 25... "A famous Polish
Painter in Montreal"
1952. Prof. Christo Stefanoff painted portraits of Mgr. Oliver
Maurault, p.S., P.D. The mayor of Montreal Mr. Camilien Houde.
Major General R. 0. G. Morton, C.B.E., C.D. with honorary
Committee; Samuel Bronfman, Dr. Tadeusz Brzezinski, Huntly
Drumont, Raymond Dupuis, B. C. Garner, Senator Leon Mercier
Gouin, Dr. F. Cyril James, Mgr. Olivier Maurault, p. S., S., P.D. Major
General R. 0. G. Morton, C.B.E., C.D, Air Vice-Marshall Adelard
Raymond, C.B.E., in Antoine's Art Gallery. The Exhibition opened by
Mayor of Montreal Mr. Camilien Houde.
In Montreal, P.Q., Prof Stefanoff starts his illustrious success!
"The Gazette", Saturday, May 3, 1952..." Variety In Painting
by Christo Stefanoff. . . Christo Stefanoff, who in the main favors
working with the palette-knife, is exhibiting his paintings at Antoine's
Art Gallery, the show revealing his marked capabilities. He works on a
generous scale, is a Sound designer, a bold colorist, has imagination and
in his chosen technique has produced a large number of powerful
There is plenty of variety in his subjects. Portraiture has occupied
him, among his subjects being a dignified painting of H.M. Queen
Juliana of the Netherlands in regal robes. Mgr. 0. Maurault, Mayor
Houde, Maj.-Gen. R. 0. C. Morton, and also some capital portraits in
charcoal and pencil, besides three or four self-portraits, one of them
showing him working at an easel out of doors.
His landscapes have strength and volume, especially some
paintings of cattle and sheep, while color is boldly used in broad bands
in two works entitled "Flowered Fields" painting of tulip beds in
Religious subjects have their place as in "Veronica Cloth", "Mother and
Son"(Christ with the Cross), "Judas" with Christ on the Cross in the
background, and "Christ is with us" (Ruins of Warsaw, 1944), where in
the rubble about wrecked, burning buildings He comforts a dying
woman with her child. Dramatically treated is "Uprising in the Warsaw
Ghetto, 1943" a large Triptych, the panels entitled "on Guard",
Showing figures at a makeshift barricade, with a tank coming into view
between wrecked buildings; "The Youth of Warsaw Fights On",
depicting a wounded youngster with a rifle, and "The Last Bullet" , a
young woman behind a wounded man, taking aim with a revolver.
There are also paintings of prisoner of war camps of which both
he and his wife had experienced.
The still-lifes include "Roses" and "Melons" and among the over
100 works there is much to studs.
Le journal quotidien " NOTRE TEMPS" of May 10, 1952 writes:
Christo Stefanoff, Bulgarian painter, naturalized Polish, has left the
alarming atmosphere of Europe to establish himself in Canada. Arrived
in Montreal a few months ago only, this artist now holds his first
exhibition at Antoine's Art Gallery. The actual exhibition sums up the
sentimental and dramatic life of this painter. A stunning technique and
a sparkling warmth shows to us very unequal works, but works which
are always brought to an end."
The artist forgives us, but we have preferred to "Queen Juliana"
to the "Mayor Of Montreal", To "The Last Hour Of A Master", to
"Art", the simple Still lives. In the war scenes, Stefanoff exasperates
the color more than its extreme limit and wants to convince by strength
and violence.
The strong personality of this artist is present in all his works. He
refuses to follow the fashion and sticks to his inspiration.
The well known critic of art, Paul Giadu, writes in the Montreal
newspaper "Le Canada", Thursday, May 8, 1952: "For its large
exhibition hail, Antoine's Art Gallery has found a great painter in the
person of Professor Christo Stefanoff."
The meticulous painters tired us with their small pictures, sure
proofs of their indigence. This one is perhaps a little dramatic, but he is
not shabby; demonstrative but convincing. His ambitious works have an
universal character. They say great things, either about nature, or
about the Fights of Warsaw. I am affected by the generous feelings
which are dictated by no book whatsoever! Uprising of Warsaw will
have had a witness with a powerful verb and the ruins of the capital
with a tragic destiny keep, all the same, due to him, their greatness and
their hope.
Here we are far from analysis. It is a painting with big gestures,
more issued from heart than from brains. As in Victor Hugo, we find
extravagance and summary, big starts and innocence, pride and
mysticism, but in an ample and lyric sustained manner.
April 18, 1955. He is naturalized Canadian. At this time the
Professor was starting to put on paper the idea of an "Art Centre". This
was a vision that he had for a long time.
1958-59. After months of interviews and extensive search for a
renown artists to restore the famous "Cyclorama of Jerusalem" owner
George Blouin finds Stefanoff and pleads to him to restore the great
work that existed since the 19th century. During these years we saw
Professor Stefanoff at work, giving the new "Cyclorama of Jerusalem"
a lot of himself and his great skill. Stefanoff paints 45 feet high by 125
feet long at Ste-Anne de Beaupre, Quebec. Among the scenes are; The
South section of Jerusalem... the Tomb of Absalom... King Herod's
beautiful white palace... the splendid residence of his wife Marianne...
the castle of his brother Phasaleos. . . the palace of Hippicus. . . the
country side and road leading to Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus.
People, Camels, Horses. . . the group of women. . . the Tomb of
Jeroboam. . . the Shepherds and he also created the striking foreground
23 ft. by 360 ft. A work of art in three dimensions. George H. Blouin,
proprietor of the "Cyclorama of Jerusalem" writes: " In brief, it is a
magnificent work of art. In consideration of the marvellous work, all the
destroyed areas are executed exactly as they were before the
destruction, and even better because of Stefanoff's touch. I hereby
declare that Professor Christo Stefanoff is the most celebrated
panoramic painter in the world today, with an international fame."
On his return home to Val-David he continued to work on his
plans for the "Stefanoff Art Centre" This project, which Prof. Stefanoff
was obsessed with, occupied most if not all of his time. When he opened
the first phase of the project the "Museum Of Arts" the foundation of
the Village received great acclaim all over Canada. On June 6, 1961, the
Professor obtained from the provincial government permission to create
the "Stefanoff Foundation" which would cover 2000 sq. ft. out of the
176 000 sq. ft. project. The intended project was supposed to consist of:
a museum, library, chapel, school of Fine Arts and Ballet, an
amphitheatre and residencies for the students.
In the beginning of December 1965 he suffered a cerebral
haemorrhage. Along with his dreams and ambitions of his project and his
future he died on March 8, 1966. The funeral services took place in Ste-
Agathe des Monts, one of the many churches he painted.
Perhaps one of the greatest painters of modern era, a faithful
disciple of Rembrandt and Van Gogh, Christo Stefanoff of Bulgarian
descent. His every works represent a classical form and light flows in
every detail. The portrait especially characterizes his work. Tragic
personage inspired by the war period, biblical scenes or characters from
master pieces take life in his paintings and form a strange world of light
and beauty. The studio of Prof. Christo Stefanoff was an art sanctuary
which attracted thousands of visitors to Val David. He exhibited in
many capitals of the world and the critics of the greatest publications
have paid homage to him.
The collection is abundant and varied. It includes more than a hundred
works, from pencil drawings to very large oil paintings. Almost all the
paintings dedicated to the Warsaw drama have appeared to me
magnificent. "Veronicas Cloth" is made in an easy style. "The Last
Hour of a Great Master" is full of irony and conviction. The still lives
are particularly interesting and are executed with liveliness. "Eternal
Symphony" symbolic composition dedicated to Beethoven, has a noble
conception and is well rendered. As to the drawings they are clean,
largely made and precise. The portrait of Mr. Fr made an impression on
me, the portrait of the artist's wife has captivated me, and an incredible
story of misery and horror are told in his sketches of war.