Portrait of an Philanthropist
by M. F. Pithawala (1872-1937)
Oil on canvas
47.5 x 36 in. (120.6 x 91.5 cm.)
M. F. Pithawala was India’s most celebrated salon artist. From a village in Surat, he was an exception in having a humble background. He was sent to Sir J. J. School of Arts and from 1888 to 1896 as a student of Griffiths. He was trained in the academic solidities of genre, imbibing the techniques of conventional academic realism. He portrayed the lives and likeness of his patrons, the aristocracy and haute bourgeoisie. At a deeper level, his portraiture enshrined the value of these elite, compromising of merchant-princes, lawyers, landowners and their ladies. Like the European masters whose skills he had mastered, Pithawala communicates the sheer ‘thereness’ of the visible. His art is both a celebration of the achievements of the present and elegy for the transience of worldly things.
In this portrait, through his rendering of detail – the sitters expressions and gestures, the fall of light on his rich but discreet clothes, the gleam of the wood chair – Pithawalla memorialized the values of India’s Victorian colonial establishment: worldly success and ethical striving, self- assurance and permanence.