Bhupen Khakhar by Amit Ambalal

Bhupen Khakhar (1934-2003)

by Amit Ambalal (b. 1943)
dated: 2002

Watercolour on paper
20 x 29 in. (50.8 x 73.7 cm.)

Bhupen Khakhar was born in Bombay in 1934. At his family’s insistence he went on to take a degree as Bachelor of Commerce and qualified as a Chartered Accountant. Khakhar worked as an accountant for many years in Baroda, pursuing his artistic inclinations in his free time. He was a self-trained artist, and started his career as a painter relatively late in his life. His works were figurative in nature, concerned with the human body and its identity. A self-professed homosexual, the problem of gender definitions and gender identity were major themes of his work. Khakhar was a good friend of renowned artist Amit Ambalal of Ahmedabad.

Amit Ambalal has an ability to draw that makes the line obedient to his command while he contorts and swirls his images, creating movement of man, animal and nature. Tempera creates colours of high opacity and richness, while fluid transparent layers develop into fine drapery, water effects and limpid lotus leaves. Ambalal says, “It was in 2002 when Bhupen Khakhar, Atul and Anju Dodiya, Raksha and me went to Haridwar on a sketching mission. In spite of a severe illness – Bhupen remained engrossed in sketching, especially the life on the banks of the Ganga. His posture of sitting and his way of holding the pencil was typical. I noted this in my sketchbook. Later I did a painting from this, showing him having a dip in the Ganga and also drawing, both simultaneously.”

An English Teacher by Krishen Khanna

An English Teacher

by Krishen Khanna (b. 1925)
dated: 2001

Mixed media on paper
24 x 18 in. (61 x 45.5 cm.)

Krishen Khanna was born in 1925 in what is now Faislabad in Pakistan, he grew up in Lahore. He studied art after he graduated from college at evening classes held at the Mayo School of Art. In 1947, Khanna’s family moved to Shimla as a result of the partition, he was deeply affected by not only the change in his personal life, but also the socio-political chaos that reigned around him. His early works are reproductions of the scenes that were indelibly imprinted in his memory during this period.

A job with Grindlays Bank brought Khanna to Bombay where he was invited to be a part of the Progressive Artists’ Group. Most of Khanna’s work are figurative. He captures moments in history, transfers his observations onto the canvas with spontaneity and exuberance, keeping the representational elements of his subject matter intact. The artist’s use of colour and his expressionist brushwork make the mundane rise to the challenge of the creative. This portrait is of Miss Amery who was the artists’ English teacher.

Thorn-birds by Esther David

Self Portrait (Thorn-birds)

by Esther David (b. 1945)
dated: 1997

Acrylic on canvas
18 x 14 in. (45.72 x 35.56 cm.)

Esther David is a Jewish-Indian author, an artist and a sculptor based in Ahmedabad. When I asked her about this portrait, she wrote a letter to me describing her work:

Dear Anil,

When I painted Thorn-birds, I had just returned from Paris. During those years, I had discovered Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) when we were in Mexico. I was fascinated by Frida’s self-portraits, which inspire women to overcome personal tragedy. Later, I saw her work in Paris and while looking at her Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, suddenly I saw my own reflection in the glass frame and felt, I was looking at myself, so, I painted Thorn-birds for you.

At Vadodara’s Faculty of Fine Arts, I was asked to study Applied Arts. I refused. At that moment, famed sculptor Sankho Choudhuri walked into the studio, saw my drawings, liked them and adopted me. Sankhoda said, creativity is a room with many doors, you just have to open YOUR door. So, for fifteen years I was sculptor, art critic, professor of art history, chairperson Lalit Kala Academy, had a NGO for Intuitive Arts and exhibited at Unesco Paris. But, while living between Ahmedabad and Paris, I felt writing liberated me, so my characters are first born in my sketch books and then used to illustrate my novels, where, words become lines and lines become words.

Esther David

My childhood in Indore by M. F. Husain

My childhood in Indore

by M. F. Husain (1915-2011)
dated: 1981

Acrylic on canvas
36 x 24 in. (91.44 x 60.96 cm.)

M. F. Husain was born in Pandharpur, Maharashtra in 1915. His mother Zainab died when he was only one and half years old. His father Fida remarried and the family moved to Indore where Husain got his primary education. His association with painting began at this early age as he learned the art of calligraphy and practiced the Kulfic Khat with the geometric forms. His early education was perfunctory but Husain’s love for drawing was evident even at this stage. Whenever he got a chance he would strap his painting gear to his bicycle and drive out to the surrounding countryside of Indore to paint the landscape. In 1935, at 20 years of age, he moved to Bombay with the determination to became an artist. Husain was noticed for the first time in 1947 when he won an award at the annual exhibition of the Bombay Art Society. Husain was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1973, the Padma Vibhushan in 1989. One of the most celebrated artist of India today, he was known for his emphatic understanding of the human situation and his speedy evocation of it in paint. His experimentations with new forms of art were both unexpected and pioneering.

This portrait was part of Husain’s solo show done for his autobiography series. The painting is Husain’s recollection of his teenage years in Indore. A young Husain is riding on a bicycle with the Indore landscape in the background. In the surrounding he has painted some of his childhood memories.

A train companion by Sudhir Patwardhan

A train companion

by Sudhir Patwardhan (b.1949)
dated: 1975

Oil on canvas
22 x 18 in. (56 x 45.5 cm.)

Sudhir Patwardhan considers himself a painter of people. Born in Pune, Maharashtra in 1949, he graduated in medicine from the Armed Forces Medical College, Pune in 1972. Patwardhan, a practicing radiologist, runs a clinic in modest part of Thane in Mumbai. His work centers around the poetically monumental panorama of an urban and natural environment. His paintings are like instant notations from what happens among working-class people on city streets. Patwardhan has continued to evolve his figurative style in expressionist drawings on one hand and large complex oil paintings of towns and cityscapes on the other. Artist’s urbanism has a stronger moral edge. Railway and bus commuters, construction labourers and the famous solitary man in an Irani restaurant are some of his dramatic personae.

In this portrait, he paints the anonymous individual, possibly a migrant, directly confronted by the challenges of the city. The patron may be mundane but is dignified by the effort that he invests in the everyday acts of survival.

C. R. Mandy by Francis Newton Souza

C. R. Mandy, Editor of ‘The Illustrated Weekly of India’

by Francis Newton Souza (1924-2002)
dated: 1955

Oil on canvas
22.5 x 16 in. (57 x 40 cm.)

Mr. C. R. Mandy was the former editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India. He was very helpful to Souza in his early years and always appreciated his art works. He occasionally helped Souza by publishing articles on the life of the struggling artist.

Francis Newton Souza was born in 1924 at Saligao, Goa. He was expelled from Sir J. J. School of Arts, Bombay for participating in the Quit India Movement. Souza founded the Progressive Artist’s Group in 1947 where the initial members were Ara, S. H. Raza, M. F. Husain, Gade and Bakre. The group was largely responsible for shaping the modern art movement in India. Souza is famous for his heads and especially those executed in the 1950s and 60s. The area outside ‘the head’, the space is usually, as in this picture, prepared quite perfunctorily. Since the figure itself is the only real focus and the artist does not place the image in any particular context.

An Urdu Teacher by Gobardhan Ash

An Urdu Teacher

by Gobardhan Ash (1907-1996)
dated: 1941

Oil on canvas pasted on board
15.4 x 12.4 in. (39.1 x 31.5 cm.)

Gobardhan Ash was born in 1907 in Begampur, a village in Hooghly district, West Bengal. In 1926, he joined the Government School of Art in Calcutta and further studied at the Government School of Art in Madras in 1930. It was under Roychowdhury, the principal, that he initiated into the rugged school of ‘realism’. But, Ash never nurtured an inclination towards the highly skilled academic realism and departed towards the confident flamboyance of the impressionist technique. He was an important member of the ‘Calcutta Group’ of 1943. He had always been a prolific artist, painting and sketching many portraits and self-portraits, landscapes and life around.

Ashturnedoutalargenumberof landscapesinhabitedby weary, toiling people reflecting the social misery and stagnation of the painter’s surroundings. A parallel set deals with intimate figures in close-up. While the people in the landscapes appear as faceless, unidentifiable beings ground into anonymity by unrelenting poverty, the figurative compositions are unfailingly direct and mark each characters individuality. These two sets done simultaneously reflect the artist’s view of life, the two facets of human existence; man is his collective struggle for survival against the prevailing conditions, and man the individual in his solitary moments, when he is uniquely himself. This portrait done by Ash is that of his own Urdu teacher.

Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman by N. R. Sardesai

Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman

by N. R. Sardesai (1885-1954)
circa 1940

Pastel on paper
11.5 x 8 in. (29.4 x 20.2 cm.)

N. R. Sardesai was born in a small village of Ratnagiri District in Maharashtra. He pursued his art studies at Sir J. J. School of Art, Bombay. He taught as an art teacher until 1930. The popular genre, portraiture, was about sharpening one’s sense of observation, understanding of light falling on the form, and the accuracy of drawing which were almost inevitable to be an accomplished painter. For Indian artists who had practiced art at either a transcendental or then mythological level, the intimate rendering of the physicality of the world had previously never been the goal.

In Sardesai’s portrayal of the gentlemen, there is an unpretentious realism that captures faultlessly the ordinariness of the man, humbled as if by his existence. The calm and subdued portrait is punctuated by flickers of red and yellow.

Sir Sayajirao Gaekwad III by M. V. Dhurandhar

Sir Sayajirao Gaekwad III, (1863, r. 1875-1939) Maharaja of Baroda, G.C.S.I, G.C.I.E.

by M. V. Dhurandhar (1867-1944)
dated: 1937

Oil on canvas
19.5 x 15 in. (49.5 x 39 cm.)

Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III, was born at Kavlana in 1863, as Shrimant Gopalrao Gaekwad, he was selected by the British Government as successor to Maharaja Malharrao Gaekwad in May 1875 and was accordingly adopted by Maharani Jamnabai. He was also given name, Sayajirao. He ascended the gadi or throne at Baroda on 16 June 1875, but being a minor, he reigned under a Council of Regency until he came of age and was invested with full ruling powers on 28 December 1881.

M. V. Dhurandhar was adept in oils, watercolours, pencil drawings and nearly 5000 works have been credited to him, excluding drawings and sketches. He was the most popular painter of Western India after Raja Ravi Varma. An excellent illustrator, skilled portrait painter, and exceptional talent in figurative paintings. Light, in this portrait is peculiar and perceived as ‘flat’. The transparency of colour is amplified in the face. This is probably the last portrait of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III done during his life.

Portrait of Lady by Jamini Prakash Gangooly

Portrait of Lady

by Jamini Prakash Gangooly (1876-1953)
circa 1930

Oil on canvas
22 x 18 in. (56 x 45.5 cm.)

Jamini Prakash Gangooly was born in 1876 in the house of the Tagores at Jorasanko in Calcutta. His first initiations in art came from the young Abanindranath Tagore. Like many affluent gentleman artists, Gangooly was also the product of a parallel circuit of private art training at home from a Bengali tutor, Gangadhar De and then from a British painter named C. L. Palmer. He never became a part of the Bengal school panorama as he was more interested in the Victorian stylistic values. Thus, he embraced in practice and concept the European academic style of visual expression and mastered the medium of oil on canvas. In the beginning of his artistic journey, Gangooly painted literary themes, and his paintings and illustrations of Indian classics added a visual dimension to the intellectual mind set of his time. He showed his flair in various genres, ranging from portraiture to neo-classical and mythological ranges. He was a celebrated portrait painter of his time and worked for many princely states. The skills he commanded in illusionist oil painting, realist portraiture and landscape, were all part of the essential training that marked the formation of the new professional artist in colonial India.

The inscriptions on the front of the portrait read ‘To Shailen’ (in Bengali). Here you can also see his mastery in the shifting gradations and variations of light, which Gangooly obtained not just by studying nature but through the transience of the human face, captured with relation to changing light.