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ArtSeeing India through modern art

Seeing India through modern art

Published: 23rd Nov 2021 5:39 pm

By Ankita Talreja

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As artists embarked on journeys to explore the country, they were inspired to capture the landscapes, sceneries and culture of people on canvas

The discourse of modern art in India is replete with stories of artists as they ventured to explore the length and breadth of India. As they embarked on these journeys, the artists were not only inspired to paint the beautiful landscapes that they witnessed but also captured the lives of different people and cultures on their canvases.

One of the earliest collective of artists to depict India were the Bengali artists of the early twentieth century. Artist Nandalal Bose created a large body of work in different mediums and many of these works depicted scenes and sceneries from rural India. A beautiful landscape executed by the artist in 1939 captures the lush Tagdah Forest near Darjeeling.

Artist Hemendranath Mazumdar, who is mostly known for his portraits, also depicted city scenes as shown in his 1925 work titled ‘New Market’. In the earlier phase of his career, artist Jamini Roy executed many landscapes in the style of impressionism. Another artist from Bengal, Gopal Ghose famously cycled his way through numerous locations in India to paint landscapes on the spot. Sailoz Mookherjea also created scenes from the country such as in ‘Temple’ created circa the 1940s and ‘On The Way To Nizamuddin’, created in 1957.

Legendary modern artist Amrita Sher-Gil was deeply inspired by her travels in India. After spending her early years in the west, she yearned for her roots and moved back to India in 1934. She travelled extensively and depicted life in Indian villages. A visit to Ajanta and Ellora caves left a deep impact on her. She described frescoes at Ajanta as “vital, vibrant, subtle and unutterably lovely”.

The generation of artists in post-Independent India also sought inspiration from their surroundings and travels. Artist SH Raza, who settled in France after studying at Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris frequently travelled to India to visit heritage destinations like Varanasi and Ajanta Ellora caves. It was during one of these visits, the epiphany of creating ‘Bindu’ arrived. It inspired him to extensively study ancient Indian texts and find expression in ‘Bindu’, which he believed was the ‘seed’ or the central point for the creation and progression of all life forms.

“I was till then a French painter. I was not happy. I was looking for an Indian concept, a vision in my painting,” the artist said in a 2010 online interview. Even before his departure to France, he executed a lot of landscape works in watercolour.

A pivotal juncture in the artistic journey of respected abstractionist Ram Kumar was his visit to Varanasi after which he created several works depicting the city. In fact, many other Indian artists, including MF Husain, KG Subramanyan, Arup Das, Manu Parekh, and Paresh Maity, have depicted the holy city in their works.

Another master of modern Indian art, FN Souza created fascinating landscapes that were deeply influenced by his childhood in Goa where he grew up around churches. Fascinated with the architecture and bright stained glasses of the windows, he rendered his landscapes in bold colour and with distortion of the form.

In the early phase of his career, artist KK Hebbar began a painting expedition in South India in 1946. Observing the contrast between the beautiful dusky skin of the locals and their white attires gave Hebbar a sound exposure of understanding the juxtaposition of bright colours and intense shades. He adapted to these techniques and created compositions in different mediums, including tempera and oil.

Many of the modern artists also took to capturing life in the urban spaces such as Akbar Padamsee’s 1953 work ‘Man In City’ and ‘The City IV’ by Jehangir Sabavala. With her work titled ‘Pavement Dwellers’, artist Anjolie Ela Menon depicted the lives of less fortunate people in the cities.

With its diverse topography and myriad of cultures, India has been a constant inspiration for different generations of artists and continues to be captured on their canvases.

Ankita Talreja
Senior Specialist

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