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Triumph of modernism avant garde indian art

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  • 1. The Triumph of Modernism India’s artists and the avant-garde 1922–1947 Partha Mitter
  • 2. the triumph of modernism
  • 3. The Triumph of Modernism India’s artists and the avant-garde, 1922–1947 Partha Mitter REAKTION BOOKS
  • 4. To my parents, true cosmopolitans Published by Reaktion Books Ltd 33 Great Sutton Street London ec1v 0dx www.reaktionbooks.co.uk First published 2007 Copyright © Partha Mitter 2007 All rights reserved No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers. Published with the assistance of The Getty Foundation Printed and bound in China British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Mitter, Partha The triumph of modernism : India's artists and the avante-garde, 1922–1947 1. Art, Indic – 20th century 2. Art, Indic – European influences 3. Modernism (Art) – India 4. Nationalism and art – India – History – 20th century 5. Avant-garde (Aesthetics) – India – History – 20th century I. Title 709.5'4'0904 isbn–13: 978 1 86189 318 5 isbn–10: 1 86189 318 3
  • 5. Contents Prologue 7 one The Formalist Prelude 15 two The Indian Discourse of Primitivism 29 i Two Pioneering Women Artists 36 ii Rabindranath Tagore’s Vision of Art and the Community 65 iii Jamini Roy and Art for the Community 100 three Naturalists in the Age of Modernism 123 i The Regional Expressions of Academic Naturalism 125 ii From Orientalism to a New Naturalism: K. Venkatappa and Deviprosad Roy Chowdhury 163 four Contested Nationalism: The New Delhi and India House Murals 177 Epilogue 226 References 228 Bibliography 256 Acknowledgements 261 Photo Acknowledgements 263 Index 264
  • 6. Prologue the picasso manqué syndrome Gaganendranath Tagore, A Cubist Scene, c. 1923, watercolour on postcard. Gaganendranath and his circle often sent postcards they painted themselves to students and friends. The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once stated that Surrealism was stolen from the Europeans by ‘a Black [the poet Aimé Césaire] who used it brilliantly as a tool of Universal Revolution.’1 Sartre’s admiring and yet enigmatic comment encapsulates the problematic relationship between non-Western artists and the international avant-garde, which is enmeshed in a complex discourse of authority, hierarchy and power. Even cultural subversion, as suggested above, prompts the common perception of nonWestern modernism as a derivative one, a phenomenon that I would like to christen the ‘Picasso manqué’ syndrome. Let me elaborate with an example. The English art historian W. G. Archer wrote an influential account of Indian modernism. His analysis of the painting of Gaganendranath Tagore, one of the first Indian modernists, consisted almost entirely of tracing Picasso’s putative influence on him. Unsurprisingly, Archer drew the conclusion that Gaganendranath was un cubiste manqué; in other words, his derivative works, based on a cultural misunderstanding, were simply bad imitations of Picasso (see p. 18). Behind this seemingly innocent conclusion rests the whole weight of Western art history. We need to unpack its ramifications here.2 Stylistic influence, as we are all aware, has been the cornerstone of art historical discourse since the Renaissance. Nineteenth-century art history, in the age of Western domination, extended it to world art, ranking it according to the notion of progress, with Western art at its apex. Influence acquired an added resonance in colonial art history. For Archer, the use of the syntax of Cubism, a product of the West, by an Indian artist, immediately locked him into a dependent relationship, the colonized mimicking the superior art of the colonizer. Indeed influence has been the key epistemic tool in studying the reception of Western art in the nonWestern world: if the product is too close to its original source, it reflects slavish mentality; if on the other hand, the imitation is imperfect, it represents a failure. In terms of power relations, borrowing by artists from the peripheries becomes a badge of inferiority. In contrast, the borrowings 7
  • 7. of European artists are described approvingly either as ‘affinities’ or dismissed as inconsequential, as evident in the primitivism exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1985. The very subtitle of the exhibition, ‘affinity of the tribal and the modern’, characterizes Picasso’s emulation of African sculpture as no more than a mere formal ‘affinity’ with the primitive.3 In short, Picasso’s integrity was in no way compromised by the borrowing, in contrast to the colonial artist Gaganendranath. Here, in the context of affinity versus emulation, we need to explore whether influence as an analytical tool has outlived its usefulness. I can do no better than invoke Michael Baxandall’s magisterial interrogation of this obsession among art historians, or the ‘anxiety of influence’, to use Harold Bloom’s celebrated phrase. As Baxandall puts it succinctly, the artist responds to circumstance, making an intentional selection from a range of sources.4 This is a purposeful rather than passive activity, which involves making conscious choices. There have been other art historians who have proposed a more agonistic relationship between the artists and their sources than allowed for in more standard art histories. Recently, the artist as an active conscious agent and the sovereignty of the art object have been reiterated by Thomas Crow in his penetrating discourse on The Intelligence of Art.5 One of the problems besetting the discourse of modernism has been its Vasarian art historical foundations, which pursue a linear trajectory according to the dictates of a relentless teleology that does not allow for dissidence, difference and competition. John Clark has called Western modernism a ‘closed’ system of discourse, which cannot accommodate new discourses that modernisms outside the West give rise to.6 And yet, what is most exhilarating about modernisms across the globe is their plurality, heterogeneity and difference, what one may describe as a ‘messy’ quality lacking symmetry which makes them all the more exciting and rich with possibilities. No one can deny that the flexible revolutionary syntax of Cubism became synonymous with the global avant-garde. Nor would one disagree with Adrian Stokes that Cézanne’s Bathers, which inspired Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, and turned the European artist’s attention to African sculpture in repudiation of classical taste, opened up a new space for cosmopolitanism. Nor can one ignore the achievements of the critics of modernism from Walter Benjamin and Carl Einstein through Clement Greenberg to post-war scholars of social history of art, postmodernists and proponents of visual culture. Here I am simply concerned with the art historical representations of non-metropolitan forms of modernism.7 Set against the originary discourse of the avant-garde, emanating from metropolitan centres such as Paris, other modernisms are dismissed as peripheral to its triumphal progress. Yet, the centre–periphery relationship is not one of geography but of power and authority that affects not 8
  • 8. only race and gender but also regions. We notice the operation of this paradigm even in the field of Renaissance art. The Vasarian master narrative of artistic progress defines cities, such as Florence, Rome and Venice, as centres of innovation, presenting peripheries as sites of delayed growth and derivation. This has affected the reputation of an artist such as Correggio. Hailing from Parma, considered to be peripheral compared with Rome, Venice and Florence, Correggio’s innovative work has until now been assessed in the light of Raphael or Michelangelo’s achievement, rather than as an independent achievement.8 In our post-colonial environment, scholars have proposed ways of empowering non-Western modernism that seek to restore the artists’ choice and to view them as active rather than passive agents of transmission.9 Let me offer a flavour of their arguments: Keith Moxey suggests the flexible and inclusive concept of ‘visual culture’ that goes beyond the Renaissance hierarchy of art, which has been responsible for reinforcing global inequality in power relations. Néstor García Canclini’s ‘multitemporal heterogeneities’, Geeta Kapur’s ‘restructuring’ the international avant-garde and Bourdieu’s reminder that modes of representations are expressions of political conflicts, are some of the emerging possibilities. Gerardo Mosquera argues that the periphery is ceasing to be a reservoir of traditions, creating at once multiple sites of international culture as well as strengthening local developments in constant hybridization of cultures.10 Hybridity, originally a concept in biology, has been vigorously theorized with a view to empowering the colonized which has given rise to intense debates.11 Such a plethora of persuasive arguments indicates the positive direction art history is taking in the twenty-first century, leading to some ‘loosening’ of the canon.12 It is however possible to examine these issues from a different perspective in order to formulate concepts that will address complex interactions between global modernity and regional art productions and practices. This book engages precisely this issue of artistic production and the construction of national identity in late colonial India. First of all, instead of using ‘influence’ as a convenient tool to describe the introduction of modernism in the non-Western societies, we may turn to the concept of ‘paradigm change’ postulated by Thomas Kuhn in the history of science. The adoption of the new language of modernism by Indian artists was necessitated by the changes in artistic imperatives in a rapidly globalizing world, which prompted them to discard the previous artistic paradigm centring on representational art.13 Second, influence as an art historical category misses out more significant aspects of cultural encounters, as for instance, the enriching value of cultural mixtures that have nourished societies since time immemorial. The claimed purity of cultures is simply a nationalist myth fabricated in the nineteenth century. Arguably, the strongest cultures have often developed through constant cross-fertilizations and crossing of cultural frontiers, though the original 9
  • 9. forms and ideas necessarily acquire a new meaning in the new environment. But what one must remember is that these exchanges of ideas and forms need not necessarily be a question of domination and dependence nor do they represent a loss of self.14 Colonial mentality asserts cultural transmissions to be a one-way process flowing from the Occident. Yet one could offer one documented instance of cross-fertilization in which the West has been an enthusiastic recipient. This is the persistent fascination with Eastern thought that has periodically surfaced in the West in different guises. Raymond Schwab, who named the impact of Indian thought on nineteenth-century Romanticism the Oriental Renaissance, considered this challenge to the West to be as radical as the ‘first’ Renaissance.15 This critical tradition continued in the Transcendental Idealism of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche down to Heidegger and the twentieth-century Existentialists.16 In the field of modernist art we find three influential figures, the philosopher Henri Bergson, the art historian Wilhelm Worringer and the novelist Leo Tolstoy, all of them intellectually engaging with the alternative tradition represented by Indian philosophy.17 narratives of the local and the global This preamble leads us to the topic of the book: the rise of modernist art in India. An ambitious exhibition of the works of Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and other Bauhaus artists held in Calcutta in 1922 marks the beginning of the avant-garde in India.18 This first phase of modernism, which was an artistic expression of resistance to colonial rule, came to an end around 1947, the year of Indian independence. Before we proceed, let us remind ourselves of the useful distinction between modernity as a global phenomenon with wide political, economic and social implications, and the more specific aesthetic movement known as modernism, which has engaged fruitfully and critically with the predicament of modernity. Global modernity as such arrived in India with the consolidation of the British Empire in the nineteenth century. Introduction of art schools, art exhibitions, the processes of mechanical reproduction and other modern institutions in India was part of Westernization, which transformed artists’ status and outlook as well as art patronage.19 In the 1920s, during a further paradigm shift, the radical formalist language of modernism offered Indian artists such as Rabindranath Tagore and Jamini Roy a new weapon of anti-colonial resistance. In their intellectual battle with colonialism, they readily found allies among the Western avant-garde critics of urban industrial capitalism, leading them to engage for the first time with global aesthetic issues.20 The modernists idolized rural India as the true site of the nation, evolving artistic primitivism as an antithesis to colonial urban values. For the artists Sunayani Devi and Amrita Sher-Gil, village India became a 10
  • 10. surrogate for their own predicament as women within the wider nationalist struggle. In parallel with the primitivists, artists belonging to a ‘naturalist’ counter-stream, engaged with quotidian life, some of them expressing deep sympathies for the underclass. Where both these streams that emerged in the 1920s and ’30s were in tacit agreement was in their common distaste for history painting and the master narrative of nationalism that had obsessed the previous generation.21 Yet strange to say, historicism continued to flourish, partly because of Raj espousal of Indian cultural nationalism as a safe alternative to active and violent resistance. Its final flowering took place in the decoration of the new imperial capital in Delhi and the India House in London. Finally, as a coda, I touch upon the changing nature of modernism in the closing decade of the empire which anticipated developments in post-colonial India. War, famine, peasant rebellions and widespread political unrest radicalized artists who looked beyond personal validation towards active participation in communist and other popular movements as they swore allegiance to the formalist vanguard of Paris. In this pioneering phase of Indian modernism, the interactions between the global and the local were played out in the urban space of colonial culture, hosted by the intelligentsia who acted as a surrogate for the nation. Western expansion gave rise to a series of ‘hybrid’ cosmopolises around the globe: Calcutta, Bombay, Shanghai, Singapore, São Paulo, Mexico City, Hanoi, Cairo and Beirut, to name the best known.22 The two cosmopolitan cities in India, Bombay and Calcutta, which acted as the locus of colonial encounters, were beneficiaries as well as interlocutors of colonial culture. I have chosen to explore Calcutta as a hybrid cosmopolis here because of its pioneering role in Indian modernism. In the city, the nineteenth-century intellectual movement known as the Bengal Renaissance represented a hybrid intellectual enterprise underpinned by a dialogic relationship between the colonial language, English, and the modernized vernacular, Bengali.23 The Bengali elite, the Bhadralok, who took to the new colonial learning with alacrity, had less commitment to traditional Hindu culture on account of its ambiguous status in the caste hierarchy. Its role as a marginal group in traditional Hindu society had telling parallels with the post-emancipation Jewish intellectuals of Vienna, who became major players in twentieth-century modernism.24 The Bengali intelligentsia negotiated cosmopolitan modernity largely through the printed medium, since few of them had any direct physical contact with Europeans.25 Yet they were deeply imbued with Western literature and Enlightenment values. Modernity created a globally ‘imagined community’ based upon print culture, whose members may never have known one another personally, and yet shared a corpus of ideas on modernity.26 To explain this community’s critical engagement with modern ideas, I propose here the concept of the ‘virtual cosmopolis’. The hybrid city of the imagination engendered elective affinities between the 11
  • 11. elites of the centre and the periphery on the level of intellect and creativity.27 Their shared outlook was possible not only through the printed media but also through hegemonic languages such as English and Spanish spread by colonial rule. In sum, the encounters of the colonial intelligentsia with modernity were inflected through virtual cosmopolitanism. One of the products of such encounters was global primitivism and the common front made against urban industrial capitalism and the ideology of progress. As I argue later, primitivism was not anti-modern; it was a critical form of modernity that affected the peripheries no less than the West. Primitivists did not deny the importance of technology in contemporary life; they simply refused to accept the teleological certainty of modernity.28 The Western primitivists were chiefly concerned with the predicament of urban existence, whereas Indian artists used primitivism as an effective weapon against colonial culture.29 The interest of the Cubists in African art as an aspect of primitivism has been thoroughly explored. Though radical in its formal innovations, early Cubism was less radical politically than, let us say, certain expressions of non-objective art. In their development of flat non-figurative art, Kandinsky and others sought affinities with the ‘decorative’ art of the ‘primitive’ and non-Western peoples untouched by Renaissance naturalism. However, to my mind even more important was their radical quest for an alternative to materialism. That is when they turned to Eastern, particularly Indian Buddhist and Hindu philosophy, which is described by David Pan as ‘the intellectual context of the abstract method’.30 Their quest, they felt, was met less by institutional Christianity than by a form of syncretism that offered fresh existential and epistemological possibilities. It would of course be an oversimplification to consider these painters as merely reproducing Eastern spiritual concepts in their works. They engaged with Eastern philosophy critically, their interpretations of Eastern thought were in the light of their own sense of crisis in the West and deeply felt creative needs that went beyond mere fashion.31 I intend to show how in very many diverse and interesting ways such ‘primitivism’ had its counterpart in the colonial world of India where artists saw parallels between their own resistance to Western rationality and urban modernity, and that of the Western modernists. Global ‘critical modernity’ has multilateral and multi-axial origins and reasons; its global impact forces us to revise a simple notion of cultural influence as a one-way flow of ideas from the West to other cultures. Finally, a personal note: why did I decide to write this book? One urgent reason was to understand what modernism has meant in the culture of my origins. The other reason, as someone who has lived most of his life in the West, is to make a wider transnational audience aware of this little-known story of Indian modernism. Contrary to colonial representations of the non-West as the recipient in a long one-way ‘civilizing’ process, global modernity has been a two-way dialogic transaction in which 12
  • 12. the enriching role of the peripheries remains imperfectly understood. Acknowledgement of the ‘cosmopolitan’ and heterogeneous character of the avant-garde may help us to break down the West’s ‘parthenogenic’ self-image, enabling it to gain a deeper understanding of its own self in relation to its ‘significant others’. This may well be a celebration of plurality rather than the reinscription of a monolithic canon.32 13
  • 13. one The Formalist Prelude bauhaus artists in calcutta Gaganendranath Tagore, Poet on the Island of the Birds, c. 1925, watercolour on paper. To many of us Cubism’s revolutionary mode of representation is synonymous with modernism. It was the first Western movement to attract Indian artists, although it failed to leave any lasting mark until its resurgence in the 1940s. We may take December 1922 as a convenient entry point for modernism in India. An exhibition of works of the Bauhaus artists in Calcutta in that year symbolized the graduation of Indian taste from Victorian naturalism to non-representational art. We first hear of the Western avant-garde in 1914 in the Bengali journal Prabasi, which described Brancusi’s Mlle Pogany as unacceptably bizarre. Its author Sukumar Roy, a fervent believer in naturalism, had previously been a critic of orientalist distortions of reality. (I use orientalism, orientalist artists and oriental art in lower case to refer to the first nationalist art movement in India known as the Bengal School and use capitals for European Orientalists in the Saidian sense.) In his essay, ‘Exaggerations [distortions] in Art’, Roy acknowledged Cubism’s revolutionary objective of challenging academic naturalism, but he rejected its extreme distortions of reality, while he condemned outright Futurist glorifications of war, the machine age and other odious trappings of progress.1 Others were more welcoming of modernism. In 1917, the widely read Modern Review carried an anonymous piece on ‘automatic drawing’, which dealt with Freud’s impact on avant-garde art.2 The poet Rabindranath Tagore, who had increasing misgivings about the nationalist Bengal School of art, was intent on broadening the artistic horizon of his university at Santiniketan. In 1919, during a visit to Oxford, he hired Stella Kramrisch (1898–1993) to teach art history at the fledgling art department (Kala Bhavan). Of Austrian-Jewish descent, Kramrisch had received a thorough grounding in art history at the University of Vienna, becoming a renowned authority on Indian art in later life. She became one of the foremost figures in the dissemination of Indian modernist art. At Santiniketan her personal knowledge of the avant-garde made it a living reality for the students.3 15
  • 14. In January 1922, the globe-trotting polymath and fervent nationalist Benoy Sarkar (1887–1949) decided on a ‘much-needed infusion of modernism’ into the art of Bengal. His controversial article ‘Aesthetics of Young India’, sent from Paris to the orientalist journal Rupam in 1922, prompted a heated debate.4 Dismissing the Bengal School’s much vaunted ‘spirituality’ of Indian art as a species of myth making, Sarkar made a passionate plea on behalf of the avant-garde ‘aesthetics of autonomy’, comparing it with the nationalist demand for self rule or autonomy from the Raj. Finally, he demanded the emancipation of Indian art from the tyranny of literary critics, historical analysts, nationalists and Bolsheviks. A ‘dyed-in-the-wool’ formalist, who extolled the objectivity of the ‘artistic eye’, Sarkar considered modernism to be a truly international style that overcame all cultural barriers.5 Sarkar was in Berlin in the 1920s, where he came under the spell of modernism. His rousing manifesto welcoming formalism and the immediacy of art appreciation however recalls Clive Bell’s notion of ‘significant form’ that distinguished art from ‘descriptive painting’. In 1914, Bell asserted that in order to appreciate a work of art we need bring with us nothing ‘but a sense of form and colour . . . Significant form stands charged with the power to provoke aesthetic emotion in anyone capable of feeling it.’6 The nationalists felt impelled to respond to Sarkar. Barindranath Ghosh, an intellectual and a former political prisoner, rejected Sarkar’s ideas as inimical to Indian culture. Ordhendra Gangoly, editor of Rupam and the leading ideologue of the Bengal school, mocked Sarkar’s presumption that Indians were unaware of recent developments in Western art: ‘I have a secret sympathy for the latest Parisian craze over Negro sculpture. I can recall my own feeling of ecstasy at seeing Polynesian images when I first set foot in Java . . . I can therefore understand Picasso, Matisse and Derain’s first thrills on viewing the Tami masks from New Guinea.’7 Kramrisch exposed the flaws in Sarkar’s formalist canon. A relativist, she rejected the primacy of Western art, arguing that ‘significant form’ in each individual artistic tradition was a product of a complex interaction of form, content and wider cultural values which suggests her familiarity with Alois Riegl.8 Referring to the Bengali painter Gaganendranath Tagore’s recent experiments in Cubism, she contended that even if an Indian artist used a ‘foreign’ form such as Cubism, he would still remain Indian since he had internalized the peculiar cultural experience of India.9 This engaging dialogue in Rupam set the scene for the key date of December 1922, the year that introduced the works of Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and other Bauhaus artists to Calcutta, an Asian city far removed from the metropolitan West. The German school of design (later architecture) in Weimar, the Bauhaus, had attracted radical artists, theoreticians and pedagogues to the institution. In 1921, the Indian Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore (best known in the West as Tagore), undertook one 16
  • 15. of his periodic trips to Europe. On 7 May he celebrated his sixtieth birthday in Weimar with readings from his poetry and a recital of his songs at the German National Theatre. Visiting the Bauhaus in Weimar, Tagore quickly sensed the affinities between its teaching methods, imparted by Walter Gropius, Johannes Itten and Georg Muche, and his own holistic experiments at Santiniketan (q.v.). As Oskar Schlemmer, also then at the Bauhaus, noted, there were two elements at the school, a penchant for mysticism and a commitment to the machine, the latter ultimately taking over. Muche and the mystically oriented Itten were deeply involved with Eastern philosophy. At Tagore’s suggestion, Muche arranged for a selection of Bauhaus works to be shipped to Calcutta for an exhibition there.10 The 14th annual exhibition of the Indian Society of Oriental Art, which opened in Calcutta on 23 December, showcased the Bauhaus works. Among the 250 items shown at the exhibition, the most important were Kandinsky’s two watercolours dated 1915 and 1921, and Paul Klee’s nine watercolours.11 There were also works by Lyonel Feininger, Johannes Itten, George Muche, Gerhardt Marcks, Lothar Schreyer, Margit Tery-Adler, Sophie Körner and 49 ‘practice work[s] in the course of instruction’. The show also included an original work by the English Vorticist Wyndham Lewis and reproductions of other European modern artists. The Bauhaus artists were interested in selling their works and priced them modestly but, with the exception of one of Sophie Körner’s works, they remained unsold.12 The reverential press previews reaffirmed Kandinsky’s international reputation, The Statesman of 15 December making it clear that he was the most important figure in the show. The Englishman congratulated the society for showing original works by the European avant-garde never before seen in India, paying homage to ‘the great Russian’, whose Art of the Spiritual had discovered ‘emancipation in new forms of art undreamed of in its previous history’.13 Kramrisch, who wrote the introduction to the catalogue, praised Kandinsky as the first artist to paint pictures without any subject matter and infusing his works with his inner experience. She exhorted the Indian public to study this exhibition, ‘for then they may learn that European art does not mean naturalism and that the transformation of the forms of nature in the work of an artist is common to ancient and modern India’.14 This was to remind not only the public but also critics such as Sukumar Roy that the Bengal School’s antinaturalist credo was akin to Kandinsky’s rejection of a materialist conception of art. Her comment highlights the fact that while the artistic objectives of the Western abstract artists and the orientalists were different, they were making a common front against academic art.15 The exhibition offered a tantalizing glimpse of an art hitherto known mainly through publications to a milieu that had until now feasted on AlmaTademas and Lord Leightons. The immediate impact of this show was not obvious but it sounded the death knell not only for academic art in 17
  • 16. India but also for orientalism, and its engagement with the past. Even Abanindranath, the archpriest of orientalism, quoted Kandinsky a few years later to repudiate his own historicism as an anachronism because, he confessed, it was impossible to live and feel like the ancients.16 This was in the 1920s when the ‘here and now’ would seriously challenge historicism, which was administered the final coup de grâce by Abanindranath’s own brother Gaganendranath. Once sympathetic to oriental art, Gaganendranath had gone down the path of modernism even before the Bauhaus show, and indeed made his ‘Cubist’ début at the very same show.17 gaganendranath tagore, a poetic cubist Gaganendranath Tagore (1867–1938) was the only Indian painter before the 1940s who made use of the language and syntax of Cubism in his painting. Older than Abanindranath by a few years, Gaganendranath was an individualist, who impressed people with his intellect and personal charm. The English painter William Rothenstein met him in 1910 and was much taken with the breadth of his culture and reading. The former Governor of Bengal, the Marquess of Zetland, was a particular admirer of his, commenting on his dynamism tempered by an inner serenity and refinement.18 Always keen to experiment, Gaganendranath began in the 1880s with ‘phrenological’ portraits inspired by his uncle’s work, followed by delicate pen-and-brush paintings, learned from the visiting Japanese Nihon-ga painter, Taikan.19 These black and white works, notably of rain-soaked Gaganendranath Tagore, Crow, c. 1905, watercolour wash on paper. 18
  • 17. Gaganendranath Tagore, The Fake Brahmin Dispensing Blessing for Lucre, c. 1918, hand-coloured lithograph. crows, a familiar sight in Calcutta, prepared him for his later monochrome Cubist interiors. In 1908 he joined the oriental art movement, acquiring a major collection of Mughal and Rajput miniatures in the process. Until the 1920s, Gagenendranath was best known for his brilliantly savage lithographs caricaturing the social mores of colonial Bengal.20 In early 1922, he seized the ‘modernist moment’ to realize his artistic vision through Cubism. Evaluating Gaganendranath’s Cubism in an essay 19
  • 18. published that year, Kramrisch asserted, somewhat provocatively, that even though Cubism was a European discovery, its formalist simplicity was neither unique nor significantly different from the objectives of other forms of non-illusionist art. The Indian artist’s ‘musical’ paintings, she argued, avoided the danger of becoming a sterile form of abstraction by their blend of the allegorical and the formal. His cubes did not build up a systematic structure, but rather externalized the turbulent forces of inner experience, transforming the static geometry of Analytical Cubism into an expressive device. However, she cautioned that Gaganendranath’s dynamic diagonal compositions tended to set up a contradiction between the flowing life of Indian art and the geometric rationality of Cubism.21 Gaganendranath’s Cubist fantasies, including his well-known House of Mystery, had their first public exposure alongside the Bauhaus artists at the exhibition of 1922.22 Two years later, he held an ambitious one-man show, mainly consisting of his Cubist works including Aladdin and His Lamp, Duryadhana at Maidanab’s Palace, The City of Dwarka, Symphony and other well-known pieces. Kramrisch once again engaged in establishing his essential difference with the European Cubists. While not glossing over his failed experiments, she brought out his strength as a storyteller through 20 Gaganendranath Tagore, A Cubist Scene, c. 1922, watercolour on paper.
  • 19. Gaganendranath Tagore, A Cubist City, c. 1922, watercolour on paper. his own brand of Cubism, as also his ability to soften Cubism’s formal geometry with ‘a seductive profile, shadow or outline of human form’.23 The paintings were well received in the daily papers, though the reviews dwelled more on his poetic qualities than on the new language of Cubism. The Englishman, which had been following his artistic career closely, described his Cubism as a new phase of oriental art, complimenting the artist on his beautiful colours.24 While the Statesman admitted the difficulty of appreciating Cubism’s revolutionary language, it praised the painting Symphony for successfully blending ‘rigid telling cubist lines with mysterious lighting effects reminiscent of Rembrandt’.25 Forward found 21
  • 20. Gaganendranath Tagore, Cubist Subject, c. 1922, watercolour on paper. him to be one of the finest painters of light, confessing that the appeal of his works lay in their beautiful colours, not to mention their intelligibility.26 By 1925, the Englishman acknowledged the power of Gaganendranath’s personal treatment of Cubism though it was less certain about Cubism as such.27 Benoy Sarkar, the avowed modernist, gave Gaganendranath’s exhibition at the Indian Society of Oriental Art his unqualified endorsement as ‘object lessons in pure art’. ‘In such compositions’, he wrote, ‘we begin to appreciate without the scaffolding of legends, stories, messages and moralizings, the foundations of a genuine artistic sense’.28 In 1928 Gaganendranath held his last major retrospective at the Indian Society of Oriental Art. The Englishman, once again reviewing the show, crowned him the ‘master of modern art in Bengal’.29 The Welfare gave an indication of its awareness of Roger Fry in describing the artist’s synthesis of the Bengal School and Cubism as a quest for ‘significant form’. 22
  • 21. Gaganendranath Tagore, Interior, c. 1922, watercolour on paper. Interestingly, the reviewer seemed uncertain about the worth of avant-garde formalism, suggesting that despite his eclectic sources, the Bengali artist had ‘shown himself a great painter in the originality and the intenseness of his vision’.30 In 1930, at 63, a cerebral stroke left the painter paralysed and speechless. He died eight years later.31 Around 1915, as Gaganendranath began quietly to withdraw from his brother’s nationalist preoccupations, he moved into a poetic fairytale world drawing upon the Bengali stage and literature. While literature nourished his imagination, unlike the orientalists, he was not interested in painterly historicism. It was at this juncture that he discovered Cubism’s possibilities. As he later confessed to the journalist Kanhaiyalal Vakil, ‘the new technique is really wonderful as a stimulant’.32 The multiple viewpoints and jagged edges of Cubism offered him the means to create compositions with many-faceted shapes evoking a remote mysterious world, for instance in his imaginary cities, such as the mythical Dwarka, the god Krishna’s legendary abode, or Swarnapuri (The Golden City). Mountain ranges also gave him scope for the interplay of diamond-shaped planes and prismatic colours, resulting in fragmented luminosity. What held these zigzagging planes together was a tight formal structure. His other preoccupation was what he called the House of Mystery, inspired by his involvement with his uncle Tagore’s plays staged in their home, for which he designed the sets. His growing preoccupation with imaginary interiors mysteriously illuminated by artificial lights hidden from view shows this involvement with the theatre. The painter conjures up a magic world of dazzling patterns, crisscrossing lights and shadows and light-refracting many-faceted forms. His paintings from the 1920s make constant references to stage props, partition screens, overlapping planes and artificial stage lighting. Their endless corridors, pillars, halls, half-open doors, screens, illuminated windows, staircases and vaults remind us a little of Piranesi’s Carceri prints or Alain Resnais’ film L’année dernier à Marienbad. The obsession with ‘prismatic luminosity’ led Gaganendranath to look for mechanical devices for intensifying colour patterns. He is known to have often held up a crystal against the light to capture the rainbow colours 23
  • 22. Gaganendranath Tagore, Sat Bhai Champa, 1920s, watercolour on paper, inspired by a popular Bengali tale for children. on the paper placed below. He eventually possessed a kaleidoscope, a device that broke up objects into a fascinating variety of bright hues and geometric shapes. E. H. Gombrich suggests that the inventor of the kaleidoscope had vainly expected it to create ‘a new art of colour music’. However, it is precisely this quality that enabled Gaganendranath to compose paintings described by critics as ‘less pictures indeed, than visible music and pulsating light’.33 As his pictorial language evolved, the Indian artist found the dynamic forms of the Futurists more suitable than the more static Analytical Cubism. Yet Gaganendranath’s visual conventions remained within the bounds of oriental art. Despite the criticism of the nationalists, the artist insisted that Cubism had simply ‘enabled me to [express] better with my new technique…than I used to do with my old methods’.34 William Rothenstein was convinced that he remained an ‘oriental miniaturist with his eye for exquisite lapidary details’.35 In the brief seven years (1922 to 1929) that Gaganendranath was engaged in his modernist excursions, he created a fairytale world with the ‘language’ of Cubism, but without ever spelling out the actual tales 24
  • 23. themselves. On the surface, his watercolours purported to tell stories, but the stories themselves were hidden behind a mysterious twilight world of artificial lights and deep shadows that could not be easily deciphered. The very ambiguities of his poetic imagery prevented the paintings from becoming illustrative, the whole effect heightened by his use of evocative titles, such as The Poet on the Island of the Birds, The Seven Brothers Champa or the House of Mystery. The Englishman aptly called these a ‘new phase of oriental art’ with their exquisite colours and miniature format. Gaganendranath’s Cubism raises questions about the reception of modernism in India in the 1920s. Revelations of the Bauhaus show notwithstanding, his Cubist excursions threw into sharp relief the problem of reading the avant-garde visual language in a culture that had not yet fully confronted modernism. Today we perhaps take for granted modernism as the natural style of the twentieth century. However, in the 1920s, even in Britain modernism was still a minority affair, let alone in colonial India. At the same time, the initial unease about the new syntax began to give way to its gradual acceptance.36 modernism and colonial art history How are we to read these works – are they Cubist or are they oriental? It was this no-man’s-land between Cubist formalism and a poetic narrative that infuriated the colonial art historian W. G. Archer, reared on Clive Bell and Roger Fry’s separation of formalist purity from the ‘sentimental clutter’ and literary associations of narrative art. Fry’s aesthetic polarity simply does not make allowances for works that do not fall into either of these categories.37 Let me take a striking passage in Archer: ‘apart from their very evident lack of power – a power which in some mysterious way was present in the work of Braque and Picasso – Gogonendranath’s [sic] pictures were actually no more than stylized illustrations . . . weak as art, but what was more important, they were un-Indian. Not only had Gogonendranath’s style no vital affinities with other forms of Indian expression but its prevailing tone seemed frigidly indifferent to Indian feelings, interests or sensibility. As a result, his pictures, despite their modernistic manner, had an air of trivial irrelevance.’38 Archer’s assessment of Gaganendranath’s painting – illustrative quality, lack of power, un-Indian, modernistic ‘manner’ rather than substance – tells us a great deal about his art historical discourse. He accepted the Western modernist canon, as did his contemporaries, including Indians, as the standard against which all modernist art must be judged. The ideology of ‘purity’, with its moral connotation, was integral to modernism. Its critique of representational art was inspired by the Platonic distinction between truth and appearance. Its extreme form was the notion of the absolute values of abstract art.39 His linked expressions, ‘stylized illustration’ and ‘lack of power’ were an essential foil to the ‘pure’ and robust formalism, the very antithesis of meretricious and fussy narrative art. The 25
  • 24. word ‘power’ also suggests obvious gender connotations. Archer’s primitivist longing found the ‘power’, absent in Gaganendranath’s painting, in abundance in India’s tribal sculptures. In The Vertical Man, he expressed admiration for the ‘masculine’ vigour and abstract geometry of Indian tribal art, as he did for the ‘peasant art’ of medieval Britain. Primitivism had bestowed on modernist art criticism the notion of virility as standing for bold simplicity, as opposed to the weakness of complicated ‘feminine’ anecdotal painting.40 Archer’s modernism found both the high sculptures of English cathedrals and Indian temples to be less ‘authentic’ than their respective examples of primitive art. Yet the English art historian’s preference for Indian tribal art in comparison with Indian modernist art did not rest solely on his allegiance to the avant-garde. Notions of virility have been a compelling metaphor of power relations in colonial history, a metaphor derived from anthropology and its myth of the timeless ‘primitive’ tribes nestling in British protection.41 Archer’s idealization of tribal sculptures as the authentic art of India highlights his ambivalence about Indian nationalism, which he had to confront as a colonial civil servant. One of the persistent assertions of the Raj was that the nationalist movement was unrepresentative. Hostile to the Bengal School, Archer dismissed Gaganendranath’s paintings as déraciné efforts that lacked the national mandate.42 There are of course parallels between the new nationalist discourse of primitivism and Archer’s idealization of tribal India. However, in contrast to the anticolonial primitivism of Mahatma Gandhi, for instance, Archer’s primitivism was grist to his colonialist mill. Archer’s final objection to Gaganendranath’s work was its failed modernism. Let us read on: ‘His picture, Light and Shadow . . . is made up of blacks, whites and greys and is a simple illustration of geometric architecture. . . There is no attempt to break the shapes into their fundamental structure or to link them into a single cohering rhythm…The artist merely selected a scene that looked Cubistic and set it down with academic care.’43 I have already discussed Archer’s conclusion that Gaganendranath’s works were simply bad imitations of Picasso, and need not repeat the arguments here. By what criteria can we judge Gaganendranath today? The artist named his paintings ‘Cubist’, even though he was perfectly aware that he was not seeking to reproduce Picasso. His Cubism makes sense in a global context and against the reception of Cubism in countries other than France. Analytical Cubism or the Braque/Picasso revolution of 1909–10, the great achievement of modernism, finally laid to rest the 500-year-old history of illusionism. Painters since Giotto had related different objects within a picture by means of consistent, directional lighting. Cubists set out to destroy illusionism by arranging objects within a picture formally, and by creating conflicting relationships of light and shadow. Thereby they restored the internal cohesion of a picture so that it was no longer a window to the external world. The implications of its revolutionary form 26
  • 25. did not affect other artists, Western and non-Western, so much as its flexible non-figurative syntax which could be put to different uses. The driving force behind the Expressionists, Franz Marc, Lyonel Feininger and Georg Grosz, behind the visual poetry of Marc Chagall and behind the orientalist Gaganendranath was the same: objects could be distorted and fragmented at will to create dazzling patterns. But their specific cultural contexts were as different as their artistic aims, not to mention their different artistic agendas. We now know that Eastern European artists created their own versions of Cubism that did not reproduce the Braque-Picasso experiment.44 The flexible language of Cubism, with its broken surfaces, released a new energy in Gaganendranath, enabling him to conjure up a painterly fairytale world. The German avant-garde critic Max Osborn, reviewing the exhibition of modern Indian art in Berlin in 1923, singled out Gaganendranath’s Poet on the Island of the Birds as having affinities with Feininger in its indifference to Analytical Cubism’s formal implications.45 The Indian artist represents the decontextualizing tendency of our age – a tendency shared as much by artists in the centre as in the peripheries, a tendency we come across again and again: styles past and present can be taken out of their original contexts for entirely new modernist projects. In short, Cubism served as a point of departure for Gaganendranath, the particular Western ‘device’ yielding a rich new crop in the Indian context. Although its revolutionary language released a new energy in the Bengali artist, Cubism was merely a passing phase in India. It was primitivism that would dominate the decades of the 1920s and ’30s, a story I take up next. 27
  • 26. two The Indian Discourse of Primitivism inventing the indian peasant Kshitindranath Majumdar, Jamuna, c. 1915, watercolour on paper. In the late nineteenth century, Lal Behari Dey’s classic treatise on the condition of rural Bengal had offered its readers an ‘unvarnished tale of a plain peasant’.1 Two of the greatest Indian novelists, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (1876–1938) and Prem Chand (1880–1936), made it their life’s mission to champion the weak, the deprived and the oppressed, ‘who gave all to the world but received nothing in return’.2 If sympathy for the poor was nothing new, the elite discovery of the peasant in the 1920s as the ‘authentic’ voice of the nation was altogether novel. Part of the reason for the rise of a form of political primitivism in India was the transformation of elite nationalism into a popular movement led by Mahatma Gandhi. It added a new urgency to the age-old debate: was nationalism to revolve around the city or the countryside? As early as 1895, the leading nationalist environmentalist, Rabindranath Tagore, had rejected the trappings of colonial urban civilization in favour of the ‘primitive’ simplicity of the proverbial hermitage set at the edge of the forest.3 In 1909 he expanded this idea in his seminal essay, ‘The Hermitage’, describing a rural site where man and nature joined in a mystical communion in renunciation of Western materialism.4 By 1915, the locus of the nation was clearly shifting from the historic past to the countryside as anti-colonial environmentalism joined forces with a new commitment to ‘the wretched of India’. Under its impact, the Bengali historian Dinesh Chandra Sen started painstakingly documenting the oral literature of rural Bengal. This is also the era when the nationalists came to admire the hunting and gathering communities of India for their robust innocence uncorrupted by colonial culture. To the Bengali elite the ‘sexualized’ image of the Santal women became inextricably linked with the myth of their innocent ‘vitality’, serving as a foil to the trope that blamed the ‘loss’ of the Bengali vigour on colonial domination.5 Bengali literature celebrated the natural, healthy Santal way of living, the black lissome Santal women providing a counterpoint to the pale cloistered ladies of urban Calcutta. An erotic undercurrent of romantic 29
  • 27. Deviprosad Roy Chowdhury, Lotus Pond (Santal Mother and Children), c. 1923, watercolour on paper. Sunil Janah, Santal Girl, Bihar, 1940s, black and white photograph.
  • 28. primitivism flowed even stronger in paintings, such as Kshitindranath Majumdar’s allegorical work Jamuna, featuring the dark sister of the pale river goddess, Ganga (Ganges); Deviprosad Roy Chowdhury’s painting of a Santal mother and her children, shown at the Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924, and the early works of Jamini Roy. This erotic romanticization culminated in the 1940s in the candid photographs of Sunil Janah.6 It is worth remembering that the ‘primitivizing’ process had commenced with colonial expansion. Colonial anthropology created the myth of the timeless ‘noble savage’, even as the imperial regime was suppressing the Santals through brutal counter-insurgency measures.7 Nowhere did primitivism have a more powerful impact than in art. Since the mid-nineteenth century, the revival of ‘lowbrow’ or practical arts of India had formed the central plank of government policy, a policy that was later adopted by the nationalists. Kalighat pat or scroll painting, a popular ‘lowbrow’ art of urban Calcutta, was the first such to receive prominence, at an exhibition in London in 1871.8 However, the primitivism that identified folk, popular and tribal art – in short, all forms of ‘low’ art – as an ‘authentic’ expression of the Indian soul was something Kalighat brush drawing, Jashoda and Krishna, c. 1900, brush drawing on paper. 31
  • 29. entirely new. In addition to its nationalist implications, it embodied the modernist aesthetics that preferred bold simplification to Victorian overornamentation and the simplicity of village life to the ‘decadence’ of urban existence. Because Kalighat painting emanated from a familiar and easily accessible Kolkata suburb, the urban primitivists seized upon it as an ideal ‘folk art’, although strictly speaking the Kalighat artists no longer had any link with their village background. In 1915, the orientalist Nandalal Bose recorded for posterity the likeness of the last Kalighat painter, Nibaran Ghosh; he also had ambitions to produce pats after Kalighat to beautify poor households.9 Abanindranath, who wrote a booklet on Bengali women’s ritual art in 1919, sought to capture the rugged quality of Bengali folk art in his paintings based on the religious texts Kabikankan Chandi and Krishnamangal.10 When the sculptor Deviprosad Roy Chowdhury met Abanindranath with a view to train under him, the master advised the young artist to study Kalighat. Stella Kramrisch drew the attention of the European avant-garde to the bold simplifications of Kalighat in 1925.11 The following year, Ajit Ghosh’s influential article alerted the reading public to the importance of this ‘folk art’, comparing its formal boldness to that of Cubism.12 It was left to a colonial official, Gurusaday Dutt, to document the vigorous rhythm and ‘colour music’ of the ‘unlettered men and women’ of rural Bengal. Imbued with nationalist 32 Abanindranath Tagore, ‘Krishna Kills Kamsa’, 1938, tempera on paper, from the Krishnamangal series.
  • 30. sentiment, he lamented that the urban elite had lost all the aesthetic sense that survived only in rural Bengal, though he was slightly encouraged that the intelligentsia had at last begun to take pride in the humble peasant.13 Dutt too sought affinities between Bengali village painting and Western modernist art.14 india and global primitivism The new ‘ruralism’ was the particular Indian expression of a global response to modernity – the romantic longing of a complex society for the simplicity of pre-modern existence. The crisis of the industrial age, which was traced back to Enlightenment rationality, made nineteenth-century utopians embrace primitivism with fervour. If modernity was the hallmark of the colonial-industrial age in the West, primitivism acted as its conscience and alter ego, tempering the rampant progressivism coursing through its veins. Yet one cannot ignore the inner tensions and contradictions within the concept of primitivism. Edward Said describes primitivism, ‘the age-old antetype of Europe’, as ‘a fecund night out of which European rationality developed’.15 Primitivism has come under the intense scrutiny of the post-colonial microscope, which exposes its hegemonic representations of the non-West as the West’s primitive Other, making us conscious of Western consumption of primitive art.16 Yet as Hal Foster has pointed out, the avant-garde’s identification with the primitive, ‘however imaged as dark, feminine, and profligate, remained a disidentification with white, patriarchal, bourgeois society’.17 What cannot be denied is that the word primitivism is replete with ambiguities and contradictions. It is these ambiguities that are open to a rich variety of possibilities, offering the colonized certain modes of empowerment. In effect, what the colonized did was to turn the outward ‘gaze’ of the West towards itself, deploying the very same device of cultural criticism used since Greco-Roman antiquity, to interrogate the ‘urbanindustrial’ values of the colonial empires.18 In this sense, Mahatma Gandhi was the most profound ‘primitivist’ critic of the West in the twentieth century. In 1909, his revolutionary booklet, Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, set out his anti-colonial resistance based on a critique of Western civilization as a slave to the machine.19 He advocated a self-sufficient village India with a rural industrial base as an alternative to industrial capitalism, symbolized by the humble spinning wheel. In 1918–19, Gandhi brought the peasants into the orbit of the Indian National Congress, which had hitherto been confined to the urban Western-educated, giving a voice to the people. As he put it, ‘I have believed and repeated times without number that India is to be found not in its few cities but in its 7,000,000 villages.’20 It is perhaps no exaggeration to say that Gandhi ‘invented’ the Indian peasant. Primitivist challenges to Enlightenment rationality lent a certain community of outlook to Eastern and Western critics of industrial capitalism. 33
  • 31. In the West, the very flexibility of primitivism offered endless possibilities, ranging from ‘going native’, to a radical questioning of Western positivism.21 For the avant-garde, the artistic discourse of primitivism opened up the possibility of aesthetic globalization as part of art historical consciousness.22 For instance, the simplicity of African art was pitted against academic naturalism by a series of artists. Even though the simplicity of African art is a myth, since it is governed by strict aesthetic conventions, it proved to be an effective weapon against the nineteenth-century salon. The excitement generated by primitive art in Picasso, Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Constantin Brancusi, Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein, Karl Schmidt-Rotluff and E. L. Kirchner, to name some of the most important, is common knowledge. But however important, I am not concerned with the formal or stylistic aspects of primitivism here. It is the vision of primitivism as an alternative to Western ‘rationality’ promised by non-Western thought that formed the crucial bridge between Western and Indian primitivists. Kandinsky, Mondrian, Malevich and other abstract painters invested in the primitive a spiritual dimension of human culture they found absent in urban modernity. They viewed the distinction between the primitive and the modern as the difference between spiritual and material dimensions of human existence. The Expressionists, who saw primitivism as a universal phenomenon, sought to bring out the primitive dimension of European culture, in their critique of rationality. One finds interesting parallels here with Rabindranath Tagore’s own quest for spirituality as an alternative to colonial materialism.23 The issue of the abstract artists’ precise debt to Eastern thought remains contentious. It has not been helped by the fact that Eastern doctrines were often filtered through the often questionable tenets and practices of Theosophy. Sixten Ringbom and others have systematically documented Kandinsky and several other abstract painters’ debt to Eastern thought, foregrounding the importance of Indian Upanishadic philosophy in abstract art.24 Most recently, the distinguished art historian John Golding has questioned this view, reiterating what he considers the essentially Western foundations of abstract art.25 Yet there is considerable evidence that Kandinsky’s spiritual progress from the mystical Russian faith to Eastern philosophy, including yogic meditation, paralleled the dissolution of corporeal form in his art. Indeed, the evolution of spirituality in his art as an integral part of his artistic makeup has recently been convincingly demonstrated.26 Fearing positivist ridicule, Kandinsky tended to be reticent about his debt to Eastern thought, unless he was assured of a sympathetic audience. However, Michael Sadler, a champion of modernist art in Britain, who visited Kandinsky in Germany in 1912 with his son, was ‘so fascinated by [his] mystical outlook that they missed the last train…’27 Malevich was deeply moved by Swami Vivekananda’s Chicago lectures. His definition of Suprematism as ‘objectlessness’ rather than abstraction is strongly reminiscent of Vedantic notions of consciousness and the self.28 34
  • 32. Mondrian admired the Bhagvad Gita and the Upanishads and treasured the Indian mystic Krishnamurti’s ‘little book’ until his death.29 Theo van Doesburg justified his non-representational art by quoting a purported statement by the Buddha.30 These are only a few examples among many. What the abstract artists represented here was the anxiety about the crisis of Western materialism, from which the world, they felt, could be rescued by the spirituality of non-representational art, a spirituality owed to nonChristian Eastern thought, mediated partly, though not entirely, through Theosophy. The abstract painters were not unaware of the dubious aspects of Theosophy, but for them it served as a useful entry point for Indian thought. Their response to these non-Western ideas was not a simple one of influence but rather a complex dialectical process that reconfigured these new ideas in the light of their creative needs and cultural experience. It was precisely the questioning of the teleological certainty of modernity articulated by primitivism that gave Indian artists the leverage to fashion their own identity. This was less easy with academic naturalism, the art most unequivocally identified with the triumphalist Western empires.31 Because of the radical alternative to Western materialist rationalism proposed by Western artists such as Kandinsky, colonial artists felt an instinctive kinship with them. This questioning of ‘Western’ rationality across the world for diverse reasons prompts us to probe more deeply the global issues of cultural crossovers in our time. The particular formal aspects of the art of Kandinsky, Mondrian, Doesburg or Malevich had little impact on the Indian primitivists. Their artistic priorities were very different. Yet, as Kramrisch pointed out in the Bauhaus exhibition catalogue, the Bengali artists saw themselves making a common cause with them as anti-naturalists against academic art, as much as they shared their questioning of Western industrial capitalism. Kandinsky’s treatise, On the Spiritual in Art, is quite telling in this respect. He speaks of the inner, spiritual-moral strivings that unite modernists and ‘primitives’, those pure artists who want to capture the inner essence of things. The wisdom of those ‘primitives’, who are held in condescension by the West, he explains, are now being studied by the Theosophists. Strikingly, he declares that ‘the “crudely” carved column from an Indian temple is animated by the same soul as any living, “modern” work’.32 Because of its protean nature, with shifting meanings and significance, primitivism as a form of critical modernity offered rich and different possibilities to Indian artists. Rabindranath’s primitivism was a playful exploration of the Unconscious. Amrita Sher-Gil projected a tragic vision of rural India that acted as a surrogate for her divided identity. In some respects the most complex artistic responses were the environmental primitivism at Tagore’s university in Santiniketan and Jamini Roy’s synthesis of art and politics in an alternative vision of Indian identity. Profoundly influential in the works of early Indian modernists, primitivism assigned a new status to marginal culture hitherto ignored in Indian national life, produc35
  • 33. ing memorable artistic expressions. To be sure, this elite perception of the worth of the subalterns was necessarily from the perspective of otherness, but no less genuine for that. The most intense period of this complex motif in art was from the 1920s to the early ’40s, but the tendency continued beyond 1947 and even today its powerful message inspires artists. i Two Pioneering Women Artists The first two women painters in India to gain public recognition were Sunayani Devi (1875–1962) and Amrita Sher-Gil (1913–1941), who also happened to represent two different facets of the primitivism spectrum. Sunayani was essentially a housewife in an affluent household whose enlightened husband was partly responsible for her brief fame; after his death, she lost her inspiration, entering a period of decline and lassitude. Trained in Paris, Amrita competed with men as a professional painter, gaining fame and notoriety in equal measure, though her early promise was cut short by her sudden death. The two of them – one a housewife and the other a professional – exemplify women’s changing social position in India as well as the predicaments of women artists of the time. Before Sunayani, we know only of the leading painter Ravi Varma’s sister, Mangalabai Tampuratti, who reached professional standards and helped her brother with his ambitious history paintings. Mangalabai remains unknown apart from her one portrait of her brother.1 Women amateurs participated in art exhibitions in Calcutta from as early as the 1880s. The best-known early woman painter at the Bombay Art Society was an Englishwoman, Lucy Sultan Ahmed, married to an Indian. From the late 1930s women began exhibiting at the Society in growing numbers.2 Girls generally did not attend art schools, except those who were from Eurasian or Parsi communities in Bombay. On the other hand, elite families hired private tutors to teach painting to girls at home as part of their accomplishments.3 Not until the 1920s do we find girls going to art schools, the earliest possibly at Tagore’s Visva Bharati university at Santiniketan. sunayani devi and naïve art A housewife artist in the limelight The first Indian ‘primitivist’, Sunayani Devi, was born to a family of talented writers and painters. Her uncle was Rabindranath Tagore and her two older brothers were Abanindranath and Gaganendranath. As with her older brother’s Cubism, it was the ‘modernist moment’ that brought 36
  • 34. Sunayani Devi, Milkmaids, 1920s, gouache on paper. Sunayani’s ‘primitivist’ art to public attention in 1920–21. The Englishman commented on the bold originality of her paintings, which resembled ancient Jain paintings in their hieratic quality. Sunayani found a place in the important 14th exhibition of the Society, in which the Bauhaus artists took part. In 1925 the Statesman wrote approvingly that although she was a woman, she showed vigour and originality.4 In 1927, she was included in the exhibition held by the Women’s International Art Club in London. The Austrian painter Nora Pursar Wuttenbrach, who contributed the catalogue essay on her, was as charmed by the lotus-eyed women and enchanting colours as she was impressed by the monumental fresco-like quality of these small paintings. ‘A breath of life from a distant past seemed to pervade them’, she wrote.5 The Austrian painter had met Sunayani during her visit to Calcutta to produce murals for a local Art Deco movie theatre. A member of the Tagore family in Calcutta, Sunayani was witness to the cultural ferment that was the Bengal Renaissance. At the same time, 37
  • 35. being brought up in the women’s quarters, which remained more traditional and secluded in these families, she shared these intellectual excitements only indirectly. Her uncle, Rabindranath mentions in his autobiography that men lived in the outer quarters while women occupied the inner ones.6 Amina Kar, a woman sculptor from the post-independence period, explains that it ‘was unknown and unheard of for women to do anything, even “Art”, on a professional basis, and they remained very much in the background’.7 The men embodied a dual consciousness, using English as a language of modern discourse for professional purposes, while keeping Bengali as an intimate language for domesticity. Most women on the other hand, educated at home in the vernacular, were expected to look after the household and uphold Hindu values. Kramrisch contended that the strength of Sunayani’s naïve art lay in her cultural integrity for, unlike men who had succumbed to colonial culture, Indian women continued to perform the domestic rituals that had once played a central role in Indian life.8 Sunayani mentioned that as a child she was fascinated by the devotional pictures that hung in her aunt’s room, the Ravi Varma prints making the strongest impression on her.9 As a young woman, Sunayani took art and music lessons as part of her feminine accomplishments. Spying on her two older brothers’ experiments in Japanese wash techniques, she secretly longed to pick up the brush and paint.10 However, it was not until in her thirties that she actually summoned up the courage to take up painting, and then only with her husband’s encouragement. From 1915 onwards, she and Pratima Devi, Rabindranath’s daughter-in-law, took part in exhibitions at the Indian Society of Oriental Art run by the Tagores.11 During her fifteen active years (between the ages of 30 to 45) she maintained a strict painting regimen, working every day from eight in the morning until midday, and from three until four-thirty in the afternoon. Her grandson offers us a vivid account of her work method. ‘Matriarch’ in a large well-to-do household, she was expected to oversee its daily routine: she would sit on a taktaposh (divan), propped up with bolsters, painting and occasionally dipping her painting in the water bowl that had been used for washing vegetables, all the while supervising her daughters-in-law who made preparations for the cooking.12 Her routine suggests a remarkable degree of tolerance from her husband not often granted to women in this period. The idyllic arrangement came to an end with his death in 1934, when Sunayani lost all impetus to paint.13 Yet as early as 1927 the young critic Govindaraj Venkatachalam noticed that she no longer painted in the enthusiastic manner of her earlier years, attributing it to the pressures of family life. Sunayani ultimately failed to serve two mistresses, art and family, especially in a society that discouraged selfexpression.14 In 1935 her loyal admirers arranged a showing of her works at her home, which was to be her last public exposure. In the 1940s, her family suffered a series of misfortunes, causing her deep despondency and her departure from the world of art.15 38
  • 36. Sunayani Devi, Two Women, c. 1920s, watercolour on paper. Feminists have focused on Sunayani’s ‘double bind’: she balanced a career and a home, unlike the professional painter Amrita Sher-Gil. There is a hint of melancholy in Sunayani’s confession to her granddaughter that she was always short of time to paint in her busy household, often being obliged to hide her paintings from being damaged by her unruly children.16 Again, however much she was encouraged by her husband, marriage was her career as a woman. Arguably, the duality of her existence as a housewife and an artist ultimately took a toll on her creative work.17 As a woman sculptor of the 1950s put it, ‘Sunayani’s sorrow was of a different kind. Only we who are professional artists can feel it. She may not have starved on the streets to produce art. She may not have felt the pangs of poverty, she may not have been socially or politically aware, but her sorrow was of another kind, so private that she could not express it. I felt it that morning as she asked me to comment on her paintings.’18 39
  • 37. Naïve art and Indian nationalism Sunayani’s dilemma as a woman painter helps us to understand the pressures that inhibit women from gaining recognition and professional success. But there is another side to Sunayani’s naïve paintings that I think is equally significant. Although she herself did not consciously produce ‘nationalist’ art, her work came to epitomize Indian primitivism as an expression of anti-colonial resistance. In 1921, as modernism slowly impinged on the consciousness of the intelligentsia, critics spoke enthusiastically about Sunayani’s simplicity and ‘artlessness’, her naïve work as a validation of the formal values of Bengali village art. Stella Kramrisch became Sunayani’s powerful champion, providing the first serious study of the artist, and discovering in Sunayani, much more than in Gaganendranath, an Indian modernist after her own heart. The Austrian art historian was responsible for giving publicity to her work in serious German journals as a rare example of genuine naïve art no longer found in the West. In 1922 she waxed eloquent about the simplicity and spontaneity of her untutored talent, her lack of any preconceived ideal, and an inner confidence in her best works. Sunayani’s confident, unbroken flowing lines, she wrote poetically, contained a variety of expressions: serenity, swiftness, languidity, assertiveness and restraint. Although Kramrisch did not gloss over her occasional weakness for sentimental and descriptive subjects, she found Sunayani’s best works to be expressive of two kinds of rhythm: a measured tranquillity and dignity that gave the works their unity and truthfulness; and the very opposite, a light touch full of high spirits and movement.19 Kramrisch’s second essay on Sunayani in Der Cicerone, published in 1925, remains the foundational study of the artist, valuable because of the critic’s personal knowledge of her evolution. Kramrisch described her painting process, which was influenced by Abanindranath’s wash painting. Sunayani first drew a red or black outline with brush on paper, which was then filled in with watercolours prepared by herself and applied with a thin paintbrush. She then dipped the sheet into a circular drum of water allowing the colours to be absorbed by the paper. The wash was used as a continuous process through which the form emerged without taking recourse to drawing. She firmed up the outline with the brush once the hazy shapes started emerging out of the washes, the washes themselves investing her works with a delicate hue. Her avoidance of drawing prompted Kramrisch to declare that her pictures had no design but grew organically, gushing ‘out of her very nature’.20 This unselfconscious quality was emphasized by Kramrisch who disclosed that she would often paint on the front and the back of the paper with no concern for its worth: painting for her was simply a form of relief from her creative urges.21 But when she tried to paint consciously, she would lose her delicate touch, thus betraying her limitations. To Kramrisch, her limited skill 40 Sunayani Devi, Viraha, c. 1920s, watercolour on paper.
  • 38. and narrow horizon were a strength rather than weakness, a form of naïve grandeur.22 The subject matter of Sunayani’s art belonged to a private inner world. ‘Most of my paintings’, she once confessed to her grandson, ‘I have seen in dreams – after seeing them I have put them down.’23 Her artistic sources were quite eclectic and she had no hesitation about turning to images that appealed to her, often choosing the pictures that were in her household, as respectable women seldom ventured out. We know that Ravi Varma’s prints thrilled her, and later she saw Rajput miniatures and Abanindranath’s watercolours. However, in line with the growing cult of folk art, Kramrisch identified only two main inspirations: village clay dolls that often adorned urban homes and Kalighat pats.24 Kalighat, which came into vogue around 1915, made a strong impression on the artist.25 Kramrisch is conspicuously silent about the Bengal School influence on Sunayani, even though one of the illustrations in her article makes this abundantly clear. Nor does she acknowledge Ravi Varma, insisting only on the folk elements in her work.26 Her naïve work was singled out as a continuation of the ‘simple’ art of the Indian village, a contemporary expression of authentic India. The modernist discourse of primitive sim- Sunayani Devi, Ardhdnarisvara, c. 1920s, watercolour on paper. 42
  • 39. Sunayani Devi, Radha Krishna, c. 1920s, watercolour on paper. plicity and the nationalist discourse of cultural authenticity come together in the image of Sunayani Devi as a nationalist artist. Much later in 1927 she was to speak of her deep attachment to the simplicity of folk and popular art, and indeed there was a strong ‘folk’ element in her art. Her attachment was part of the elite valorization of ‘low’ art as the cultural site of the nation. Hence we need to probe Sunayani’s place in the nationalist mythology as a ‘folk artist’. Kramrisch presented a complex set of arguments in which she identified Sunayani’s naïve self-taught art as representing in its simplicity the best of modern, primitive and traditional Indian art. In this global fellowship of primitivism, child art, naïve art and primitive art were embraced as the Other, whose formal simplicity and clarity was the very antithesis of the anecdotal naturalism of academic art.27 In the West, Kramrisch contended, the Indian artist’s unschooled 43
  • 40. images would have been considered ‘an aberration, but in India it belonged to a time-honoured tradition, the tradition of an agricultural people’.28 In the same vein Kramrisch found Sunayani’s naïve paintings continuing the humble doll-carver’s craft and village women’s art. According to the Austrian scholar, her figures retained the same uninterrupted flow of round, modelled lines, while the colours that filled the outlines were reduced to flat surfaces.29 The modernist also found her ‘naïveté’ prefigured in the primitive simplicity of the Sienese painters, thus weaving for the Indian painter a seamless fabric of universal modernism, primitivism and artistic nationalism. Although there is no evidence that the ancient Buddhist painters at Ajanta foreswore any preliminary sketches for their frescoes, Kramrisch claimed that Sunayani’s innocence of drawing attested to her heritage from ‘a people whose race had long ago coated houses, temples, and rock grottoes with pictures’.30 Though she was an ally of the orientalists, Kramrisch was painfully aware that they had been unable to eliminate naturalism entirely. With Sunayani, she was on a firmer ground, and could happily construct the continuum of Indian art from ancient Ajanta to contemporary village art. Temporarily disrupted by colonialism, the thread was once again restored by this naïve modernist painter, an authentic child of the soil, untouched by colonial pedagogy. The myth of Sunayani’s roots in the Indian soil became even more pronounced in writers that followed the art historian. The modernist critic Venkatachalam followed her footsteps in viewing Sunayani’s paintings, Ajanta frescoes, medieval European painting and Bengali folk art as reflecting the same artistic spirit. Lamenting the degeneration of national life in the colonial era, he declared that Indian civilization was, ‘and still is, to a large extent a rural civilization and not urban and Indian art, therefore, was and still is the art of the people. Its exponents could not be produced in the academies or be turned out of art schools as so many ready-made goods.’31 Of course Venkatachalam was correct to identify her as the first modern artist to turn to village scroll painting (pat), holding her art as ‘the joyous expression of the natural impulses of an unsophisticated heart and mind’. But was he correct to equate her naïveté with that of folk art? Sunayani Devi was a genuinely untutored painter, an artist of simplicity, lacking hubris, often generously giving away her works to her admirers. Her untrained simplicity and directness were part of the Romantic topos of the authenticity of personal vision, which Kramrisch extolled.32 But the fact is, Sunayani belonged to the urban intelligentsia and had a privileged upbringing. On the other hand, the unlettered village scroll-painter (patua), while lacking urbanity, was the product of a long artistic tradition governed by strict conventions. Therefore, rather than describing her as a folk painter, we should view her as a genuine naïve painter who used folk motifs with immense charm and feeling. 44
  • 41. Sunayani Devi, Self-Portrait, c. 1920s, watercolour on paper. amrita sher-gil and the fragmented self The making of a legend Maie Casey, who was in Calcutta in the 1940s with her husband, the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, was fully aware of the Amrita Sher-Gil phenomenon: ‘An Indian with a measure of European blood, she returned to India to shed her acquired skin . . . She saw her country with new vision and has left a legacy of pictures, simple and grand . . . as a tribute to the Indian countryside and its people.’33 Sher-Gil attained an iconic status in India because of her legendary beauty, her precocious talent, her outrageous behaviour, her revered position in Indian modernist art, 45
  • 42. and finally her brief turbulent life and tragic death at the age of twenty-eight.34 Her pre-eminence as an Indian artist, even though her mother tongue was Hungarian, was underlined in the standard biography written three years after her death by her friend and confidant, Karl Khandalavala. He insisted on her nationalist credentials by judging her Indian paintings to be of greater significance than those produced in either Paris or Hungary.35 How can we recover the real Amrita underneath layers of myths, legends and claims?36 There were two Amritas, the brash, opinionated controversialist, who enjoyed ‘épater les bourgeois’, created scandals, made outrageous statements, enjoying the freedom of spirit granted only to the truly young. The acerbic English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, who had a brief all-consuming affair with her, described her as ‘rose water and raw spirit’.37 The other Amrita was introverted, melancholic, riven by unresolved personal relationships, traumatized by sexual infections and abortions, the Amrita who longed for her father’s approval, the Amrita who remained a virgin emotionally in the midst of her numerous sexual adventures. There were also a Hungarian and an Indian Amrita, the Amrita who belonged nowhere, desperately seeking her identity in India. She was far too young when she died, long before achieving her full potential. If by modernism we mean radical non-illusionist art, she was less radical, except in the late works, than either Rabindranath Tagore or Jamini Roy. Her modernism straddled the cusp of representation and abstraction. And yet paradoxically, as a modern woman, she was at least half a century ahead of her times. We who live in a globalized world today, where modernity embraces cultural diaspora, dislocation, and the intellectual as an outsider, understand better the tragic contradictions of her existence. These contradictions make the study of her life and work complicated. Her self-fashioning as an artist and a cosmopolitan informs her vision of ‘authentic’ India. Of mixed Sikh-Hungarian parentage, she did not enjoy the secure sense of Indian identity that Tagore and Roy took for granted. Thus her self-invention became all the more compelling. Her nephew Vivan Sundaram’s photomontage, which juxtaposes her Western persona elegant in wool and fur with her Indian persona resplendent in silk saris and brocade blouses, underscores her dual Sikh-Hungarian consciousness.38 Muggeridge described her as the ‘weird amalgam of the bearded Tolstoyan star-gazer and the red-haired pianist pounding away at her keyboard’.39 Questions about identity and ‘hybridity’ have figured prominently in post-colonial writings.40 The whole notion of ‘hybridity’ posits a 46 Amrita Sher-Gil, 1930s, photograph.
  • 43. Amrita Sher-Gil, Untitled, c. 1930, charcoal sketch. mythical ‘authenticity’ in the construction of nationhood. However, if one allows, as one must, that nationhood does not consist in a fixed ‘authentic’ heritage, then her tragic vision of India becomes all the more compelling, for it lays bare the contradictions of modern existence: what it is to be a woman, an artist, a cosmopolitan and, above all, an Indian. All these different scenarios were played out in her short turbulent life. Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Majithia, Sikh nobleman, philosopher, Sanskrit scholar and amateur photographer, married Marie Antoinette Gottesmann, an opera singer from a cultivated Hungarian-JewishGerman Catholic family in Budapest. Their first daughter, Amrita, was born in the city on 30 January 1913, and spent her first eight years there, the next eight in India. Her early drawings bring out her melancholy temperament, a sense of insecurity heightened by her parents’ turbulent marriage. They took her to Europe to enrol her at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris at the age of sixteen. Later she trained under the Post-Impressionist painter Lucien Simon at the École des Beaux-Arts.41 Her early charcoal drawings of the human figure show a precocious gift for reducing details to masses and volumes. At nineteen she won the top prize at the Grand Salon, becoming one of its youngest Associates. While in Paris, she plunged headlong into its Bohemian pleasures as the exotic ‘little Indian princess’.42 Amrita spent summers in Budapest in the company of leading nationalist writers and artists. Towards the end of 1933, she longed to return to India, drawn to the desolate vision of an Indian village in winter, with its sad villagers huddled together, so different, she felt, from the exotic India of tourist posters.43 Her French teachers welcomed her decision, conceding that she was temperamentally better suited to India than the West. Immediately upon her arrival in India, she decided to court controversy, determined to make her mark in what she considered a ‘provincial artistic milieu’, grandly informing a journalist that she was trying to introduce a new ‘living’ element in Indian art. In 1935, the Simla Fine Arts Society awarded her a prize for one of her paintings, but turned down some of her works. Shocked, perhaps with some justification, that any of her works could be rejected, she declined the prize, writing to the Society in an injured tone that the prize should go to someone who was more in tune with the hidebound conventionality fostered by the Society. ‘I shall in future be obliged to resign myself to exhibiting them merely at the Grand Salon Paris, of which I happen to be an Associate, and the 47
  • 44. Amrita Sher-Gil, Hill Men and Woman, 1935, oil on canvas. Salon des Tuileries known all over the world as the representative exhibition of Modern Art . . . where I can, at least, be sure of receiving some measure of impartiality,’ she added with considerable pique.44 The Society, the most venerable in colonial India, exacted its revenge by excluding her work from a show several years later. In 1939 she became convinced of the general hostility of the Indian art world: the Bombay Art Society rejected some of the works submitted; the Fine Arts Exhibition held in Delhi failed to make any special commendation of her work. For her part, lacking all diplomacy, she lost a lucrative sale of her works in Hyderabad because she ridiculed the art collector’s taste for Victorian painting. By the end of 1939, she felt demoralized by what she interpreted as indifference to her work. Amrita wrote ruefully, ‘Funny that I, who can accept a present without the least pang of conscience, should not be able to say that a bad picture is good even if it is in my interest to do so.’45 Her behaviour reflects the romantic topos of artists placing themselves above ‘philistine criticism’, even at the cost of their livelihood. It is of course true that society was prepared to tolerate such behaviour in men, forcing us to admire her courage when she wrote that the ‘artist has every right to reject or accept public estimates of her work. When the public makes a mistake regarding a picture, it is the business of the artist by some gesture to show that the public is un-informed and dull.’46 Nonetheless she craved for recognition. Let us also not forget that despite her pessimism, her energy and originality had begun to have an impact in India quite early on. In fact in 1937, the Bombay Art Society, with her champion Khandalavala on the jury, had awarded her a gold medal for her painting Three Women. She was deeply moved because she felt she did not have to compromise her artistic integrity to receive this recognition. Sher-Gil held her first solo exhibition at the fashionable Faletti’s Hotel in Lahore in November 1937. Charles Fabri, the Hungarian art critic of the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore, expressed his admiration for the kind of modernism he could relate to, modern but not ugly or incomprehensible. Another critic, Rabindranath Deb, spoke of the ‘masculine strength [of her work], which shows the immense intellectual quality of the artist . . . a rare quality in [a] woman’.47 The English artist and son of the composer John Foulds, Patrick Foulds, remarked that she had been acclaimed all over India as an artist of exceptional talents, the author of a new Indian art form ‘more vital – more closely connected with the soil’.48 R. C. Tandon, a professor at the Allahabad University, organized an exhibition on the campus in February 1937. He was smitten by her beauty and fascinated by her unconventional personality, but was unsure about her cultural credentials for interpreting India. Other critics felt that her brutally realistic works were more typical of modern French art than Indian. The public however flocked to her show, drawn by stories of her unconventional life and ‘immoral’ subjects. Response to Sher-Gil ranged from bewilderment 49
  • 45. Amrita Sher-Gil, Three Women, 1937, oil on canvas. This work won the gold medal of the Bombay Art Society. and grudging respect for her Paris training to the deeper appreciation of a discerning minority.49 In the action-filled seven years 1934–41, Sher-Gil pursued a vigorous painting career, crossed swords with the art establishment, met prominent Indians, including Jawaharlal Nehru, and made trips to ancient monuments to learn her heritage.50 In 1938 she paid a brief visit to Hungary to marry her doctor cousin Victor Egan, returning to India with him to settle on the family estate in Saraya. She died on 5 December 1941 at the age of 28, when the brief illness treated by her husband turned fatal. By the time she died, her fame had spread all over India. Condolences poured in from political leaders, including Gandhi and Nehru. The latter found her 50
  • 46. work to show ‘strength and perception . . . different . . . from the pastyfaced lifeless efforts that one sees so frequently in India’.51 Her former teacher at the Grande Chaumière, Pierre Vaillant, sent a photograph of a portrait he had done of her as ‘hommage d’admiration pour sa talent, pour sa beauté’. She died as she was preparing for her second solo exhibition at the Punjab Literary League in Lahore, which was held posthumously. The coda to Amrita’s story is the suicide of her grieving mother, Marie Antoinette, a few years following her death. Modern woman as a professional Amrita Sher-Gil was the first professional woman artist in India whose life and career were very different from many other women artists of the twentieth century.52 Women artists in the West seem destined to be a mirror image of, or a muse to men, struggling to scoop out a niche for themselves, such as the tragic Camille Claudel or more successful Natalia Gontcharova and Liubov Sergeevna Popova.53 Laura Prieto attributes the paucity of great women artists to the exclusion of women from the credentials and institutions that would qualify them for greatness, in addition to their ‘double bind’ as a woman and an artist.54 Feminist art historians have rightly exposed the power structure that has erased women artists from the art historical discourse.55 Sher-Gil too had her share of being stereotyped in a male-dominated profession. In France she was ‘a mysterious little Hindu princess’; her work was never praised without a mention of her beauty, a situation she also faced in India. The All India Fine Arts and Crafts Exhibition at Delhi awarded her the prize for the best work by a lady artist, which she, with justification, resented because ‘it rather smacks of concession due to the feebler sex’.56 But the most striking thing about Sher-Gil was that she was nobody’s muse, a free spirit who amused herself when she pleased, taking in tow a gaggle of infatuated males, led by the ‘spineless’ Sarada Ukil, whom she considered in private as her doormat.57 The Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is perhaps closest to Sher-Gil in her erotic tortured life. The child of a mixed marriage, the bisexual Kahlo was a strong individualist who projected a Mexican identity that became entwined with her own self-image.58 In the 1920s, women with unconventional lifestyles were making their mark in Paris, the bohemian cosmopolis. The most famous was Colette, who may have provided a role model for Sher-Gil.59 Highly sexed, Sher-Gil led a wild life in Paris with multiple lovers, showing off her voluptuous body without inhibition in sensuous nude self-portraits, notably Torso, dated 1931, an accomplished study of masses and textures.60 There was a rush of nude self-portraits by women in the early twentieth century, which aimed at blurring the distinction between the artist and the model, thus challenging the boundaries between femininity and professionalism in an assertion of women’s independence.61 In these images of innocent narcissism, Sher-Gil turned the gaze upon herself, taking sen51
  • 47. Amrita Sher-Gil, Torso, 1931, oil on canvas. suous pleasure in her own body as she did of her sister Indira in a nude study of her.62 Sher-Gil was conscious of the effect she had on people, especially men, not simply for her physical beauty but for her unbridled nature. Typically, her French art teacher Pierre Vaillant, who did a portrait of her, wrote: ‘You must give me a chance to keep your sweet memory alive and to be able to look on the familiar, noble features and those beautiful eyes that seem to see beyond.’63 She shared with many gifted people a voracious sexual appetite as an outlet for her abundant energy, and an ‘amoral’ outlook on life, a hedonist who believed in the healing power of pleasure. She once confessed, ‘I am always in love, but fortunately for me and unfortunately for the party concerned, I fall out of love or rather fall in love with someone else before any 52
  • 48. damage can be done! You know the type of alcoholic who stops drinking at the merry stage?’64 This was eroticism free of commitment or procreation. She married her cousin because she needed someone to take care of her. He knew of her affairs, but promised her freedom after marriage. Her behaviour seems to have been an inversion of the accepted male attitude. One of the heroic myths of male artists, such as Modigliani or Picasso, was their highly charged sex life, considered unacceptable in women. Sher-Gil refused to suppress her instincts, though admittedly her privileged background helped her to ignore opprobrium in India. Strikingly, Sher-Gil accepted the subjective nature of gender identity, disavowing the idea of socially constructed sexual desire as exclusively masculine or feminine. Having won professional kudos, she felt no need to identify with women, claiming that they could not paint because they were sentimentalists who lacked passion.65 Today we may understand Sher-Gil’s bisexuality as a feminist trope and an integral aspect of gender identity. Hélène Cixous views female bisexuality as a feminist response to ‘phallic monosexuality’, suggesting ‘the possibility of the humankind to expand in energy, creativity, and jouissance – a word often used by her to denote total sexual and aesthetic pleasure’.66 Sher-Gil pursued women with transparent honesty. She was attracted to the daughter of the poet Sarojini Naidu and had an affair with Edith Lang, a Hungarian prizewinning pianist. With the Frenchwoman, Marie-Louise Chassany, she had a more complicated relationship. Though it had strong homoerotic overtones it was not consummated. Explaining to her mother the risks of casual relationships with men, Amrita stated with candour: ‘I need someone to physically meet my sexual needs because I believe that it is impossible to fully transform one’s sexual desires into art . . . I thought I would have something with a female when the opportunity arises.’67 Sher-Gil successfully asserted her independence in a male world, carving out a central position in Indian modernism. She refused to let her emotional life compromise her art, a separation between life and art generally admired in a male artist, whose profession always took precedence. Her friend Rashid Ahmad noted that while she was not overburdened with social taboos, the strong balancing factor was her self-discipline, indulging in sensuality but ‘not a slave to it’.68 Sher-Gil admired Dostoyevsky precisely because she considered him a free soul who remained an artist to the very end.69 Muggeridge often watched ‘with fascination the animal intensity of her concentration, making her short of breath, with beads of sweat appearing on the faint moustache on her upper lip’.70 Art was a question of life and death to her, an intense period of work usually followed by considerable exhaustion. Feminist art historians have rightly cautioned us against using culturally charged terms such as genius, since these in effect excluded women artists from mainstream art histories.71 And yet SherGil’s self-presentation successfully inverted the dominant power relations. She never faltered in her faith in her own ‘genius’ – a free agent who 53
  • 49. placed herself beyond the norms of ordinary behaviour. This was indeed a modern professional woman much ahead of her time. Primitivism, melancholy and the alienated self A key player in the evolution of Indian modernism, Sher-Gil’s primitivism was tied up with her self-definition as a modernist and her agonistic relationship to the historicism of the Bengal School. Ferociously committed to her art, she constantly displayed utter condescension towards fellow artists. This may have been a trait acquired in Paris, where it was common practice to offer ruthless criticisms of student work to toughen them up. Even Karl Khandalavala, her friend and admirer, regretted her lack of charm in discussing art.72 Sher-Gil was particularly ambivalent towards the two other key modernists. She was unaware of Tagore’s exhibition at the Pigalle in Paris in 1930, even though she was a member of the Students Circle there. Later on, she came to like his works. But her impetuosity very often degenerated into abuse. Disagreeing with Khandalavala’s comparison of Tagore with Soutine, she added: ‘As for Tagore’s piddling little poetry, I have [a] profound contempt . . . the only thing that Tagore can do is paint.’73 In 1937, she thought well of a Jamini Roy portrait at the Travancore Art Gallery.74 But later she told Khandalavala, ‘while admitting that Jamini Roy has a certain talent . . . I feel that you are doing a vast injustice to the age-old fresco-painters [Ajanta] by comparing [his work] with theirs?’75 Her most devastating criticisms were reserved for the Bengal School because even in decline its historicism defined artistic nationalism, which she needed to demolish in order to establish her own artistic ‘authenticity’. Forced to acknowledge Nandalal’s pre-eminence, privately she dismissed his ‘uninspired cleverness’, which was ‘capable of producing good work only under the inspiration of a particular school’.76 Far from fulfilling its vast ambitions, she declared, the renaissance in Indian painting led by the Bengal School was responsible for the stagnation of Indian art. Its only raison d’être was to have made at least ‘a certain layer of people’ in India aware of the great art of the past.77 Her radio broadcast of 19 August 1941, months before her death, publicly denouncing the Bengal School, has earned justified notoriety. But she was even less sparing of the academic artists of Bombay led by Gladstone Solomon.78 She offered a double repudiation: against clinging to the past that had become an empty formula and against a slavish imitation of inferior Western art. Instead, ‘I should like to see the art of India . . . produce something vital connected with the soil, yet essentially Indian.’79 It is this rejection of historicism for an art connected with the soil that forms the cornerstone of her ‘artistic authenticity’. She discovered village India after shuttling between India and Hungary in the early years of her life.80 As she explained in a crucial passage, as soon as she set foot on the Indian soil, 54
  • 50. her painting underwent a great change in theme, spirit and technical expression, becoming more fundamentally Indian. She then realized that her real artistic mission in life was to interpret the lives of poor Indians pictorially; to paint ‘those silent images of infinite submission and patience, to depict their angular brown bodies, strangely beautiful in their ugliness; to reproduce on canvas the impression their eyes created on me’.81 Art must be connected with the soil, she once told the artist Barada Ukil, if it was to be vital.82 In 1936, the journalist Ela Sen explained that Sher-Gil’s life’s ambition was to present the misery of Indian life to a wider audience and to elevate it to a higher plane through the medium of colour, form and design.83 The Bengali monthly Prabasi paid her a rare tribute in 1939: though her style was foreign, her authentic image of a poor, melancholy, rural India struck a chord in Indians.84 Once again, we return to the locus of the nation in the countryside as opposed to the historic past, though interestingly, Sher-Gil did not consider herself a primitivist.85 Sher-Gil’s primitivism sprang from a melancholy vision of village India. Aware as a modernist that such a subject could pander to the emotions, she sought to balance her empathy for the subject with a ‘formalist’ technique.86 By 1936, she felt she had evolved an appropriate ‘technique’ of abstract lines, colours and design for interpreting rural poverty, simplifying form at the expense of the subject matter, prettiness or effeminacy, in short, attaining what Roger Fry calls ‘significant form’.87 Her two terms, ‘aesthetic emotion’, which interpreted rather than imitated nature, and ‘significant form’, were Bloomsbury favourites. Sher-Gil worried about using pictorial narratives as emotional pegs, and yet the conviction of her works lay as much in their emotional truth as in their formal qualities.88 Sher-Gil’s romantic vision of rural India evolved out of four distinct strands in her artistic make-up: a Hungarian version of neo-impressionism, a post-impressionist ‘flat’ style reminiscent of Gauguin, the powerful influence of the ancient Buddhist paintings of Ajanta, and the final ‘colourism’ that she left incomplete at her death. Although it has been noted, I was surprised by the extent of Hungarian influence in her Indian oeuvre, which blended in with her Paris training. In the 1920s, Hungarians had developed a nationalist form of neo-impressionism, which had joined forces with the popular Free School of Painting at Nagybánya, led by István Réti and Simon Hollósy (1857–1918), both of whom had worked in Munich. It was a follower of Hollósy in Paris who had recommended young Sher-Gil to Lucien Simon at the École des Beaux-Arts. Sher-Gil spent some time at the artists’ colony in Zebegény near Budapest, where István Szönyi, a modern ‘primitivist’ worked.89 Sher-Gil’s exposure to these influences brought new standards of psychological depth to portraiture in India. Her works combined incisive outlines, clean colours and Courbet’s painterly texture, with a distant echo of the Austrian Neue Sachlichkeit movement, possibly through Franz Lerch.90 One 55
  • 51. Amrita Sher-Gil, Man in White, 1935, oil on canvas. of her most striking works is Man in White, the portrait of a dark-skinned Indian, whose striking ‘ugliness’ fascinated her. The painting’s unusual power lies in its simple diagonal structure that endows the sitter with a rare monumentality.91 Sher-Gil’s second, and best known, ‘flat’ style reminiscent of Gauguin is seen in her early works in India, notably Hill Men and Hill Woman – monumental, impassive and virtually monochrome – with a few primary colours set against a plain background. However the turning point in her work was her visit to Ajanta, whose austere shades enabled her to develop her ‘formalist’ style. She was deeply moved by these frescoes, choosing their slightly ‘up-tilted’ three-quarter faces to convey recession, as well as adapting the skin colours of their dark figures. In The Fruit Vendors, 56
  • 52. for instance, she now added austere shades such as red ochre to her plain backgrounds, to pick out brightly coloured figures and objects. From Ajanta she went down to South India, finding the dark-skinned Tamils ideal for her vision of rural India, as in The Bride’s Toilet, Market Scene and, possibly the finest of the genre, The Brahmachari. In this group of Brahmin acolytes, she brilliantly combines ‘Ajanta’ with her South Indian figures. On the other hand, one also notices her Indian experience applied to the Hungarian folk style of István Szönyi in a Market Scene, painted on her visit to Hungary in 1938.92 Aged twenty, on the eve of her return to India, Amrita had a remarkable premonition that defined her entire painting career. Her epiphany is worth quoting here: Amrita Sher-Gil, Young Man with Apples, 1932, oil on canvas. Amrita Sher-Gil, The Brahmachari, 1937, oil on canvas. It was the vision of a winter in India – desolate, yet strangely beautiful – of endless tracks of luminous yellowgrey land, of dark-bodied, sad-faced, incredibly thin men and women who move silently looking almost like silhouettes and over which an indefinable melancholy reigns. It was different from the India, voluptuous, colourful, sunny and superficial, the India [of] travel posters that I had expected to see.93 Sher-Gil is celebrated as a painter of melancholy rural India. It does not matter if India is really melancholy or cheerful – perhaps it is both – 57
  • 53. what matters is how she imagined it. With her abstract idiom she creates a ‘distancing’ effect in her elegiac paintings of austere villagers. Absorbed in their daily activities, these impassive figures give the impression of a state of equilibrium and immobility, which is not disturbed by the gaze of the outsider, a condition of stasis achieved by her formalist language. The artist is the outsider here who is transfixed by this world that she knows only vicariously. And yet her stylized, melancholy peasants haunt us precisely because they become a metaphor for her alienated self. Her nephew Vivan Sundaram, for instance, considers her peasant faces with sad eyes and pouting lips to be her own ‘visage’.94 On the surface, her mixed ancestry caused no undue anxiety, her social position enabling her to move with ease in a culturally plural India, quickly winning admirers and a dominant position in the art world. The prescient Muggeridge however diagnosed her as a victim of the tensions and displacements of the modern world, half European and half Indian.95 She was the classic Kafkaesque outsider, the modern alienated intellectual, expressing a lack of centre, her anguish not the result of any specific unhappiness, but of an existential malaise. Her vulnerability often surfaced when faced with a hostile critic like the orientalist Asit Haldar. In private she was assailed by doubts about her Indian-ness and her ‘un-Indian’ work. But she was outraged that those Indian artists whose escapist works helped conceal ‘the tragic face of India’ had the gall to tell her what the ‘true’ interpretation of Indian society was.96 Her modernist technique did not stem from ‘traditional’ art, she readily conceded, but it was fundamentally Indian in spirit. She was confident that her universal language of modernism enabled her to portray ‘the life of the Indian poor on the plane that transcends . . . mere sentimental interest’.97 In Sher-Gil’s images of the melancholy countryside personal and cultural identities coalesced, her insecurities going back to her troubled childhood, a sensitive child of an unhappy union. She was a rebel and yet she longed for her father’s approval, and mourned the loss of his love. She was deeply hurt when her father tried to discourage her from settling in India, stating that she was not interested in India or its art. But he was really worried about the family reputation.98 Umrao Singh was not unloving but increasingly out of step with Amrita’s life. During her absence, he destroyed her intimate letters partly out of distaste and partly for fear of scandal. Amrita’s letter to him makes sad reading: ‘I must admit it was a bit if a shock to hear all my letters are being perused and destined to the flames . . . These letters . . . were dear to me, amused me, or were important from the artistic point of view . . . I had left them behind not because I thought them dangerous witnesses of my evil past but because I didn’t wish to increase my already heavy luggage.’99 Her jouissance and bid for freedom had a price tag attached to it. Muggeridge accused Amrita of being emotionally frigid; she ‘had many 58
  • 54. Amrita Sher-Gil, Young Girls, 1932, oil on canvas. lovers but they left no scar’.100 He failed to see the deep scars left in the painful aftermath of sexual encounters. Amrita experienced her first trauma in Paris when her fiancée left her pregnant and infected. She reflected sadly after an abortion, ‘I am like an apple, all red from outside, but rotten inside.’ Amrita spoke candidly about her ambivalence towards men: ‘At the commencement of a love affair I usually conceive a passionate antagonism akin almost to hatred for my lovers, which serves as a stimulant in a way, and also enables me to bring my love affairs to a rapid and painless termination.’101 Amrita’s most moving subjects were women. I would take two works here, an early and a late work, both nonIndian, which show her deep understanding of women.102 At 21, she painted Young Girls, a study of relaxed intimacy between two women, one of them sitting with one breast bared, a masterly study in objectivity. A more sexually charged late painting seems to be in the nature of a statement. Painted in Hungary in 1938 in a flat stylized manner, Two Girls was one of Amrita’s largest works. A nude young white woman, with piercing blue eyes, stands in a provocative pose next to a demure black woman lightly touching her, who modestly covers parts of her naked body. We are tempted to read in this an allegory of the fragmented self, Hungarian and Indian. There is a strikingly similar painting by Frida Kahlo dated 1939, The Two Fridas, one European and the other Indian, as her two selves.103 At the age of twelve, Amrita had a premonition about women’s tragic destiny. The poor little Indian bride, she wrote in her diary, sat forlorn in a corner surrounded by ladies in gorgeous finery, with an expression of weariness in her liquid dark eyes as if she guessed the cruel fate awaiting her.104 Years later, she painted the poignant Child Wife, as if remembering this episode. The Professional Model is a study of an aging life model with sagging breasts and sunken eyes, a picture of misery. It was exhibited at the Salon du Cercle International Feminin in 1933. On seeing it, the Parisian critic Denise Proutaux asked in astonishment: where did this young girl learn to see life with such pitiless eyes and without any illusions?105 The Bengali journalist, Ela Sen, mentioned that many in India found her subjects ugly, but that her conception of beauty was different to that of the ordinary person.106 When Sher-Gil was berated for her obsession with the ugly, she replied that she found sad and ugly models beautiful, confessing that an inner trait in her nature drew her to things that were sad rather 59
  • 55. Amrita Sher-Gil, Child Wife, 1939, oil on canvas. than ‘exuberantly happy or placidly contented’.107 Muggeridge seems to have known that her self-assertive exterior concealed an infinite sadness, a wall she had built between herself and the world, ‘her sensuality being just fire signals that she sent up from her solitude to indicate where she was to any passing stranger’.108 The English journalist wrote in 1936, ‘Why I love Amrita is that she, like myself, is a bare soul, without any allegiance or beliefs or hopes, just a sense of animality, so strong that she can paint as I write, reproducing bare forms of life without idealizing 60
  • 56. Amrita Sher-Gil, Two Girls, 1939, oil on canvas.
  • 57. Amrita Sher-Gil, The Professional Model, 1933, oil on canvas. upwards or downwards. By the time she’s my age, she’ll be as ready to die as I am.’109 Muggeridge lived to a ripe old age but Amrita had barely five years left. There exists a dark, revealing letter written to her younger sister about a year before her death where she looks into the abyss. In response to her complaint that Amrita’s life was all sunshine and roses, she told her that nothing in life, even misery, was absolute, which helped one muddle through it. Often she woke up with the feeling of unutterable lassitude and vague dread at the thought of the years ahead of her. At such moments she considered life as infinitely grey and melancholy, unbelievably empty. She and her husband were fond of each other but they sat for 62
  • 58. hours in bored silence as she sank deeper and deeper into depression, being unable to break down the barrier. A few months before her death, on the verge of a breakdown, she uttered a forlorn cri de coeur: ‘I passed through a nervous crisis and am still far from being over it . . . Feeling impotent, dissatisfied, irritable, and not even able to weep.’110 Sher-Gil’s romanticism could easily have descended into mawkish sentimentality without the discipline of her formalist idiom. What ultimately conferred a redemptive value to her work was her ability to transmute this sense of alienation and loss into something permanent and universal, creating grandeur out of unhappiness. One detects a third and final style that marked a striking new departure left undeveloped at her death.111 The tensions in her art between avant-garde formalism and the value of emotions, the essential modernist polarities, have exercised critics ranging from G. Venkatachalam and the novelist Mulk Raj Anand to W. G. Archer, who were also deeply influenced by the Bloomsbury group.112 Archer went so far as to claim that the obsession with abstract colour and the abandonment of human sympathy in her last paintings caused her art to dry up.113 Today we may dismiss this ‘artificial’ dichotomy between formal clarity and emotional value, the preoccupation of the heroic age of modernism. Nonetheless, her modernist sensibilities were dismayed by the emotional intensity of her paintings. She feared that the pathos evoked in her Mother India compromised her artistic integrity.114 If this was the exuberance of a gifted young artist, in her final years, she gradually shed this anatomy of melancholy for a detached primitivism, observing village India from an Archimedean vantage point, but no less moving for that. In her penultimate year, she informed Khandalavala that she had outgrown her sentimental period, developing an ironic detachment worthy of Mughal artists.115 This observation gives us a clue as to her new ‘colourism’, seen as early as 1938 in Ganesh Puja, the bright red clay elephant in the foreground dominating the flat landscape. Copying the motifs, figures and manners of Mughal and Pahari miniatures helped her eliminate chiaroscuro. Her discovery of the ‘hot’ deep colours – acid green, lemon yellow, vermilion red and cobalt blue – of Basohli painters enabled her to build up masses and planes simply with pigments.116 Gradually, she eliminated outlines to concentrate on pure colour values and simple masses. In her final rural idylls, she slowly reintroduced depth and the natural environment, abandoning her shallow neutral background. Among these, the Haldi Grinder (1940) is a singular study of pure bright pigments that literally ‘jump’ out of the dull grey-green landscape. Strikingly, these works also brought out her affinities with the visionary Hungarian primitivist K. T. Csontváry, whose spiky geometrical tree trunks and acid colours remind us strongly of Sher-Gil.117 For Archer these late formalist works were devoid of human emotions and social commitment. Amrita or, for that matter, other Indian primi63
  • 59. Amrita Sher-Gil, The Haldi Grinder, 1940, oil on canvas. tivists were not social realists but visionaries of an ‘authentic’ India filtered through their particular experience. These last works had not compromised her empathy for the rural poor, nor reneged on her monumental vision of ‘authentic India’. But by now she could stand apart and observe the distant village through a ‘colourist’ lens. She applied her new discovery to elegiac images of rural women ‘closeted together in states of intimacy and ennui’ that she had encountered in Rajput and Pahari painting.118 This was no longer the bleak Indian winter of her first encounter, but an autumnal India seen through the detached eye of radical modernism. ii Rabindranath Tagore’s Vision of Art and the Community Photograph of Rabindranath Tagore, c. 1913. Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) was India’s greatest poet and the first non-European to receive the Nobel Prize for literature. Probably the best-known world figure in the inter-bellum years, he counted Albert Einstein, Wilfred Owen, André Gide and Charlie Chaplin among his numerous admirers. He was among the luminaries that graced the Sapphic painter and hedonist Natalie Barney’s legendary salon. His poems inspired Leoˇ Janᡠek, Alexander von Zemlinsky and a host of s c other European composers.1 An avowed cosmopolitan, he undertook twelve world tours, challenging in the process colonial representations of India as an inferior subject nation. The enthusiastic reception in the West not only of his writings but also of his painting underscores yet again the emerging transnational discourse of global modernity. Tagore, who took up painting late in life, had a powerful impact on Indian modernism, but he was also an influential educationist and founder of a holistic experimental university in Bengal. Tagore’s primitivism took two forms, private and public: in his painting, Tagore used primitive art to explore his unconscious, but in the public sphere, much like Gandhi, Tagore laid claim to a primitivist anti-colonial resistance located in the countryside. the seduction of the unconscious The self-fashioning of a modernist Unlike Sher-Gil’s romantic image of the Indian peasant, Tagore’s primitivist paintings were a ludic expression of his inner subjectivity.2 Tagore did not reach his artistic ‘Damascus’ until his sixties, when he renounced 65
  • 60. his love for illusionism in favour of avant-garde art. He had taken drawing lessons in his youth, as was expected in his affluent milieu. There exist early sketches by him including a portrait of his wife dating from about 1880.3 In the 1870s, while in Paris, the young poet expressed admiration for an academic nude by the fashionable French painter CarolusDuran, accusing social prudery of drawing a veil over the beauty of the human body.4 He had always taken a lively interest in art but felt diffident about taking up painting seriously, often glancing longingly ‘like a disappointed lover, at the muse of fine art’.5 His dramatic conversion to modernism was first noted in 1924 by the Argentinian writer Victoria Ocampo, who was later to be Stravinsky’s patron. While she was nursing the poet back to health in her villa in Buenos Aires, she chanced upon his notebook where he had made doodles by joining together crossed-out texts.6 Impressed with his radical imagination, she contacted Georges-Henri Rivière, Curator of the Trocadéro Museum in Paris. Knowing of Rivière’s commitment to ‘primitive’ art, she prevailed upon him to arrange a show of Tagore’s works. The hastily organized exhibition opened at the avant-garde Galerie du Théâtre Pigalle on 2 May 1930, alongside an exhibition of African and Oceanic art. Tagore’s paintings consisted of faces, lovers, animals, landscapes and imaginary architecture, including the wellknown ‘bird sitting on an unwieldy humanoid beast’ and ‘nude woman riding a flying monster’.7 Tagore’s reputation drew the French glitterati to the exhibition. Reviews in general were complimentary, expressing surprise at the unexpected beauty of the works that revealed a rich imagination and a hitherto unknown facet of his personality. Henri Bidou, a close ally of the beleaguered Surrealists, penned the most penetrating analysis. He contrasted Tagore’s ‘mimetic’ poetry with his ‘pure paintings’, uninfluenced by academic art, finding a remarkable convergence of spirit between him and the European modernists.8 Not only had the phrase ‘pure painting’ entered avant-garde vocabulary by now but André Breton’s ‘First Manifesto of Surrealism’ (1924), had defined Surrealist art as psychic automatism in its pure state uncontrolled by reason, ‘the disinterested play of thought’ as in a dream. Breton was influenced by Freud’s revolutionary ideas on dreams and the archaeology of childhood, the ideas that had also impressed Tagore. A short essay on automatic drawing was published in The Modern Review in Calcutta in 1917, some seven years before Breton’s manifesto.9 66 Rabindranath Tagore, untitled sketch of his wife, c. 1880, pencil on paper.
  • 61. Rabindranath Tagore, Architecture, Berlin, 1930, coloured ink and wash on paper. After the judgement of Paris, Tagore’s works were exhibited in various British cities, but they were cold-shouldered by English critics offended at the poet’s denunciation of the infamous Amritsar massacre. An exception was the artist Joseph Southall in Birmingham, a Socialist Pacifist and a leading figure in the English Tempera Revival. In his introduction to the exhibition, he described Tagore’s lack of conventional art training as Rabindranath Tagore, Animal, Berlin, 1930, coloured ink and wash on paper. 67
  • 62. his strength because he made people see the unexpected. The Birmingham Mail also expressed admiration for his unconventional art as ‘a marvellous example of the sense of balance and harmony, even in the most fortuitous of its forms’. 10 Reactions were more complex in ‘Mitteleuropa’, where Tagore was a household name, adoring crowds following him everywhere and hanging on to his every utterance. Tagore had an experimental mind of immense fecundity that worked on many different levels, but the ‘Tagore Bandwagon’ in Germany expected him to be a prophet of Eastern spirituality, as wittily captured by the satirical magazine Die Simplicissimus.11 Thomas Mann was among those who were put off by this, dismissing him in 1921 ‘as a refined old English lady’.12 Nor was Tagore himself entirely blameless. Intoxicated with the charisma he exuded, he courted adulation, a weakness partly caused by his failing health. He alienated Freud by inviting him to visit him at his hotel in Vienna where he was staying on 25 October 1926, which Freud did, but the father of psychoanalysis was not amused by Tagore’s forwardness.13 There were of course kindred spirits such as his devoted friend Albert Einstein. More intriguingly, Tagore’s mystical pantheism seems to have been in sympathy with Walter Gropius’s educational ideals of ‘integrated life’ and his preference for handicrafts to mechanized work. We have no direct evidence of their having met in 1921 when Tagore visited the Bauhaus in Weimar, but it was at Tagore’s request that Klee, Kandinsky and other Bauhaus artists sent their works to Calcutta, even though Klee was personally unimpressed with Tagore’s poetry. However, Tagore must have found Johannes Itten, an admirer of Eastern philosophy, more congenial.14 The reception of Tagore’s paintings in 1930 was also influenced by the German perception of the poet as a cultural mediator between India and Germany. Inter-bellum Germany saw Indian spirituality as a panacea for the moral crisis facing the nation. In 1924 the critic Max Osborn, reviewing the exhibition of the Bengal School in Berlin, had compared India’s quest for cultural regeneration with the struggle for the validation of the German soul.15 Tagore’s works were displayed in major galleries in Berlin, Munich and Dresden. Ludwig Justi, Director of the National Gallery in Berlin, who had been responsible for organizing the 1924 Bengal School show, planned to acquire Tagore’s works for the National Gallery.16 There were shows in Copenhagen, Geneva and the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Even though the avantgarde was at that time out of favour in the Soviet Republic, official effusions for Tagore’s expressionist art were possibly prompted by the fact 68 Olaf Gulbranson, ‘Die Grosse Mode’ (‘The Height of Fashion’), cartoon from Simplicissimus dated 18 May 1921; inspired by Tagore, showing the fashionable Berlin practice of contemplating the navel on the occasion of his visit to Germany.
  • 63. that his views carried weight in world opinion.17 In North America, the works were shown in Toronto, New York and Philadelphia. For the New York show, Ananda Coomaraswamy, art historian and curator of the Asian Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, wrote admiringly of his paintings as examples of modern primitive art, untouched by his self-conscious literary output.18 A few dissenting voices in the West included his erstwhile friend, Romain Rolland. The novelist was shocked that Tagore could indulge his private passion and be carried away by Western adulation. ‘One wonders about his egoism when all the Indian leaders are in prison and India suffers its heroic passion’, he confided in his diary.19 Tagore’s succès d’estime in 1930 certainly owed much to the mystery, vitality and nervous energy displayed in his paintings. The most obvious reaction among reviewers was to find the mystic Orient in them.20 The more discerning, however, appreciated the imagination and originality of the watercolours and their experimental quality that drew upon the Unconscious. They underlined their affinities with global primitivism, commenting on their difference with the pantheistic naturalism of his poems. The Vossiche Zeitung drew parallels between Tagore’s manner of piercing through outer reality and that of modern European artists, particularly Munch and Nolde, as well as his free play in the manner of Klee, finding affinities between Indian abstractions and modern European ones.21 Line and rhythm in Tagore’s art Why did Tagore appeal to the European modernists? By 1930, avantgarde aesthetics had filtered through to public consciousness and acquired a substantial following. Tagore’s lack of technical skill, his childlike simplifications and his ‘stream of consciousness’ treatment appealed to the avant-garde, attuned to primitive and child art. Even the academic artist William Rothenstein was forced to acknowledge the ‘strange vitality’ of his drawings, far superior to the ‘effeminate’ oriental art.22 Between 1915 and 1924, Tagore’s taste underwent a sea change, at the end of which he symbolically renounced the eraser, a sine qua non of naturalistic drawing, declaring art to be an act of self-expression, rather than a ‘correct’ representation of the visual world. There were two distinct sources of his modernism: Art Nouveau and Jugendstil graphics and ‘primitive’ masks and totemic objects. His first playful forays into the world of graphic design can be seen in an altered text page around 1905, leading on to the calligraphic ‘erasures’ on the manuscript pages of Purabi and Rakta Karabi in the 1920s.23 Illustrations in Bengali and Gujarati publications in the early twentieth century, which combined Art Nouveau volutes, flowing tendrils, entwined creepers and sinuous arabesques with traditional Indian decoration, were widely known among the Indian educated.24 Tagore did not copy any particular motif, 69
  • 64. but the cumulative effect of Jugendstil graphics, especially those of Gustav Klimt, Adolf Hölzel, Kolo Moser and Otto Eckmann, is seen in his marginal drawings. In addition, Tagore adapted the spiky geometrical forms of Art Deco, which became influential from 1924, though once again he did not copy specific motifs. The only exception was his ‘nude woman riding a flying monster’, which suggests his familiarity with McKnight Kauffer’s famous poster, The Early Bird (1919), possibly seen at underground stations during his visit to London in 1920.25 More interestingly, there is an uncanny similarity in approaches to art between Tagore and the Jugendstil artist Adolf Hölzel, one primarily a writer and the other an artist, but both interested in incorporating written texts in a work of art. There is no evidence that Tagore knew the author of ‘creative automatism’. However, Hölzel was Itten’s teacher and a key influence at the Bauhaus, though he did not usually publish his designs in art journals.26 Somewhat like Tagore’s doodles, Hölzel’s abstract ornaments were often placed alongside handwritten texts. He also incorporated printed texts in his doodles and designs, sometimes supplying his own texts for them.27 Tagore, who belonged to a self-conscious literary milieu that cherished elegant calligraphy, became well known for his Bengali handwriting. Yet, even though his starting point was the text page, the meaning of the text was ultimately sacrificed in the finished drawing. The second element they shared was the notion of rhythm. Hölzel spoke of the ‘inner rhythm of the soul’, and of the line as a form of energy, urging artists to study the ‘linear expressive movement’.28 Tagore’s economical forms and sparing colours in his painting were held together by a flowing rhythmical line that grew out of his calligraphic experiments.29 A poet and a composer of songs and dance-dramas, Tagore was acutely sensitive to rhythm, describing the universe in 1916 as an ‘endless rhythm of lines and colours’. Indeed rhythm was to constitute the backbone of his painting.30 In 1930, Tagore explained his art as ‘versification in lines’, describing his ultimate aim as the search for the ‘rhythmic significance of form’ rather than the representation of an idea or a fact.31 Just before his German exhibition, Tagore reflected on his work method: ‘I try 70 Rabindranath Tagore, Nude on a Bird, Berlin, 1930, coloured ink and wash on paper. Detail from E. McKnight Kauffer’s famous 1918 poster for the Daily Herald, ‘Soaring to Success! The Early Bird’. This poster must have made a deep if subliminal impression on Tagore, who, as a man of letters, was always more alert to graphic art than to painting in his own paintings.
  • 65. Rabindranath Tagore, Page from Purabi ms., 1920s, pen and ink. to make my corrections dance [and] connect them in a rhythmic relationship . . . ’32 Adolf Hölzel, Abstract Ornament with Text, before 1900, pen and ink. The dark landscape of the psyche What took Tagore’s work from the decorative to a more radical modernist plane was his discovery of Native American, Oceanic and African ritual masks, totemic animals, face ‘scars’ and body tattoos, some of which drew upon Friedrich Ratzel’s popular work, The History of Mankind (1896).33 Nor could he have been oblivious to the profusely illustrated ethnographic articles regularly published in Bengali journals. A page of the poet’s jottings in the text of Kheya dated 1905 shows an early interest in the Haida and Tlingit art of North America, which matured into the fearsome reptile in the Rakta Karabi manuscript dated 1923.34 The face as a mask was one of Tagore’s most obsessive images. Tagore may have encountered primitive masks at the Trocadéro while he was in Paris in 1872, making a sketch of a primitive mask as early as 1892. Primitive masks began to be prominently displayed in European collections from the late nineteenth century, and were soon to be part of the modernist vocabulary. Apart from Picasso’s celebrated Demoiselles d’Avignon, in 1912 the Blaue Reiter Almanac carried August Macke’s seminal article on primitive masks.35 Tagore turned the human face into a mask by cropping the ears and suppressing other details, thereby stressing the mask’s ‘impassive’ 71
  • 66. Rabindranath Tagore, Untitled after Primitive Art, c. 1932, coloured ink and wash on paper. character in a series of faces and ‘free’ portraits. Scholars have identified these haunting faces with the poet’s beloved sister-in-law Kadambari Devi, whose tragic suicide left an indelible mark in his life. Even if these were inspired by her, their abbreviated style took on the intensity of a primitive icon.36 Although Victoria Ocampo was the first to be credited with discovering Tagore’s new art, the actual turning point in his artistic perception was possibly 1921, though it did not become full-blown modernism until later. Tagore had an unusually lively curiosity. Because of his eminence and his friendship with many of the leading cultural figures, he had firsthand experience of the German cultural scene, including modernism, not least at the Bauhaus in Weimar during his visit to Germany in 1921. If he 72
  • 67. Rabindranath Tagore, Rakta Karabi, 1923, coloured ink and wash on paper. Rabindranath Tagore, Untitled (Mask), 1932, coloured ink and wash on paper. is silent in his memoirs on this it is not at all surprising. For instance, he makes no mention of Freud, whom he insisted on meeting in Vienna. The primitivism espoused by the Bauhaus Expressionists resonated with him, and later seems to have flowered into his expressionist paintings.37 European reviewers, especially Henri Bidou, the ideologue of Surrealism, were impressed with Tagore’s naïve ‘automatic’ self-taught quality, especially as they were aware of his highly formal ‘mimetic’ literary output. Coomaraswamy was convinced that Tagore had expunged all previous literary experience to produce a truly naïve art, like a child, inventing his own technique as he went along.38 Tagore himself was eager to reinforce the artless quality of his painting, describing himself as an autodidact in his address to a distinguished gathering in Dresden, and disclosing to Rothenstein earlier on that his drawings ‘certainly possess psychological interest being products of untutored fingers and untrained mind’.39 If Tagore had limited representational skills, the watercolours reveal artistic control, a strong sense of formal design and an ability to discard unnecessary details. The reason behind his description of himself as an ‘unskilled dauber’ was not diffidence. Tagore consciously embraced a selftaught ‘automatic’ style, insisting that his art was a recapitulation of his childhood experience: ‘I lay with my face to the wall; the faint light drew myriad black and white patterns created by the peeling plaster on whitewashed walls. I put myself to sleep inventing weird shapes.’40 He needed to ‘regress’ to childhood in order to recover this fantasy world, as this 73
  • 68. passage suggests. We can think of parallels with artists such as Klee, who sought to learn from their own childhood drawings. The late nineteenth century had discovered the autonomous world of children and the value of their creativity unhampered by traditional pedagogy. Tagore introduced this free creative atmosphere at Santiniketan and visited the pioneering educationist Franz Cizek’s free drawing class for children in Vienna in 1921.41 Rabindranath Tagore, Untitled, c. 1930s, coloured ink and wash on paper. 74
  • 69. Above all, it was Freud’s authority that provided modernist artists with the theoretical wherewithal to ‘regress’ to childhood.42 The relevance of childhood in the mental life of an adult is no longer in question, though the function of the Unconscious in artistic expression is unclear. Ernst Kris warns us against oversimplifying the relationship between creativity and childhood experience, while E. H. Gombrich points out that for children’s play of associations to be meaningful, it must be anchored to the conventions that give meaning to art.43 A passage in Freud suggests a clue to Tagore’s own approach to his art: the psychoanalyst compared child’s play or daydreaming with creative imagination, which through its mastery over ‘undeveloped dispositions and suppressed wishes, liberated dominant memories’.44 Not only did Tagore insist on the childlike quality of his art but he repeatedly emphasized two other elements, unpredictability and dream imagery.45 In his introduction to his painting Tagore claimed to possess the unconscious courage of the unsophisticated, like one who walks in a dream on a perilous path.46 Furthermore, the poet offered a Freudian explanation of his artistic process as a series of accidental discoveries, rather than premeditation.47 Freud spoke of double entendres and ambiguities as offering access to the inner recesses of our psyche. J. J. Spector, writing on Freud’s aesthetics, comments that apparitions, accidents and distortions that reveal the ‘essence’ may not be psychoanalytically provable, but they can act as a spur to creativity.48 Ambiguity, randomness, unpredictability, indeterminacy, the sense of ‘something in-between’ conferred an enigmatic power on Tagore’s images. The Danish Berlingske Tidende aptly described them as shapes produced by children with blotting paper, something in between ‘an insect and a woman, a blue fairy bird and a poetic nameless flower’.49 The paper had in mind the Rorschach test, whose origins lay in the children’s game of inventing forms. (The ambiguous shapes that appear by chance when a drop of ink falls on blotting paper can be interpreted endlessly.)50 The precise nature of the relationship between the poet and the father of psychoanalysis would be interesting to know.51 We do not have a clue as to what they discussed when Tagore met Freud in Vienna in 1926, nor why the poet had wished to see him. But there can be no doubt about the shadow cast by Freud in Tagore’s descriptions of the apparitions, phantasmagoric creatures and nightmarish shapes that inhabited his pictorial imagination.52 In the last year of his life, he felt the need to unburden himself to the painter Jamini Roy, both of whom felt that they were kindred spirits: ‘when I started my painting, the flora and fauna of this universe began to appear before me in their true forms. I represented these true forms.’53 These images dredged up from the depths of his psyche – primitive masks, deformed monsters and erotic encounters – and their sombre mood of alienation, link him directly to modernism, its anxieties, its ambiva75
  • 70. lences and its fractured consciousness. In India ambiguity and suggestiveness as artistic devices were absent in academic art or the nationalist allegories of the Bengal School. More to the point, modernist issues of alienation and displacement had not formed part of Tagore’s ‘mimetic’ literary corpus. His mystical lyricism, expressed in a mellifluous language, was governed by a strict decorum originating in Victorian evangelism. From the late 1920s, with age, failing health, disappointments and a sense of loss, he began to question these very same aesthetic standards. By the 1930s, Tagore, like Marcel Proust in France, had been turned into a national monument in India. Bishnu Dey and Sudhindranath Datta, the younger generation of modernist poets in Bengal, who preferred the fragmentation and discontinuities of modern life to his Olympian prose and emotionally charged poetry, quietly ignored him. A letter dated 1928 already hints at his loss of poetic inspiration, when lines began to cast a spell on him.54 Tagore felt liberated from the ‘high’ canon of good taste, over which he had presided for many years in Bengal, producing some two thousand paintings (c.1928–41). For a poet known for his exaltation of beauty, truth and goodness, Tagore’s pictorial nightmares unequivocally repudiated the ‘conventionally’ beautiful; the images that plumbed the dark depths were primal and transgressive. In 1927 he felt the need for reassurance from the European modernists, as he did from Roy, that they too deliberately expunged the Good and the Beautiful from their art.55 Wendy Steiner has spoken of the troubled relationship between modernism and beauty.56 One of the most tantalizingly ambiguous motifs in Tagore is the primitive mask. Masks, after all, are meant to conceal one’s identity – we are thus left with some 76 Rabindranath Tagore, Untitled (Nude Male), 1934?, coloured ink and wash on paper. Rabindranath Tagore, Untitled Cowering Nude Woman, 1934, coloured ink and wash on paper.
  • 71. unanswered questions: what do they reveal or conceal? However, in terms of their disturbing suggestiveness no other works of Tagore came close to the very small number of enigmatic ‘erotic’ paintings that offer us glimpses of unresolved inner tensions. I can suggest only very tentative explanations for them. Tagore never hesitated to exalt physical beauty in his writings; we may recall his admiration for a late nineteenth-century nude. Nonetheless, if Tagore introduced erotic images in his ‘mimetic’ literature, they were oblique, allegorical and intensely mystical.57 By contrast his non-representational nudes are very different even if we allow for his limited skill. They are ‘artless’, uninhibited and ‘unbeautiful’, the male figures in particular displaying their genitals, thereby breaking an ‘unstated’ taboo of Victorian India.58 One of his strangest paintings is of a submissive androgynous figure that hints at an ambiguous sexuality which none of his literary works ever does. Take Untitled Cowering Nude Woman, with its clothed figures (judges? torturers?), hovering threateningly over a crouching naked female.59 The power of this subliminal work lies in its suggestion of a tormentor-victim relationship rendered through a ‘primitivist’ non-representational mode. The justification Tagore offered for his primitivism was self-expression, which was part and parcel of the Romantic revolt against the aesthetics of ‘effects’. Even as early as 1916, his comments recall the credo of Expressionism: art mediated between the outside world and inner forces and was not a representation of objects.60 From around 1928, he took an increasingly formalist view of art in his critical writings, politely refusing to explain the meaning of his works at the India Society in London in 1930: ‘People often ask me about the meaning of my pictures. I remain silent even as they are. It is for them to express and not to explain . . .’61 A cosmopolitan confronts nationalism Tagore’s expressionist art rejected the narrow focus of cultural ‘authenticity’ as espoused by the Bengal School, welcoming cultural borrowings as inevitable in an expanding global culture.62 Tagore’s inward journey in view of the growing political crisis in India called into question his commitment to nationalism both within India and without.63 Few Indians had done more than the poet to overturn the colonial image of India’s inferiority. Yet his complex response to colonialism, which included stinging attacks on Western jingoism, did not spare aggressive Hindu nationalism. It lost him friends on both sides of the divide. Tagore’s ideals of universal human values that transcended asymmetrical power relations were part of his self-definition as a cosmopolitan.64 The Berlingske Tidende was astute enough to observe that Tagore’s paintings mirrored the man ‘who has travelled all over the globe and investigated the various cultures of the East and the West’.65 The tension in his creativity between universalism and cultural specificity made him an optimist about art as a universal 77
  • 72. language. He came to the conclusion that painting transcended the limitations of language, a reflection of his growing pessimism about the survival of his poetry. The conventions that governed language, he argued, inhibited their cross-cultural understanding.66 On 24 June 1926, Tagore and Romain Rolland met in Villeneuve to exchange ideas about the universality of art and music. Ironically, the discussion, conducted through interpreters, posed the very difficulties of ‘translating’ from one culture to another that Tagore had raised; they failed to appreciate each other’s musical taste at all.67 For us today, it is perhaps difficult to share Rabindranath Tagore’s optimism about the universality of art, an optimism common to his generation. It is true that a foreign language can be totally incomprehensible, whilst the subject of foreign art can at least be recognized in most cases. But recognition is not the same as appreciation. The optimism of Tagore’s generation sprang from their faith in the objectivity of knowledge. An instance of this is nineteenth-century art criticism, which failed to recognize that artistic language differed because art was concerned not so much with the objective world as with its representations. After the wide exposure of his paintings in the West in the year 1930, there were a few more local shows during his lifetime. Under the shadow of war and depression, global enthusiasm for Tagore imploded as abruptly as it had exploded in the interwar years. With his European triumphs fading, Tagore increasingly turned inward in his last years, for the first time enjoying painting for its own sake.68 In the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust, Tagore’s paeans to universal brotherhood became discredited. But today as the ‘clash of civilizations’ and identity politics dominate our global society, Tagore’s universalism and his scepticism about nationalism do not seem out of place. His artistic language and skills were limited, but within those limitations he created a very personal form of modernism with the power to disturb and astonish.69 santiniketan and environmental primitivism Art and Tagore’s educational ideology Tagore the reformer of education was very different from Tagore the universalist painter. In 1909, in his seminal essay, he had portrayed the Indian village as the very antithesis of the colonial city. His environmental primitivism was to be realized through his holistic educational experiments at his Visva Bharati University in rural Santiniketan in the 1920s. The institution began as a high school in 1901, gradually acquiring in the 1920s a cultural centre, a university, a department of agriculture and an institute for rural reconstruction, the last two reflecting urgent nationalist concerns. A cultural critic of imperialism, Tagore did not reject modern science and technology at Santiniketan, but adapted modern educational methods to the Indian environment.70 78
  • 73. The poet’s pedagogic ideology had remarkable parallels with the Bauhaus movement, even as its driving force was a critique of Western urban colonialism based on ancient Indian thought.71 In a letter dated 1921 the artist Oskar Schlemmer remarked on the existence of two separate ideological strands at Bauhaus, a form of primitivism that drew inspiration from Eastern ‘spirituality’ versus commitment to progress and technology.72 Tagore showed little interest in Bauhaus reform of industrial design, but he must have responded to Kandinsky’s search for an alternative spiritual expression and Johannes von Itten’s mystical approach to art.73 He shared Gropius’s ideas about the individual’s place in the wider environment. The architect was less mystical than Itten, but there are telling parallels between Tagore’s educational ideals of ‘integrated life’, and Gropius’s dislike of ‘mechanized work’, his insistence on individual creativity and allegiance to the Deutscher Werkbund ideal of communal art, as expounded in The Theory and Organization of the Bauhaus.74 As early as 1909, Tagore had rejected bookish, vocation-oriented colonial education in favour of a ‘hermitage’ university inspired by ancient Indian thought that would nourish emotion and intellect. Santiniketan was founded in 1921, the year Gandhi launched his Non-Cooperation movement, inspiring many to boycott colonial institutions. One such individual was the artist Nandalal Bose (1882–1966) who was to become a pivotal figure at Santiniketan. At this university, primitivism as the repudiation of urban colonial culture permeated all levels of education. It drew upon Tagore’s environmentalism, Gandhi’s critique of Western capitalism, the elite valorization of village India, and finally the nationalist myth of the ‘innocent’ adibasis (aboriginals).75 At Santiniketan, art was to be an integral part of an all-rounded education; Tagore had long considered Abanindranath’s pupil Nandalal the best person to give it shape. As his project advanced in 1919, with consummate skill, he was able to entice Nandalal away from the Indian Society of Oriental Art in Calcutta to Kala Bhavan (Art School) at Santiniketan.76 Nandalal, for his part, felt relieved to leave the government-funded institution, which he found stifling.77 Modest, taciturn, somewhat rigid, but a man of strong moral fibre and iron resolve, Nandalal was prepared to renounce urban comforts in order to realize Tagore’s educational vision. Santiniketan developed an integrated system of education from the primary school stage to the university level, in which art was to play a humane role. Tagore, who was convinced that art could not be learned, allowed children to develop unfettered creativity. In 1921, he witnessed the confirmation of his favourite ideas in Cizek’s art class for children in Vienna.78 Nandalal’s curriculum incorporated Tagore’s notions about creativity and experimentation in addition to his own ideas of a non-hierarchical artistic community at the Kala Bhavan. In 1925, in order to encourage student-teacher bonding, he arranged for them to work side by side in a studio, with students having the freedom to pursue their own particular interests. In 1928–9, he assigned to each 79
  • 74. student a personal instructor, aiming to revive the pre-colonial apprenticeship under a master.79 While respecting spontaneity, Nandalal nonetheless expected the student to harness his creativity to discipline. Although he had been part of the nationalist rebellion against academic art, Nandalal retained a respect for basic colonial art school training, especially geometry as a foundation of drawing. Conscious of the need for an underlying formal structure in a painting, he was never comfortable with the hazy wash technique of Abanindranath. His departure from Calcutta completed the ideological rift with his teacher, although he continued to profess respect for him in public.80 At Santiniketan, he helped wean students away from the morotai wash technique of oriental art towards the impasto effect of tempera.81 Nandalal’s curriculum was quite eclectic; he was prepared to accept even colonial art teaching, including scientific anatomy, which had been anathema to the orientalists, if it helped artistic progress. However, as a concession to them, he devised schematic ‘stick’ figures to work out naturalist poses rather than using nude models, at the same time introducing vigorous life studies of animals.82 By the 1930s, however, Nandalal was forced to introduce a more conventional curriculum, including Renaissance art, after his failure to ensure competent levels of art training. Students were also encouraged to draw the scantily clad Santal women at work in order to understand the body in movement. Yet Nandalal’s criticism of Western art’s lurches from trompe l’oeil to abstraction, and his preference for the ‘more balanced object-centred’ approach of oriental art, suggests his attempts at a synthesis of East and West.83 For instance, his view of representation, not a mimetic reproduction of nature but a communion with its myriad forms, encouraging creativity and a respect for the environment, clearly recalls East Asian art.84 This is evident in his numerous sketchbooks filled with quick brush drawings of local flora, fauna and the seasons that served as mental notes for teaching.85 Indeed, we notice the central importance of Okakura Kakuzo’s art theories, which he had imbibed as a student, in Nandalal’s curriculum. The Japanese ideologue had developed his PanAsian artistic principles in collaboration with the Tagores around 1905, evolving three cardinal principles, nature, tradition and creativity, as a selective response to Westernization.86 In the final analysis, however, strong decorative lines and a unified formal structure in art remained the core of Nandalal’s teaching.87 Nandalal’s growing openness to Western art, shunned by the orientalists, can be partly explained by his symbiotic relationship with Tagore and his friendship with the small international contingent at the university, the political activist Charles Freer Andrews, the Orientalist Sylvain Lévi, the art historian Stella Kramrisch, the artist Andrée Karpelès and the urban theorist Patrick Geddes. Among these, Kramrisch’s presence was decisive in introducing Western art history at Santiniketan. These various influences laid the foundations of modernism at Santiniketan, 80
  • 75. the finest flowerings of which were Benodebehari Mukhopadhyaya and Ramkinkar Baij.88 The artist and the saint Nandalal Bose, Dandi March (Bapuji), 1930, linocut. Nandalal considered himself a spiritual disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, taking up the spinning wheel as a tribute to the Non-Cooperation movement. His linotype of Gandhi’s celebrated salt march to Dandi in 1930, depicting the ‘father of the nation’ in his heroic determination, remains a classic in its austere blend of economy and expressiveness.89 Gandhi’s vision of a higher moral purpose of art was to bring him and Nandalal together in the 1930s. Initially Gandhi held the ‘hallowed’ view of the spirituality of Indian art, which had been part of the nationalist discourse since the late nineteenth century.90 His ideas about art began to change in response to his own evolving doctrine of moral force as an instrument of change. In 1924, he told an interviewer that he had no sympathy for what was currently regarded as art’.91 In 1927 Gandhi made clear in Young India his Tolstoyan view of art: ‘Who can deny that much that passes for science and art today . . . panders to our basest passion?’92 His insistence from 1928 onwards that real art was concerned with the beauty of moral acts reflected his objective of utilizing art to build the nation’s moral character.93 Nandalal was particularly moved by Gandhi’s respect for the common man, not to mention his efforts to confer human dignity on the Untouchables. His interventionist form of artistic nationalism shows uneasy attempts to bridge the gap between the two opposing poles of nationalism represented by Tagore and Gandhi respectively: while agreeing with Gandhi’s critique of Western materialism, Tagore did not share the Mahatma’s brand of active politics. Gandhi for his part was unhappy with Tagore’s laissez faire attitude to caste inequities at Santiniketan.94 Nandalal urged students to be aware of both the wider community and the environment, an idea that owed as much to Gandhi’s respect for the common people as to Tagore’s environmentalism.95 His concern for the disadvantaged led him to give simple art lessons to housewives and to incorporate women’s domestic art, such as alpona, in the Kala Bhavan curriculum.96 Nandalal also took a personal interest in training women students in decorative art. This would, he convinced himself, arouse an aesthetic sense in women who in their turn would influence their families.97 Under the graphic artist Andrée 81
  • 76. Karpelès and the fresco painter Pratima Devi, students learned not only the fine arts of oils, frescoes and woodcut, but also decorative arts, such as book binding, lithography, lacquerwork, leatherwork and batik, as well as women’s art, namely, alpona, embroidery and stitchwork.98 Nandalal introduced rustic costumes for plays staged at the university to raise awareness about the culture of the rural poor.99 Likewise, his interest in folk art stemmed from his Gandhian respect for the humble artisan, rather than any intrinsic interest in its formal qualities. Although he had dabbled briefly in Kalighat pat during its vogue in Calcutta about 1915, he did not seek inspiration from it in his own work. Believing originality and progress to be the driving force of art – both colonial legacies – he did not wish to return to folk art, nor did he admire its alleged ‘modernist’ simplicity. Indeed, in 1932, he dismissed Gurasaday Dutt’s romanticization of folk art as entirely artificial. He described the patuas as ‘backward’, saying their conventional work could only improve with ‘scientific’ art education.100 On his visit to Santiniketan in 1922, Gandhi came to know of Nandalal’s role in the rural reconstruction programme at the university. Nandalal was in the crowd that greeted Gandhi but was too shy to approach him. A convergence of interests eventually brought them together. The power base of Gandhi’s political revolution, we know, was rural India. The Mahatma constantly reminded his compatriots that true India resided in India’s countless villages. Yet Gandhi was acutely conscious that many of the Congress leaders were from the cities, and hence had only vague notions about indigenous art. In 1935, he set to redress this by helping to form the Village Industries Association in order to revive the indigenous arts and crafts. In 1936, an ambitious Exhibition of Khadi and Village Industries was held during the annual Congress conference in Lucknow.101 In 1938, in his speech to the Khadi and Village Industries Exhibition held during the Congress conference at Haripura, he expressed the hope that these exhibitions would be a ‘training school . . . and not a place of entertainment’.102 In view of Gandhi’s ambitious plans for art, it is not at all surprising that in 1936 he turned to Nandalal, asking him to organize the exhibition of Indian art for the Lucknow Congress.103 In his speech at the exhibition, Gandhi paid a handsome tribute to Nandalal’s efforts in bringing to life the local villagers’ crafts through simple artistic symbols.104 Nandalal felt overwhelmed that the Mahatma spent time at the exhibition taking a personal interest in the works of the artists. In 1937, for the Congress session at rural Faizpur, Gandhi entrusted him with the ambitious task of designing a whole township with cheap local materials such as mud, bamboo and straw, to house the numerous delegates attending from all over India. For the Mahatma the township became an object lesson in rural self-reliance through art.105 From this time, Nandalal enjoyed Gandhi’s affection and became his confidant in artistic matters.106 In 1937 Gandhi intervened with the industrialist G. D. Birla to provide a subvention for the Kala Bhavan, 82
  • 77. which he affectionately called Nanda Babu’s art school.107 (‘Babu’ is an honorific address, like ‘Mr’, used to address the Bengali Bhadralok or elite.) Nandalal’s posters (wall panels) for the Haripura Congress, produced at Gandhi’s behest, gave him the greatest personal satisfaction and brought him nationwide attention. This time Gandhi set him the task of organizing the exhibition displays in such a way that the local villagers could gaze at them as they went about their daily business.108 Gandhi’s encouragement to artists to reach the ordinary villagers became a Congress ideal from now on. As a preparation for the Haripura Congress, Nandalal made pen-and-ink and brush studies of the local villagers to lend the posters a touch of authenticity. The same idea of creating a village ambience was behind the treatment of these posters, done in thick tempera in a bold cursory style and broad brushwork reminiscent of the patuas or scroll painters. If he considered folk art to be unworthy of emulation, why had he changed his mind? In this case, he clearly wished to make a political statement. The folk style of these panels was seen as appropriate for representing rural life and labour – cobblers, carpenters, drummers, barbers and nursing mothers. Indo-Islamic scalloped arches framing the figures underlined the shared Hindu-Muslim heritage to counter communal tensions.109 Preparing the 400 posters was an ambitious undertaking, involving the whole Kala Bhavan; Nandalal produced 81 of them.110 The strong sense of formal design in these panels suggests his apprenticeship at Ajanta rather than the amorphous wash technique of oriental art.111 His student and close associate Benodebehari compared these posters with murals because of their bold colour scheme and their blend of nature and convention.112 Gandhi exhorted the delegates at Haripura to study the exhibition carefully to learn about the moral purpose of art with a warm acknowledgement of Nandalal’s contribution.113 The Mahatma profoundly affected Nandalal’s thinking about the moral purpose of art. Nandalal began to use simple affordable material for buildings, frescoes and sculptures at Santiniketan, a building practice that Gandhi wanted to introduce at his ashram commune at Wardah.114 However, after Haripura, Nandalal withdrew from participating in Congress sessions as he was a little disappointed with Gandhi’s treatment of Subhas Bose, his other hero, though he never wavered in his devotion to the Mahatma.115 As the next incident demonstrates, nor did Gandhi ever lose respect for the artist. When Puri in the province of Orissa was chosen as the venue for a Congress session, the delegates persuaded Gandhi that the erotic temple sculptures in the vicinity should be plastered over before the conference. In line with his ‘practical’ morality, he had little sympathy for these ancient sculptures and accordingly consented to the plan. In fairness to Gandhi, he changed his mind after Nandalal’s intervention. He trusted the artist’s integrity sufficiently to accept the aesthetic defence of the sculptures.116 83
  • 78. Nandalal and the Santiniketan mural experiment Historical murals expounding national allegories have always been grist to the nationalist mill. Later we shall examine the much-trumpeted nationalist murals produced for the Raj in New Delhi and London (see Chapter Four). There is an almost total silence at Santiniketan over these lucrative commissions. (The one exception was Dhirendra Krishna Deb 84 Nandalal Bose, Dhaki, Haripura poster, 1937, tempera on paper.
  • 79. Barman, who won the competition to paint the murals at India House in London. He was one of the four that decorated India House but he was not the most influential artist at Santiniketan.) As with his other endeavours, Nandalal saw the need to make a truly independent cultural assertion that owed little to the colonial regime. The rise of an alternative mural movement at the Kala Bhavan with the aim of creating a convincing indigenous expression was also in accord with Tagore’s environmental nationalism. Engrossed in developing a new artistic expression through murals, trying out ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ processes from East and West, and seeking to make the murals blend with the surroundings as an integral part of the environment, Nandalal and his pupils seem to have quietly ignored the battle of styles in distant Bombay and Calcutta.117 The Santiniketan murals have been documented in considerable detail by scholars.118 Hence I shall not be concerned so much with their stylistic and iconographic analysis as with the political and cultural implications of this movement and its impact on national self-imagining. One of the major contributions of Nandalal’s pupils was to create an open air mural tradition, as an integral part of architecture, to be accessible to the whole community even at the risk of their rapid deterioration. Santiniketan also led in concentrating on everyday subjects and landscapes for murals in preference to national allegories. The murals were collaborative experiments between teachers and students with Nandalal at the helm, which was in keeping with his pedagogic vision. There were important learning stages in Nandalal’s mural experiments, each new experience enhancing his own skills at the same time as they fed into his art teaching. Nandalal’s first encounter with mural painting went back to his student days with E. B. Havell, who had initiated mural experiments at the Calcutta art school. However, for the aspiring nationalist, there was no greater model than the ancient Buddhist murals at Ajanta. Sister Nivedita, Vivekananda’s Irish disciple and mentor of the nationalist Bengal School of painting, had urged them to decorate modern ‘temples’ to the nation with inspiring murals. In 1909, she arranged for them to help the muralist Christiana Herringham with her work at Ajanta. Lady Herringham, who along with Joseph Southall was the leader of the Tempera Revival in England, had come to study these ancient murals in India. Nandalal was the only one among Abanindranath’s students to have been profoundly affected by the experience, helping him to break out of the hazy brushwork of oriental art towards clearly modelled hard-edged figures and complex compositions reminiscent of these ancient paintings.119 Nandalal’s initial aim of undertaking monumental painting met with institutional indifference.120 An exception was Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose (1859–1937), who commissioned him to decorate his home and the Bose Institute (Basu Vijnan Mandir) in 1917. The great scientist had done much to help overcome Western stereotypes about the ‘mystical’ Indian mind 85
  • 80. through his researches in life sciences. According to The Times, Bose’s inaugural address at the institute made a powerful impression even in distant Britain. The Athenaeum described the founding of the institute for research in pure science as a momentous event in the history of science.121 The greyish-purple sandstone building of the institute was of pre-Islamic inspiration, with its ceiling painting in the great Lecture Hall emulating Ajanta. For the front wall, Nandalal chose the figure of Surya, the sun god, driving a seven-horsed chariot, while the rear wall was decorated with an elaborate allegorical frieze, ‘The Triumph of Science and Imagination’. It represented Intellect brandishing a naked sword, sailing down the sacred river towards true knowledge with his bride Imagination playing the flute by his side.122 Nandalal’s move to Santiniketan in 1918 gave him the opportunity to experiment with outdoor murals that could withstand the elements. In 1920–21, he and his colleagues, Asit Haldar and Surendranath Kar, were offered a generous fee by the Gwalior government to copy the deteriorating frescoes at the Bagh Caves.123 These caves in central India were second only to Ajanta in importance and thus afforded a valuable experience to Nandalal. The artist recorded the process and the difficulties of copying the works, he and his colleague Surendranath sending back the copies to Santiniketan regularly. Later they gifted a large copy of a Bagh painting (1219 x 137cm) to the university. Nandalal used this experience to teach his students the technical aspects of ancient frescoes. Tagore, who subscribed to the view that monumental works contributed to the nation’s glory, warmly endorsed Nandalal’s Bagh experience.124 Nandalal’s exposure to Bagh and Ajanta strengthened his resolve to make mural painting rather than miniature watercolours the cornerstone of his teaching.125 However, recalling Havell’s unfortunate experience with the Jaipur fresco, he made sure that the teething problems did not prove insuperable and was prepared to learn from other traditions including Western tempera: ‘We seek access now to all the artistic traditions of the world. After knowing all that, if we still find Indian art the best, we shall stick to it with greater determination . . . I don’t see anything wrong in such borrowing.’126 He found the translation of Cennino Cennini by Lady Herringham, under whom he had worked at Ajanta, particularly useful, trying out her egg tempera method on sand-treated walls, especially in the Cheena Bhaban building.127 In 1924, Tagore’s daughter-in-law Pratima Devi joined him at the Kala Bhavan. His former student, she had exhibited with Sunayani Devi at the Indian Society of Oriental Art around 1915. She later took training in Paris in the Italian ‘wet fresco’ method.128 The Kala Bhavan library bears witness to Nandalal and his students’ first unsure attempts to emulate Ajanta and Bagh. He and Surenendranath Kar also experimented with painting on untreated clay surfaces, which ended in disaster. They, however, learned from their 86
  • 81. Nandalal Bose, Halakarshan (detail), 1930, fresco buono, Sriniketan, Santiniketan. mistakes. In 1922 Patrick Geddes, the British urban planner and biographer of Jagadish Bose, visited Santiniketan. He advised them to use charcoal as a durable medium for the foundational drawing and suggested that they decorate the exteriors of buildings with paintings in order to make them an integral part of the environment. Decoration as an essential part of architecture had a distant resonance with William Morris, but it also appealed to Nandalal’s own ideal of making painting matter in everyday life.129 Having gained experience in egg tempera, Nandalal turned in 1927 to indigenous fresco techniques. At his request, Sailendranath Dey, Principal of Jaipur School of Art and one of his old friends from the art school days, despatched a traditional Rajasthani painter, Narsinglal Mistri, to Santiniketan. As a Gandhian, Nandalal admonished his students not to treat the humble artisan with condescension.130 The Rajasthani stayed in Santiniketan until 1933, completing a 24 m2 mural on the front wall of the library with the collaboration of Nandalal and his students. This marked the next stage in Nandalal’s development. He correctly surmised that the bright flat colours and bold lines of Jaipur painting were better at achieving the two-dimensional effect he was aiming for than the chiaroscuro and ‘three-dimensionality’ of Ajanta or Bagh.131 87
  • 82. Nandalal also explored Nepalese wall painting and village wall decorations, consulted ancient treatises such as the Shilparatnam, and followed the practices of local craftsmen.132 The artist summed up the heterogeneous sources of the mural tradition in Santiniketan: Patas of Jagannath, illuminated manuscripts, Tibetan thang-ka, Rajasthani miniatures, chao technique, chikan (embroidery) work, Chinese and Japanese paintings on silk, Sinhalese frescoes, Jaipur arayaesh, our Bengali ponkha work and Italian frescoes.133 Nandalal’s achievement was to assimilate the diverse techniques he had experimented with in a unified expression, in 1930 completing his first ambitious mural in Sriniketan, the agricultural science building, based on the Italian ‘wet fresco’ technique. In this multiple-figure composition, a lively observation of nature was firmly controlled by a fine sense of design.134 The subject was Halakarshan (ploughing), a ceremony with which Tagore inaugurated seasonal cultivation every year by ritually turning up the earth with a plough. Vriksha Ropan (tree planting) and Halakarshan were the two fertility rituals introduced in 1928 as part of the poet’s concern for the environment. In these two works Nandalal replaced historic murals with everyday activities, such as cultivation and other forms of seasonal work, making the Santals the central figures in his compositions. The originality of Nandalal’s mural experiments lay in their non-illusionist monumental style, which depended for their effect on the 88 Nandalal Bose, Halakarshan (detail), 1930, fresco buono, Sriniketan, Santiniketan.
  • 83. Nandalal Bose, Natir Puja, 1943, fresco buono, Kirti Mandir, Baroda. formal arrangement of lines and colours. The ‘mundane’ genre scenes and the landscape backgrounds greatly contributed to their effectiveness. Nandalal’s more impressive murals were produced between 1938 and 1945 quite independently of the nationalist debates that had raged for decades over murals in the New Delhi Secretariat and India House in London. In 1938, in keeping with Maharaja Sayaji Rao’s tradition of supporting national culture, the Gaekwad family invited him to decorate the ancestral memorial, Kirti Mandir (Temple of Glory), in their capital, Baroda.135 For these murals Nandalal went back to historicism as he felt the commission demanded subjects more majestic than genre scenes. He made a preliminary visit to Baroda on his way back from the Congress session at Faizpur in 1938, revisiting the state in October 1939, and eventually undertaking seven visits to Baroda to complete the project.136 His foremost pupil and colleague Benodebehari has left us an account of his work method. Nandalal had originally planned the whole work as an interplay of black and white to complement the predominantly white walls, relieving the monotony with brightly coloured wall insets. This however proved to be unattainable. The actual production was shared with his students, the master producing the outline drawing, to be filled in with colours by student assistants. However, in order to impose an overall structural unity, Nandalal made the finishing touches himself.137 The overall inspiration for the four large egg tempera panels was the Buddhist Stupa.138 However Nandalal’s narrative sources ranged from the epics and mythology to historic figures. In 1939, he completed the 89
  • 84. Gangavatarana (Descent of the River Ganges) based on the mythology of Shiva, on the South Wall of the cenotaph, selecting the North Wall the following year for his painting of the medieval female saint Mira Bai. In 1943, after a gap of several years, he represented Tagore’s play, Natir Puja, inspired by a Buddhist story, on the East Wall.139 Finally, in 1945, for the remaining West Wall, he turned to the great epic Mahabharata. Treated in a ‘wiry’ linear style reminiscent of the Tibetan thang-ka, the impressive Abhimanyu Vadha (Slaying of the Young Hero Abhimanyu), consists of a complex linear composition endowed with febrile energy, a scene full of frenzied movement and furious action. This, as well as several other scenes at Baroda, including the second version of the Gangavatarana, show traces of the same wiry, hard lines of Tibetan painting. The Kirti Mandir was a grand project covering 502 m2, a work that brought to a climax Nandalal’s ideas about murals as well as vindicating his strong sense of design.140 Benodebehari, Ramkinkar and the avant-garde at Santiniketan Romantic primitivism in the sense of a new perception of peasants, craftsmen, the tribals, and rural regions untouched by urban colonialism, as the true uncorrupt India, permeated the art movement in Santiniketan. For its impact on the mural movement, we now turn to Benodebehari Mukhopadhyaya, who offers us some of the most strikingly original visions of subaltern India. Nandalal’s murals led logically to 90 Nandalal Bose, Abhimanyu Vadha, 1945, fresco buono, Kirti Mandir, Baroda.
  • 85. Benodebehari’s monumental series on the medieval saints, completed in the 1940s. The secret of Nandalal’s success had lain in his consistent twodimensionality that the early orientalists had not quite been able to achieve. This was given a radical gloss by Benodebehari, in whose work modernism intersected with indigenous expression. As his remarkable paintings show, the way forward was not by enlarging the miniature format of the orientalists, which would have been an easy option, but by aiming for formal clarity with bold lines and flat colours with details suppressed. This modernist approach considerably simplified the overall design of murals, which were usually meant to be viewed from a distance where details did not matter that much. As opposed to Nandalal’s use of a horizontal format for the murals, Benodebihari developed what has been described as a ‘multiple focus’ approach derived from diverse traditions, including Japanese scrolls.141 His style inspired by East Asian art has been described as calligraphic, a style that enabled him to create flowing monumental images of the human pageant in his murals of Indian saints.142 Benodebehari is a valuable guide to his own evolution. In addition, he has left us a historical overview of art education in India by placing in context Santiniketan experiments and his own work in it. In Benodebehari, we sense a creative tension between nature and tradition, and between decoration and firm structural drawing, these existing in a state of delicate balance in his work.143 As he pointed out, he felt the urge to learn from past Indian art but he also believed in the need to progress. In his ‘Indian Imagery and Abstraction’, for instance, he subjected Abanindranath’s analysis of ancient Sanskrit canons to a modernist analysis. The tension between geometry and representation underpinned all art and no art could be successful without its underlying formal structure, a tension he found present in both ancient Indian and European modernist art. And yet no art Nandalal Bose, Santals in Birbhum Landscape, c. 1920s, line and wash on paper. 91
  • 86. can succeed without its underlying representational foundations. These lines may be taken as Benodebehari’s credo for the murals.144 Benodebehari’s first effort was an unsuccessful experimental mural in his living quarters at the university inspired by ancient texts and based on local materials. Subsequently, as Nandalal’s apprentice, he produced a series of sixteen murals on the theme of Santal life, and also accompanied him on his first visit to Baroda.145 These early efforts, though not entirely successful, taught him to treat murals as architectural decoration. He subsequently studied the Italian wet fresco process with Pratima Devi, which he eventually found more durable and suited to his own aims. In 1940, he and his students decorated the students’ residence at the Kala Bhavan, aiming to meld various Western and Indian traditions. In these murals Benodebehari dispensed with the preliminary cartoons, choosing to work directly on the walls. Preliminary cartoons, he felt, tended to reinforce the conventions of naturalist art, whereas murals required directness and a grasp of the ‘abstract’ form. On the other hand, murals divorced from real92 Benodebehari Mukhopadhyaya, Travellers, 1947, watercolour.
  • 87. Benodebehari Mukhopadhyaya, Saints, 1947, fresco buono, Hindi Bhavan, south central portion. ity lacked strength. Benodebehari’s direct approach, he felt, helped balance representation with formal clarity. His monumental murals, which capture the flux of Indian history like an ever-flowing river, display a certain ruggedness that is commensurate with his theme of medieval saints and mystics who had inspired people’s resistance against caste and other social injustices. Geeta Kapur puts it succinctly: ‘In his mural based on the lives of saints (who were peasants and artisans) Mukherjee works out a rhythmic structure to comprehend the dynamic Indian life . . . between community and dissent. A radical consciousness of traditional India is visualized.’146 What was also compelling in his art is a new ‘subaltern’ canon, the swarthy elongated faces with large noses and thick lips that had little in common with either the delicate oval-faced women of the Bengal School or the nubile beauties of the academic artist Ravi Varma. Benodebehari decorated the Cheena Bhavan building in 1942, followed by the Hindi Bhavan in 1947. All the while, he made careful notes of the success and failure of these experiments, which help us to understand his method. He tells us he produced a number of small preliminary sketches with the intention of establishing the relationship between ‘filled-in’ and ‘empty’ spaces, and between dark and light areas in a composition. Instead of realistic proportions he developed a comparative ratio, using the hand as a unit of measurement in the Indian tradition, though also learning from Giotto and Masaccio. For him, these tensions between 93
  • 88. Nandalal Bose, Birbhum Landscape, c. 1920s, watercolour on paper. forms and blank spaces (pictorial objects and the field in a painting) that he tried to set up were not easily achieved with proportions based on three-dimensional volumes or masses.147 Tragically, Benodebehari lost his sight after a botched operation but continued to paint, his bravery and his experiments providing inspiration to future generations.148 One of Nandalal’s major contributions to the Kala Bhavan was to translate Tagore’s anti-colonial environmentalism into art practice. Brought up in the city of Calcutta, his move to the rural university opened his eyes to the beauties of nature, a love he sought to inculcate in his pupils.149 However nothing epitomized the nationalist commitment to the environment more strikingly at Santiniketan than the romantic image of the Santals as the innocent children of nature. Nandalal’s attachment to the Santals, living in close proximity to the campus, was part of nationalist mythologizing.150 These simple people, he was convinced, had retained the humanity that had been lost with colonial rule. Castigating the use of cheap foreign prints with which the elite decorated their homes, he argued that despite their material poverty the Santals had retained an innate aesthetic sense.151 He constantly sketched them, painting their festivals, dances and other activities in which they were presented as living in harmony with nature. Among these, we may take the series representing the three stages in a Santal woman’s life: the youthful maiden with her supple graceful strength; the woman with her lost youth working in the field; finally the lonely hag gathering fruits in the forest.152 With his students, Benodebehari completed sixteen ambitious panels on Santal life in the Santoshalaya Building in 1925.153 In the final analysis, the artist most closely associated with the image of the Santals was the modernist sculptor Ramkinkar Baij. Of humble origins, Ramkinkar (1906–1980) began under Nandalal in the 1920s, initially as a painter; on discovering his unusual modelling talents Nandalal transferred him to the sculpture class. From the outset, Ramkinkar showed a keen interest in the European avant-garde, an interest actively fostered by Nandalal, despite his own suspicions about modernist painting.154 Ramkinkar took lessons from visiting sculptors, while Kramrisch opened up the world of Western modernism to him.155 The leading sculptor, Deviprosad Roy Chowdhury, who taught for a while in Santiniketan, recommended Edouard Lanteri’s Modelling: A 94
  • 89. Ramkinkar Baij, Bust of Rabindranath, 1938, cast cement. Guide for Teachers and Students to him. The French sculptor was known for his vigorous sculptures of labouring people.156 Ramkinkar had further instructions from the Austrian Lisa von Pott and the Englishwoman Margaret Milward. Tagore, who had sat for Milward for his bust, offered her a teaching assignment at Santiniketan. A pupil of Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, she presented a sculptural piece by him to the university during her brief sojourn there.157 Lanteri’s peasants and Bourdelle’s dramatic lyricism and, above all, their rough broken surfaces appealed to Ramkinkar. However, it was 95
  • 90. Rodin’s transformation of the sculpture surface from the smoothness of Canova’s Classical marble to a restless, expressive roughness that made a whole generation follow the Frenchman. This included not only Lanteri and Bourdelle, but also the first Bengali sculptor to receive Western training. Fanindranath Bose, who followed Rodin’s particular treatment of bronze, was complimented by the great sculptor.158 In the 1920s, Deviprosad also began producing powerfully rugged figures of working men. However, Ramkinkar’s own modernist approach found closer affinities with Jacob Epstein, who was himself inspired by ancient Indian sculpture. The English sculptor’s primitivist works and his incorporation of ‘non-aesthetic’ machines like the rock drill in his sculpture may have prompted Ramkinkar to use unconventional materials like cement.159 In the 1940s, Ramkinkar became a man obsessed with realizing his grand designs. His heroic images of the Santals were some of the most memorable ever produced in India, his choice of coarse, unconventional material, such as rubble, cement and concrete, commensurate with the ruggedness of their lives. The artist however offered a very mundane explanation for his use of cement: he simply could not afford the bronze. If indeed a new expression had been born out of necessity, the works have not survived well.160 Ramkinkar has left us a fascinating account of his radical work methods. His first method involved making an initial clay maquette, which was then transferred to a plaster mould into which he poured concrete, which was allowed to set. This was more conventional and in his view inimical to spontaneity. The second and later method was more ‘fun’ for him, for it retained the spontaneity of the work process. He gave up preliminary maquettes, making only a few quick sketches. He then constructed iron armatures for the figures, filling these by aiming large chunks of cement compound at them instead of using a trowel, finally chiselling the figures into shape. Ramkinkar enjoyed the tactile quality of this process even though the cement compound was corroding his hands. This transparency of the artistic process, which we have also noticed in Benodebehari, marked the rise of modernism in Santiniketan. Ramkinkar viewed this ‘natural effect’ as appropriate for the heroic Santals. The roughness, he insisted, was not mere technique but an essential part of his expression.161 Ramkinkar was consistent in drawing inspiration from the Santals, asking them to pose in the nude in his studio, which shocked the local people.162 There is an amusing anecdote about his relationship with the Santals. When he was at work on his best-known piece, the Santal Family (1938), the Santals kept hovering around it until one of them asked if these were gods, while another blurted out: with such a big man, why have you made the ground so small, where will he sleep? Apparently, the sculptor took him seriously and made the ground more spacious.163 In him the discourse of primitivism and personal commitment fused. Temperamentally unconventional, he enjoyed the company of the Santals, who took him to their heart.164 Ramkinkar explains his ability to relate to the Santals: ‘I 96
  • 91. Ramkinkar Baij, Radha Rani, 1980s?, pen and ink on paper. Ramkinkar Baij, Santal Family, 1938, cast cement, Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan.
  • 92. Ramkinkar Baij, Mill Call, c. 1938, sand and pebble cast sculpture, Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan. came from a humble family, used to seeing labouring people. Their simple easy life, mode of working, their movement – these were my subjects. Santals in Santiniketan especially influenced me. Both Santal men and women work cheerfully and break into a song and dance at any pretext. Their needs are few but they have an infinite capacity for happiness and for giving pleasure to others. I have tried to capture moments from their dynamic life in my painting and sculpture.’165 The Santal Family is static in its monumental grandeur, whereas his other well-known sculpture, The Mill Call, is an ebullient portrayal of two Santal women running against a gale force wind. One with a pot on her head looks ahead, while the other looks back, the rough texture echoing the dynamism and elemental lifeforce of the subject. Ramkinkar admired the rhythm and light gait of the Santals, their healthy labouring bodies, their happy temperament, their simplicity, strength and vitality.166 With Ramkinkar the myth of the happy, innocent Santals attained its apotheosis. 98
  • 93. Ramkinkar Baij, Sketch of Santals, 1930s?, watercolour on paper.
  • 94. iii Jamini Roy and Art for the Community the fashioning of a folk artist ‘Jamini Roy was most impressive in personality and looks; his head had some of the massive beauty of Picasso’s though his deep eyes were gentler and more withdrawn’, wrote Maie Casey admiringly about the artist.1 Roy’s long artistic life spanned almost the entire era of Indian anti-colonial struggle, spilling over into independent India (1887–1972). He displayed a restless desire to explore dazzling pastiches of styles, Eastern and Western. As a critic once commented on one of his exhibitions, it ‘showed his characteristic catholicity, a copy of Van Gogh’s self-portrait, another à la manière Cézanne, a lady in a Chinese manner, and a free rendering of Ajanta’. However, it is not this virtuosity but his compelling modernist vision of folk art that made him a memorable artist of the late colonial era. Maie Casey correctly sensed Roy’s influence on the primitivist Amrita Sher-Gil, ‘if not directly by his art then by his philosophy, which drew its strength from life and not from the past’.2 Jamini Roy has been called the father of the folk renaissance in India who created an alternative vision of modern Indian identity.3 While Roy acknowledged his debt to the naïve painter Sunayani Devi, he achieved his radical simplifications through a slow, deliberate and systematic process.4 With him we return to competing ideas of nationhood in modern societies, to the debate among the intelligentsia – should the nation centre on the urban metropolis or the countryside? We know that from the 1920s the definition of nationhood had started shifting from the Pan-Indian to the local, which inspired a whole generation of artists and writers. It is in Jamini Roy’s art however that we find the most radical expression of local identity in opposition to the Pan-Indian historicism of the Bengal School. Through the folk idiom, Roy sought to restore the collective function of art and thereby disavow artistic individualism and what Walter Benjamin calls the ‘aura’ of a work of art, the hallmarks of colonial art. In the process, he radically recast ‘indigenism’, the nationalist paradigm.5 Roy’s primitivism however went beyond indigenism in an increasingly global era. Roy displayed what I call structural affinities with the avant-garde in the West who engaged in challenging the teleological certainty of modernity though they arrived at their respective critiques of modernity through different routes. Western primitivists sought to restore the values of the pre-industrial community in the life of the alienated modern individual, while Roy used the notion of the village community as a weapon of resistance to colonial rule. Their response to the forces of global modernity was part of the transnational dialogue in the ‘virtual cosmopolis’ that I described in my introduction.6 100 Jamini Roy, 1940s.
  • 95. Jamini Roy, Landscape, 1940s?, oil on board. Jamini Ranjan Roy belonged to a minor landed family of rural Bankura in Bengal, a region that boasted a rich tradition of terracotta sculptures and folk art. As a child Jamini encountered ‘primitive’ Santals in Bankura, who were to feature prominently in his early art. In 1906, he enrolled at the government art school in Calcutta under Abanindranath, during the heyday of orientalism. Percy Brown, who soon replaced the leading orientalist, was quick to recognize Roy’s remarkable gifts and his maverick personality, allowing him a large measure of independence.7 After leaving art school, Roy made a living by doing portraits, copying 101
  • 96. Jamini Roy, Krishna and his Mother, c. 1920s, gouache on paper. Jamini Roy, A Divine Moment, c. 1920, watercolour on paper. photographs and painting stage sets. Though he belonged to the circle of academic artists hostile to Abanindranath (q.v.), he remained close to the master. He also shared the Bengal School’s concern with artistic authenticity, but ‘historicism’ left him cold. His paintings, for instance The Ploughman, A Mohamadan at Sunset Prayer and the Shadow of Death, based on orientalist wash technique, were set in twilight landscapes reminiscent of Jean-François Millet.8 In the 1920s, Roy came briefly under the spell of the prevailing romantic image of the tribals, painting some very sensuous pictures of Santal women, as redolent of eroticism as the classic photographs of trib103
  • 97. al women by Sunil Janah.9 As we shall see, this formative phase of Roy’s primitivism was less profound than his later achievement. However, even in these early exercises in erotic nostalgia, Roy displayed a singular ability to distil the essential form that anticipated the formalist simplicity of his later works. To his contemporaries, Roy’s strong drawings were a healthy antidote to the cloying emaciated figures of oriental art. Roy’s closeness to Abanindranath, the excitement generated by Kalighat paintings and the wide publicity given to Sunayani’s paintings made him conscious of this ‘lowbrow’ urban art. As his early works after Kalighat show, he was able to mimic the artisanal style so well that one was hard put to tell the difference. Soon however Roy rejected Kalighat artists for having lost the rural ideal when they moved to Calcutta to serve an urban population. In the mid-1920s, he embarked on his epic journey to the Bengal countryside to collect folk paintings (pats) and to learn from the folk painters. He was convinced that the ‘revival of Bengali art will not come from Ajanta, Rajput and Mughal art . . . [for] one may learn a language that is not one’s own but one cannot enter its inner thoughts’.10 In 1929, Roy showed his first experiments with folk art at an exhibition organized by Alfred Henry Watson, the English editor of the Statesman newspaper.11 His next exhibition, held at the Indian Society of Oriental Art on 9 July 1930, marked his transition from a half-hearted orientalist to a robust primitivist. Roy’s bold simplifications and thick outlines applied with sweeping brushstrokes exuded a crude vigour hitherto unknown in Indian art, his dull yellow and slate green figures and brick-red backgrounds emulating the terracotta reliefs of his home village in Bankura. This show gives us the first glimpse of Roy’s conscious efforts to identify with the folk painters. He had worked with them in order to gain a ‘hands-on’ experience and he now included three panels painted by them in his show. Yet, revealingly, Roy maintained control over their work by putting finishing touches to the Jamini Roy, After Bankura Clay Figures, c. 1930, gouache on paper. 104
  • 98. A traditional pat from Jamini Roy’s studio, waterbased paint on cloth. panels. Roy’s juxtaposition of his own paintings with pats became one of the key tenets of his primitivist ideology.12 In 1931, Roy was ready to share his artistic ideology with the public. The exhibition, inaugurated by Stella Kramrisch at his modest residence in North Calcutta, was no less than a political manifesto. Shanta Devi, daughter of the nationalist journalist Ramananda Chatterjee, remarks on Roy’s transformation of the exhibition space into a ‘traditional’ Bengali 105
  • 99. environment as an appropriate setting for his paintings: The artist gives evidence of consummate stage management, embellishing three rooms with his paintings emulating village pats . . . Actual village pats are on display in an adjacent room . . . Little lamps are lit and incense burnt. Floors are covered in traditional Bengali alpona patterns. In this room decorated in a Bengali style indigenous seats take the place of chairs, which are of European origin.13 Roy’s objective was not to imitate the village artisans but to learn from the expressive power of their lines. In his search for formal simplicity, Roy emphasized lines at the expense of colours, using black outlines painted with a brush on white paper. He forsook oils for tempera and concentrated on primary colours. Acknowledging Roy’s startling originality, the reviewer confessed that even Nanadalal had failed to shake off the hold of high art, especially Ajanta, even though he had briefly flirted with pats.14 Nor did she fail to notice Roy’s essentially political act of making the local signify the national. By 1935 Roy’s strikingly original vision began to penetrate public consciousness. He received the highest accolade at the Academy of Fine Arts in Calcutta for his Santal and Child. Even though this work harked back to his romantic eroticism, Roy’s special strengths, such as the tight drawing of the figures and naturalism tethered to simple harmonious masses, were evident.15 Two years later, a major retrospective inaugurated by the first Indian Chief Minister of Bengal at the Indian Society of Oriental Art, secured his reputation.16 Shahid Suhrawardy, the influential art critic of the Statesman, hailed the show as an event of first-rate importance in the world of modern Indian art. Roy’s paintings, no longer detracted from by the surrounding mediocre works, stated the reviewer, now revealed their true grandeur and originality.17 Interestingly, the most noticeable aspect of the next exhibition held in September 1938 was Roy’s fascination with pastiche, a temptation he never quite gave up. Yet, as the reviewer pointed out, this ‘distinguished Bengali artist’s’ singularity constantly broke through his bravura displays of Eastern and Western techniques.18 Roy’s reputation continued to grow throughout the 1940s, with his exhibitions held in 1941 and 1944 being major critical successes. 106 Jamini Roy, Seated Woman, line painting, 1930s, gouache on paper.
  • 100. roy and his champions Jamini Roy, ‘Sita with Hanuman’, from the Ramayana Series, 1935, gouache on board. As his remarkable style unfolded before an astonished public in the 1930s, Roy found himself being courted by a motley crowd. Jamini-da (‘da’ means ‘older brother’) assumed the ‘Grand Meaulnes’ role to his young band of admirers, among them Bishnu Dey, the rising star of Bengali avant-garde poetry.19 Sudhindranath Datta, the other leading modernist poet of Bengal and editor of the influential avant-garde magazine Parichay, lavished praise on his modernist sensibility and serious attempts to solve ‘formal problems’. Mrinalini Emerson, the daughter of an eminent Congress leader, and her English husband became devoted admirers. Stella Kramrisch settled on Roy as the modernist she had been searching for. His blown-up versions of pats were displayed at the Lucknow Congress of 1936 side by side Nandalal’s panels. In 1935, K. C. Das, a leading confectioner of Calcutta, commissioned a major series of seventeen paintings, each 91 x 396 cm, based on the epic Ramayana, for his sumptuous reception room, which were completed in 1940.20 Perhaps most unexpected was the cohort of Roy’s European admirers. The Bombay-based Austrian critic Rudi von Leyden noted that the war with its influx of foreigners turned his home into a place of pilgrimage: ‘Many a British or American service man found his way to Jamini’s house right in the middle of the teeming city of Calcutta. Often you could hear khaki-clad figures in messes or clubs discussing the merits of their respective Roys.’21 One of them paid a tribute to Roy at a radio broadcast for revealing that good art had an innate simplicity which enabled one to appreciate ‘art’ and its ‘colour and composition’ without difficulty.22 Foreign celebrities, such as the British biologist J.B.S. Haldane, the novelist E. M. Forster and the Soviet film director Vsevolod Pudovkin paid visits to him.23 Mary Milford, wife of a clergyman in India, published a pen portrait of the artist in England in 1944. Roy would sit on a low seat 107
  • 101. Jamini Roy, Weeping Cow, c. 1946, gouache on paper. supported by a bolster, surrounded by earthen pots of brilliant colours, working all day. On her arrival, he would rise up to greet her. They had animated discussions on art despite his halting English. She describes his residence where his works were hung in three rooms: one comprising decorative art, another pastiches of Impressionism, and the last one containing the finest works that demonstrated his sheer power of abstraction.24 Maie Casey, wife of the last Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, was one of Roy’s most devoted patrons. This widely travelled and cultivated woman had a lively interest in and knowledge of the European art world. She developed a passion for Indian art, organizing exhibitions at Government House including an ambitious one in April 1945 in the teeth of opposition from the English staff.25 John Irwin, who had come to know the Bengali intellectual milieu intimately, introduced her to Roy. She became a devoted friend of the artist and continued the friendship after she left India. He wrote to her regularly even as late as a few weeks before his death. Maie found his letters deeply moving, reproducing the letter dated 29 December 1964: ‘I often recollect the memories of our meetings and discussions. How shall I express my mind’s sweet feelings towards you? Perhaps those golden days would not come again.’26 Few Europeans were more entertaining than Beverley Nichols.27 In his Verdict on India, the novelist considered Jinnah a giant and Gandhi a pigmy, offering his verdict on modern Indian art as a pointer to national psychology. After his visit to Roy’s studio, he concluded that Roy was the only modern Indian artist of consequence: ‘After the sickly, smoky effects of his contemporaries his pictures have the effect of high explosives . . . the 108
  • 102. Jamini Roy, Woman with Child, c. 1940s, gouache on paper. perennial source of his inspiration is the folk art of Bengal, which is strong and gay and masculine.’28 We cannot be certain whether this sudden eruption of Roy’s fame aroused envy in other artists but his sensitive, highly strung nature made him suspicious of people. For instance, Abanindranath’s innocent question at his 1938 exhibition as to his future plans was read by him as sarcasm.29 Roy refused to show his works to Gandhi, lest the great leader failed to give him his due as an artist. Ever suspicious of publishers, he refused permission to reproduce his paintings for a monograph on him by his admirer Sudhindranath Datta.30 The most serious misunderstanding broke out with his close friend, Bishnu Dey, who had introduced him to the Europeans. Feeling overwrought, he declared to Dey that his health could not bear these tensions and misunderstandings.31 Roy poured out his heart to Venkatachalam in the 1940s, confiding to him that for ten years he had not attended a single public function. This is confirmed by Mrs Milford, who mentions that he seldom went out. The iron had entered his soul, making him defensive, and even well meaning praises put him on his guard. He failed to understand, he told Venkatachalam, why his fellow-artists waged a campaign of vilification against him, for he had never wronged them.32 Roy’s persecution complex and his intensely reclusive nature (to the extent of not allowing any photographs of himself) simply reinforced legends about his lonely misunderstood genius. We read in the introduction to his exhibition at the Indian Society of Oriental Art held in 1944 that the ‘lonely search for form became for Jamini Roy a great intellectual adventure . . . to achieve integrity in painting, he has endured years of unremitting, often unrewarded, labour’.33 Again we hear Venkatachalam: ‘poor and friendless, he sought solace and sympathy in such creations . . . Years of struggle and the cruel indifference of his own countrymen have embittered his heart and have made a cynic of him.’34 The heroic image can be traced back to the influential critic Suhrawardy. Roy’s first retrospective ‘made one realize his tenacious artistic intention since [hardly] any patronage came his way during the period of his struggle. For years he was held to be a crank, a rebel against the traditions of the Bengali revivalist movement, a fanatic in vain pursuit of originality.’35 In Prefaces, Suhrawardy declared Roy to be an unlettered outlaw who enjoyed no patronage, his life full of neglect and bitterness tinged with personal tragedy. In 1947, on the eve of 109
  • 103. Indian independence, von Leyden reinscribed the popular myth: ‘this famous artist who sacrificed so many years of his life to the ideal of integrity in art when hardly anyone would look at his picture; not to speak of buying them. Today I am glad to say he is popular.’36 There is no doubt that the early 20s were difficult for Roy, but he was not the only artist to face hardship. His son’s mysterious death also left an indelible scar. On the other hand, by the 1930s, he had become an iconic figure, the only non-orientalist to be lionized by the Indian Society of Oriental Art. The arch-orientalist Mukul Dey, on his appointment as the first Indian Principal of the Calcutta government art school in 1928, drove the academic artists out of the institution. But Dey admired Roy and provided the struggling artist with painting materials and a spacious room in the school. He also arranged Roy’s first major exhibition at the art school in 1929. At the end of the show, as Roy was squatting on the floor with paper and paint, Dey came in and showered him with the banknotes received for his works.37 Even though Nandalal had his differences with Roy, he respected him, commissioning him to decorate the venue of the Lucknow Congress.38 The myth of the heroic artist was part of the rhetoric of modernism, and indeed Roy’s single-mindedness and his refusal to be a public figure had a heroic dimension.39 To a question put by Mrs Milford the artist replied: ‘Peace is not good for an artist, art is born of experience, of stress and strain, wrestling with problems, intellectual and physical.’40 His fierce integrity and unswerving concentration were set against the vacillations of representational painters who had chosen either the ‘easy option’ of revivalism or compromise with the West. Suhrawardy was particularly scathing about the Bengal School, though he offered faint praise to Nandalal, whose austere linotype of Mahatma Gandhi represented ‘moments of our cultural preoccupations’.41 For Roy’s pursuit of pure form and his ruthless elimination of illustrative content he had only unstinted admiration.42 ‘Jamini Roy’s obsession, like that of the most vital painters in Europe today,’ he wrote, ‘seems to be the absolute search after the simple and the pure form, which would derive solely from the twodimensional nature of painting.’43 Another influential figure, Stella Kramrisch, argued that Roy cut through the formlessness of oriental art to reach universal forms which had ‘a moral value which irritates his detractors, eludes his imitators and makes his work the standard against which contemporary Indian painting is to be measured’.44 From the 1940s, Roy’s international reputation began to grow. Mary Milford’s essay ‘A Modern Primitive’, in the influential literary magazine Horizon, edited by Cyril Connolly, introduced him to the modernist intellectual milieu of London.45 In 1945, on John Irwin’s return to England, he persuaded the India Society to organize an exhibition of Roy’s paintings at the Arcade Gallery in London, which was inaugurated by the novelist E. M. Forster. The exhibition included Irwin’s collection, as well as those 110
  • 104. Jamini Roy, Krishna and the Gopis, c. 1955, Steuben Crystal, exhibited at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, dc, 1956. of Reverend and Mrs Milford, Harold Acton, Maie Casey and Anthony Penny. In the catalogue Irwin expressed confidence that Roy had solved the problem of authenticity in his work, achieving a synthesis of modernism and Indian art.46 The reviews in London were ambivalent about Roy’s achievements. Iris Conlay spoke of the ‘fascinating Christian paintings by a Hindu painter from Calcutta’. She added, ‘Do not be put off by his slit-eyed faces and his stiff figures . . . there were not only an intellect and technical skill behind these apparently expressionless formalities, but also a deep sympathy with, and understanding of humanity.’47 Pierre Jeannerat in his article, ‘India’s Greatest Painter’, in the Daily Mail made a more condescending assessment: ‘I will not say that Roy takes rank among the great artists of our era; he seems too responsive to mere manual dexterity and repeats ad nauseam facile formulae [but] nationalism in art normally bears fine fruit, whatever the effects in politics.’48 In 1953, in the US, the Herald Tribune, while acknowledging his considerable repu111
  • 105. tation, found his work lacking Matisse’s spontaneity and Gauguin’s emotional depth, though it did have a charming ingenuousness.49 In 1956, the catalogue to the major exhibition of Steuben glass, ‘Asian Artists in Crystal’, held at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, dc, described Roy as an internationally renowned master who was a modest, rather retiring ‘medieval’ craftsman in private life.50 The year after, the Smithsonian Institution Travelling Exhibition Service showed Roy at various places, including the Columbus Museum of Arts and Crafts in Columbus, Ohio. Roy was one of the artists chosen to design unicef Christmas cards. One of Roy’s admirers was the celebrated French Mauritian painter, Hervé Masson, who considered him to be among the great contemporary masters. In 1971, his paintings curated by Roy Craven were exhibited at the University of Florida Art Gallery to popular acclaim as part of the cult for things Oriental. In 1954, when Peggy Guggenheim visited India, she met Roy. She was impressed with his simplicity despite the fact that he had been shown in London and New York. She noted his disapproval of three-dimensional painting, finding his ‘primitive’ painting similar to the work of the Romanian Surrealist painter Victor Brauner. Considering him to be the only worthwhile modernist in India, she bought his painting of a scene from the Ramayana for the nominal sum of Rs 75.51 constructing an anti-colonial utopia Roy’s striking formalist pictorial language, his simple monumental images of sari-clad women, madonnas, village dances and domestic animals, have become iconic. The biologist J.B.S. Haldane once described his paintings as full of simplicity and yet one never tired of gazing at them. Roy himself aspired towards simplicity in an increasingly complex world, as tired adults longed to return to childlike simplicity.52 He carefully studied drawings by his own children and by his friend Bishnu Dey’s little daughters, ‘not because of my affection for them, but because they are vitally important for me’.53 This search for formal simplicity drew him also to prehistoric art; he believed it possessed an honest, unselfconscious ‘everyday’ language that captured the essential form without imitating it. This was also the reason for his admiration for Tagore’s paintings. In short, for this Bengali formalist, ‘true’ art did not consist in copying nature, but in offering the essential form in all honesty and without frills. Roy’s search for formal clarity eventually led him to the Bengali village scroll painting, the pat, which offered him an ideal synthesis of ‘formalist’ strength and political theory. In discussing Roy’s debt to the pat, Rudi von Leyden explained that by ‘extreme simplification and concentration on essentials, every object in a pat achieved the significance of a symbol, easily recognizable, understandable, and because almost unchanging, universally valid’.54 Suhrawardy also pointed out that ‘These 112
  • 106. despised artisans, who paint our remarkably expressionist pats, though now unfortunately in aniline dyes and in conformity to a debased iconography, taught [Roy] the secret of the fundamental rapid line, the expressive contour enclosing the human form in one vital sweep.’55 If the radical simplicity of the pat helped wean Roy away from anecdotal naturalism, his academic training lent a firmness of drawing and geometrical structure to his painting not usually associated with folk art. Roy made careful preparations to attain the volume, rhythm, decorative clarity and monumentality of the pat in his work (for example Seated Woman, p. 106). In order to recover the purity of the pat, he commenced with an austere phase of monochrome brush drawing, graduating to seven basic colours applied with tempera: Indian red, yellow ochre, cadmium green, vermilion, charcoal grey, cobalt blue and white – all made from organic matter such as rock-dust, tamarind seeds, mercury powder, alluvial mud, indigo and common chalk. Roy used lamp black for outline drawing and started making his own ‘canvas’ with home-spun fabric (pats used paper or clothbacked paper).56 In other words, ‘indigenous’ expression could not be achieved with imported Winsor & Newton oils. While being appreciative of prehistoric or child art, Roy’s choice of folk art in particular, I have suggested, was a political act. As von Leyden puts it, Roy admired the elementary ‘honesty’ of the patua, returning to his home village to learn from its patua the meaning of artistic integrity, seeking to ‘raise’ himself to the level of the artisan.57 Most of Roy’s contemporaries misunderstood this intellectual journey. Kramrisch described him as a villager who had returned to the village in his art. Venkatachalam asserted confidently that Roy had no opportunities for wider contacts or interests, ‘finding joy and inspiration in the natural unsophisticated life that surrounded him.’58 Even his close friends Bishnu Dey and John Irwin claimed that ‘he approached folk-art not as an outsider, but as one who had an intimate knowledge and understanding of the living experiences of the people where lay the roots of the folk-culture itself’.59 Beverley Nichols wrote in the same vein; Roy, finding himself ‘stifled by the deadly atmosphere of commercial Calcutta, cut short a career which had every promise of success and had fled to a remote village, where he proceeded to remodel his life, and his art, anew’.60 Jamini Roy was not a man of the people tout court. His father belonged to the landed gentry and had returned to the village in mid-life to take up Swadeshi rural reconstruction.61 The formative years of this patrician painter were spent in his home village before he left for Calcutta, only to return very occasionally. In 1942, Roy briefly took refuge there during Japanese air raids on Calcutta. He found this sojourn boring and claustrophobic, longing for the company of friends in Calcutta. In desperation he wrote to Bishnu Dey on 30 October 1942: ‘I cannot stand it here any longer. Though I am [now] able to concentrate on painting, I cannot bear the loneliness. Let me know if it is possible to return [to Calcutta].’62 113
  • 107. Roy as a modern man did not deny the importance of technology in modern life but he refused to accept the teleological certainty of modernity. His world-view consisted in restoring through art the pre-colonial community that had been severed from national life during the Raj, causing the alienation of the urban elite from its cultural roots. His utopian vision of village art was indeed a product of complex crosscurrents, laying bare the contradictions of his position as an urban elite artist. It was not so much his peasant origins, erroneously claimed by some critics, but his compelling vision of communitarian primitivism as an iteration of ‘critical modernity’ that is of significance. Roy’s formalist utopia was carefully constructed and austerely ideological, the outcome of deep reflection and single-mindedness. It was also the artistic expression of the wider nationalist discourse on rural India. Although modern nationalism has generally been led by urban elites worldwide, the countryside has formed part of its mythology, though as represented from above. One of the most important contributions to the discourse on rural India was made by the imperial civil servant (ics) Gurasaday Dutt who systematically documented the art and culture of rural Bengal between the years 1929 and 1933.63 In the introduction to his seminal exhibition dated 1932, Dutt offered a thoroughly ‘formalist’ interpretation of folk art: ‘this true art avoided inessential embellishments, relying on pure, robust lines and colours, an innate sense of design, a spontaneous harmonizing of abstract and naturalistic expressions . . . ’.64 It is not a coincidence that Roy’s major exhibitions took place from the mid-1930s, at a time when Dutt’s researches were aiming to establish the modernist credentials of Bengali folk art. roy and the politics of art Jamini Roy was first and foremost a painter, yet his obiter dicta had the same incisive quality as his painting. Shy, reclusive and somewhat remote with a slow and deliberate diction, Roy impressed those who met him with his intelligence and clarity of thought. One of his German admirers spoke of his ‘noble, I would say, classical head’.65 An English friend was taken with his gentle personality which inspired immediate wordless respect. He felt more in the presence of a philosopher than an artist who conveyed ‘to an intense degree of the dignity of human suffering’.66 His aphoristic statements over the years allow us to reconstruct his artistic doctrine with some accuracy. One of Roy’s initial concepts was a series of moral contrasts he made between rural and urban values: rural honesty pitted against urban ‘decadence’. Initially he had been drawn to Kalighat, when it was on the lips of the Bengali intelligentsia. Soon however it dawned on him that these folk painters, who had migrated to the colonial city from the countryside, lost the rural ideal when they applied their folk ‘language’ to urban themes. I have mentioned the seminal primitivist 114 Jamini Roy, Madonna and Baby Jesus (after a Byzantine painting), c. 1940s, gouache on board.
  • 108. document, ‘The Hermitage’, by Tagore, which advocated the restitution of India’s rural heritage.67 Roy, who read it in 1923, underlined the following passage: ‘if India forces itself to imitate Western civilization it would not be genuine Europe but distorted India’, adding on the margin, ‘today I read something that says what I have felt for the last eight months’.68 Three years hence Roy was to embark on his quest for ‘genuine’ rural art untainted by colonial culture. Roy offered further reasons for his choice of folk art. The ‘artistic truth’, namely concern for the ‘essential form’, once shared by prehistoric art across the world, was lost with the spread of colonial culture. Prehistoric (primitive) art fell victim to civilization, to the lures of meretricious objectivity and to the false promise of illusionism. The reason for its decline lay in its lack of a ‘coherent’ mythological tradition, an assertion by Roy, which was addressed less to primitive art per se than to the need to establish the cultural significance of the Bengali pat. Traces of ‘artistic truth’, he contended, survived in Bengali folk art even though colonial culture had sapped its vitality. However, the continued strength of the folk art of Bengal lay in its non-illusionist pictorial language nourished by a coherent and unified mythological lore. According to Roy, sacred art created the richest mythological traditions, the reason why he took a particular interest in Byzantine painting. To Mary Milford, wife of Reverend Milford, his interpretation of Christ was ‘strong, relentless and pure’. Maie Casey owned Roy’s ‘superb drawing in lamp-black, and a painting of Christ with his disciples – strange solemn picture in which the enlarged central figure has long eyes that project beyond the face’. She demanded to know why an orthodox Hindu should be moved by Christianity. The artist replied that ‘he wanted to attempt a subject remote from his own life and to show that the human and the divine could be combined only through symbols’.69 As the Statesman explained somewhat condescendingly, Roy’s creativity had allowed him to go beyond his own faith and narrow nationalism to depict, with the limited resources of Bengali folkart, a Christ that recalled the best periods of Byzantine art.70 No doubt these statements are true but I think there was also a deeper ‘structural’ reason for Roy’s engagement with Byzantine art. Bishnu Dey noted that Roy felt a deep satisfaction at finding confirmation of his own aims in Byzantine art whose symbolic forms expressed the spiritual certainty of Christian mythology. The Bengali artist had started copying Byzantine art, possibly from the late 1930s, in search of a perfectly hieratic, full-frontal monumental style, inspiring one of his most successful compositions, Three Women, the details reduced to a few essential colours and lines in the manner of sacred icons.71 Roy attributed the desperate search for an ‘artistic ideal’ in the West to the erosion of religious mythology during the Enlightenment with its cult of individualism. Even though the twentieth-century modernists had liberated themselves from the false glamour of illusionism, the artistic crisis attending the loss of 116
  • 109. Jamini Roy, The Last Supper, c. 1940s, tempera on cloth. religious mythology remained.72 Roy seems to imply here that the crisis of Western modernism was not only a crisis of industrial capitalism but also a crisis of conscience. Losing its myth-enriched folk-tradition, the West was forced to resort to primitive art for inspiration. Perhaps Roy was unduly severe on Picasso for taking recourse to African art. Nor was he aware that an artist such as Kandinsky drew upon the richness of Russian folk painting and indeed that spirituality played a crucial role in his art.73 Once we leave aside the formal aspects of their art, we notice striking parallels between Roy’s primitivism and that of Kandinsky and other abstract artists. Unaware of their primitivism, Roy felt himself to be at an advantage in comparison with the Western modernists, being confident that ‘primitive’ culture had continued to flourish in rural Bengal.74 It is not certain whether Roy was particularly religious. He told Mary Milford, ‘I am not a Christian. I meditate on what I hear. Religious art is abstract and symbolical.’75 Indeed, Mrs Milford saw similarities between Roy and Jacob Epstein, both unbelievers but making an objective statement about the profound character of Christ. What is important here is not his religious faith but his belief in the connection between a vital artistic tradition and its mythological richness that sprang from the cohesion of its community. This became a central plank in his theory of the communal function of art.76 Parallel debates on the function of art, whether it should be for individual pleasure or for the community, were raging in Germany in the 1930s. Roy’s use of the Bengali pat in an effort to restore art as a collective activity nourished by a deeply symbolic religious mythology has very interesting parallels with Oskar Schlemmer’s murals at the Folkwang Museum in Essen in Germany. The German Expressionist, who like Roy wished to create an art of collective identity, offered the following justification for his widely criticized doll-like figures: non-naturalist treatment of the human form was superior because of its symbolic nature, as seen in ancient cultures, Egyptian, Greek and Indian, nourished by religious faith. The modern man, living in a period of decadence, had lost these ancient symbols. Schlemmer’s use of simple modes of representation sprang from his feeling that the earlier social function of art was about to 117
  • 110. be regenerated in his period.77 Interestingly, Roy told Mrs Milford that the world was facing a crisis and he longed for the dawn of a new age. There can be no clearer statement than this of the objectives of global primitivism as practised by Roy and Schlemmer in two far-flung corners of the earth. Significantly, Schlemmer stressed the ‘severe regularity’ of these archaic forms, which perfectly fits Roy’s finest paintings.78 Roy’s insistence on ‘locality’ as the site of the nation and the German Expressionist ideas of cultural specificity are yet another example of what I call the ‘structural’ affinities in a ‘virtual global community’. An important feature of radical primitivism in the West was a belief in political heterogeneity and its rejection of universals, whether from a unifying ‘capitalist’ or from a ‘nationalist’ perspective.79 By the 1920s we already notice in India the tensions between the global and re-assertions of regional identity, which we today witness in our so-called global village. Of course, Roy was not alone in challenging Pan-Indian nationalism, as evident from Shanta Devi’s comments on his 1931 show. Gurusaday Dutt’s Bratachari organization that blended nationalism, folk dance, ‘aerobics’ and physical fitness spread throughout India, but its originary inspiration was the Bengali village.80 Dutt proposed a multiple foci of Indian nationalism, explaining why he chose to concentrate on the region rather than the whole nation: ‘I have deliberately spoken of the Bengali people and the folk arts of Bengal and not in more general terms of the Indian people and the folk arts of India; for, although, politically, Indians aspire to a united life, and although the different races inhabiting the Indian subcontinent are pervaded by a common culture . . . the synthesis of Indian art is but the sum total of the . . . arts of the Rajput, the Mugal, the Bengali, and the Dravidian races of India [each of which have] its distinctive character.’81 It is well to remember that neither Dutt nor Roy was concerned with linguistic chauvinism here. The Bengali painter’s emphasis on the authenticity of the local tradition was predicated on an ‘a-historical’ and ‘synchronic’ critique of the nationalist ‘grand narrative’. Roy refused to draw inspiration from classical Hindu temple sculptures because he considered them to be a product of high Brahminical culture, outside the everyday experience of the villagers. Equally, the spontaneous pat paintings and Bankura clay figurines were more relevant to the Bengali experience than the distant Rajput miniatures, one of the sources of the historicist Bengal School. Significantly, Roy viewed Tagore’s painting through the same ‘local’ lens: ‘for two hundred years from the Rajput period to the present we lacked something in art . . . Rabindranath wished to protest . . . against all Indian high art as well as oriental art.’82 We are told an amusing but instructive anecdote: Roy explained to the Soviet consul visiting his studio that even if centralization was inevitable in the modern age, our ideal must be small, heterogeneous (svatantra) communities, which restored man’s intimate connection with the soil. As the story goes, the startled consul gave Roy a bear hug, amazed that Roy was uttering what he felt to be the 118
  • 111. most advanced Marxist thought. This reaction apparently left the artist somewhat perplexed.83 As the Expressionists believed in multiple local aesthetic possibilities, Roy contended that the mythology that nourished a community art had of necessity to be local and timeless. His view allowed for the plural aesthetic possibilities of the folk art of different regions.84 I have spoken of the parallels between Roy’s and German primitivists’ questioning of Western modernity. The critic, Wilhelm Hausenstein, for instance, explained the modernist movement in terms of restoring the collective function of art.85 Carl Einstein, who also defined ‘primitive art’ in terms of its communal function, saw the modern ‘primitives’ and primitive peoples as having similar objectives of integrating individual experience to communal life by means of myths and rituals.86 Roy himself insisted on the importance of mythology as expressed in art as a bonding agent for a community. I do not mean to suggest here that the artistic sources and priorities of Roy and the Western primitivists were the same, nor can one deny the ambivalence of the German Expressionists with regard to mystical ‘Volkish’ nationalism. Yet Roy’s challenge to colonialism as an expression of urban, industrial capitalism had clear ‘structural’ affinities with the Western critiques of modernity. Einstein sought to restore the values of the pre-industrial community in the life of the alienated urban individual. Roy used folk art to restore the collective function of art in India. In both cases we find a clear recognition of the importance of myth in human society, which had declined with the rise of modern rationality. There was however one crucial difference between the Indian artist and the German Expressionists. While Western primitivists aimed at merging art with life in a disavowal of the aesthetics of autonomy, they never ceased to believe in the unique quality of aesthetic experience.87 Roy sought to erase it, deliberately seeking to subvert the distinction between individual and collaborative contribution in a work of art.88 Tradition was a collective experience for Roy, the village art for the community, as opposed to the individualist aesthetics of urban colonial art. Roy often asked his sons to collaborate with him, his oldest son Patal, particularly, and putting his own signature on the finished work, sometimes not signing it or sometimes signing Patal’s pictures. Roy’s objective of making the signature meaningless was his playful way of subverting what Walter Benjamin calls the ‘aura’ of a masterpiece. In addition, he turned his studio into a workshop to reproduce his works cheaply. This was art for the community, cheaply produced and anonymous, inexpensive enough to be afforded by even the humblest. His concern with making useful objects was extended to making elegant decorated pots that benefited from his innate sense of abstract design.89 Of course, Roy did not cease to sell his works to the cognoscenti, but he was determined from the outset to sell them also to the ordinary people who could not afford artworks. This prompted the Communist Party of India to urge him to declare himself a ‘people’s artist’, but the artist refused to be involved in doctrinaire politics.90 119
  • 112. Roy’s use of tempera and cheap materials of the village craftsmen often caused the deterioration of his paintings in a short time. In this period, when installations, performance art or other forms of transient art forms were still in the distant future and art generally meant painting or sculpture, Roy was easily misunderstood and disappointed his admirers and patrons. It became known that Roy did not set great store by the uniqueness of a signed work. People complained that he seldom had any original works, only numerous copies.91 By 1944, even his close friends Bishnu Dey and John Irwin were convinced that Roy had reached the end of the road: having ‘created a style with its own logic whose very perfection became congealed without the warmth of the transient outside world’, he became ‘a martyr to his own mastery’.92 Though sympathetic, Venkatachalam was equally troubled by Roy’s ‘factory’, though admitting that the works were moderately priced, considering their demand. ‘This I know is very much used against him. He is strongly condemned for this mechanical craftsmanship, for this soulless repetition of an original idea for the sake of money and popularity . . . Truth to tell, there is something to be said in favour of this criticism.’93 In 1937, Suhrawardy had been the first critic to half sense the artist’s motive: ‘Jamini Roy, having deliberately placed himself under the yoke of our folk and historical iconography, cannot be accused of striving after originality.’94 Yet he hastened to add that despite limitations imposed by tradition on his creativity, his works showed freedom and vigour. Hence it was wrong to describe him as a decorative painter. Only Rudi von Leyden, who had first-hand knowledge of the avant-garde in Austria and Germany, showed unusual perspicacity: Some critics complained about the picture factory in which Jamini worked with his son and another young relative. The same themes were executed again and again in unchanging pattern. Style became routine. This criticism is not quite justified. Reproduction and ease of duplication are part of the craft of folk art and amongst the reasons for its simplifications. Whoever accepts the manner must not complain about the practice.95 What the cognoscenti have simply failed to grasp is Roy’s emergence as a radical critic of colonialism through his art.96 By the logic of his own artistic objectives, this supreme individualist was now voluntarily returning to the anonymity of tradition. Significantly, Roy eschewed artistic individualism and the notion of artistic progress, the two ‘flagships’ of colonial art.97 Unsurprisingly, Roy found Leo Tolstoy’s tract What is Art?, which was translated into English in 1930, a source of inspiration.98 Passionate about the worth of ordinary working people, Tolstoy held that art must have moral goodness and be connected to life. Good art had a socially useful purpose, and was not a plaything of the rich. He felt that ‘a peasant, a child, or even a savage, may be susceptible to the influence of art, while a 120 Jamini Roy, Mother and Child, c. 1940s, gouache on board.
  • 113. sophisticated man who lost “that simple feeling” may, though highly educated, be immune to art.’ Interestingly, though not in sympathy with modernism, the Russian thinker stressed simplicity in art, imagining that all the members of the community would be involved in all future art and the artist would earn his livelihood by the sweat of his brow. Tolstoy pointed out that it ‘“is impossible for us, with our culture, to return to a primitive state” say artists of our time . . . but not for the future artist who will be free from all the perversion of technical improvements . . . ’.99 Jamini Roy’s primitivism sought confirmation not only in Tolstoy but also in Tagore. His communitarian painting turned its back on colonial culture, seeking to restore the simple goodness of art, lost to the elite of the colonial metropolis. Roy’s heroic search for ‘authentic Indian art’ and his utopian formulation of the village as the site of the nation were of considerable importance to the creation of Indian identity. Roy lived his ideology in his art but that did not necessarily make him the most remarkable painter of pre-Independence India. It was his ability to create a perfect synthesis of political and artistic ideas that made him such a charismatic painter. His art of austere uncompromising simplicity reminds us of Mondrian’s intellectual journey in search of an idea. Jamini Roy’s intense concentration and his ruthless ability to pair down the inessential details to attain a remarkable modernist brevity, boldness and simplicity of expression, became a vehicle for his deep but understated social commitment. 122
  • 114. three Naturalists in the Age of Modernism The decades of the 1920s and ’30s witnessed the gradual ascendancy of modernism, as represented by its leading exponents, Amrita Sher-Gil, Rabindranath Tagore and Jamini Roy. But the spread of modernism by no means ended the era of naturalist art. Modernism’s triumph can make us forget the revolutionary impact of academic art in late nineteenth-century India. Even in the 1920s, it continued to play a significant role in shaping Indian identity. Academic naturalism had transformed Indian taste in the 1860s through Victorian institutions such as art schools and art exhibitions, while the processes of mechanical reproduction disseminated naturalist art widely. Ravi Varma’s history paintings, the zenith of Indian academic art, profoundly moved early nationalists. During the anti-colonial Unrest of 1905, these very same paintings were accused of being debased colonial products. The new brand of nationalists sought to exhume past ‘indigenous’ styles in a repudiation of mimesis. Both the ‘indigenists’, and their opponents, the academic artists, claimed superior ‘authenticity’ for their own particular brand of history painting. Both of them based their art on nationalist allegories, though their artistic language differed. In the 1920s, with a major paradigm shift, the construction of national identity took on different dynamics and primitivism emerged as the particular Indian response to global modernism. One may ask what relevance could naturalist art have during the ascendancy of the formalist avant-garde? Prima facie, modernist developments should have spelt the end of representational art. For an explanation of the continued importance of naturalism in the 1920s, though with radically different inflections, we need to recognize the limitations of conventional wisdom, which presents modernism’s ‘progress’ as linear and does not allow for the coexistence of its different trajectories. History teaches us that there have been movements that fall outside the dominant discourse and yet reflect aspects of modernity relevant to our times. The artistic language of the new generation of naturalists is often dismissed as anachronistic, but they as much as the primitivists were shaped by the same ideologies of modernity. They shared an aversion to 123
  • 115. historicism, the preoccupation of the previous generation. Instead of grand narratives, the naturalists, as with the primitivists, turned to the self and to immediate experience, placing their art in the service of the local and the quotidian. Whether it was the figurative painter Hemendranath Mazumdar and Atul Bose of Bengal, or the ‘Open Air’ artists of Bombay, they were without exception concerned with the ‘here’ and the ‘now’. Some of them delved into the intimacy of domestic life, while others drew inspiration from the common people’s struggle for equality and distributive justice. Though suspicious of modernist ‘distortions of reality’, academic artists did not necessarily set out an oppositional agenda; they simply represented another facet of global modernity, sharing the concern for the global filtered through the local. Indeed, the concept of modernity adhered to by the 1920s generation was fraught with paradoxes. While professing allegiance to the local, all of them were inspired by ‘global values’. We know that Jamini Roy, Nandalal Bose and other primitivists drew upon the teachings of Tagore, Gandhi, Tolstoy, Marx and Freud, the universalist thinkers who also inspired the naturalists. Primitivism, the most powerful Indian discourse of modernism, repudiated Enlightenment notions of progress in seeking to restore the pre-industrial community, while the naturalists, who were suspicious of ‘modernist’ distortions, anchored their faith in modernity and the inevitability of social progress. Sculptor Deviprosad Roy Chowdhury, for one, made social realism the cornerstone of his art, believing progress towards economic justice and social equality to be inevitable. It appears that both the ‘primitivists’ and the ‘naturalists’ expressed deep ambivalence towards the general project of modernity. There it would be a failure of understanding to simply divide them unequivocally and schematically into two dichotomous ‘essential’ categories. Here T. J. Clark’s admonition not to take an instrumentalist view of modernism but to allow for a multiplicity of perspectives is richly suggestive.1 124
  • 116. i The Regional Expressions of Academic Naturalism academic artists regroup in calcutta In the period under review, a naturalism of considerable variety and richness, anchored on the immediate environment, replaced the earlier engagement with history painting. But let us first remind ourselves of the genesis of Indian nationalist art. In the late nineteenth century, the ground for the reception of naturalism had been prepared by, among others, Ramananda Chatterjee, who furnished the intellectual justification for admiring Victorian naturalism. This encouraged academic artists to serve the motherland through this ‘universal’ language of art. In Calcutta, private institutions that took pride in offering courses in academic naturalism mushroomed. The best known among them were the Albert Temple of Science and School of Art, the Indian Art School and the Jubilee Art Academy.1 During the nationalist Unrest of 1905, with the ascendancy of the nationalist Bengal School of Art under Abanindranath Tagore, the fortunes of academic art sank. E. B. Havell, the English Principal of the government art school in Calcutta, appointed Abanindranath his deputy, ruthlessly cleansing the institution of Western art teaching.2 The triumph of the orientalists within the art school was short-lived. Percy Brown was appointed Principal after Havell’s retirement in 1909. Being passed over, Abanindranath resigned in disappointment, his post going to his cousin, the landscape painter Jamini Gangooly. Though an academic artist, Gangooly had hitherto been close to the orientalists who now viewed his action as a betrayal.3 Brown was open-minded and a competent scholar of Mughal art, but he allowed Gangooly to reinstate academic naturalism at the school. The 1920s generation of academic artists of Bengal must be studied against these vicissitudes of artistic fortune. Between 1905 and 1915, as oriental art went from strength to strength, academic artists of Calcutta lost prestige and patronage, some being forced to emigrate.4 Though seen by the nationalists as déracinés, Bombay artists continued to enjoy professional success. In the 1920s, naturalism re-emerged in Calcutta partly under Percy Brown’s encouragement and partly because of the rise of two gifted and ideologically active artists: Hemendranath Mazumdar, a specialist in female nudes, and the portrait painter Atul Bose. Interestingly, Jamini Roy, who started as an academic painter, belonged to the Mazumdar and Bose circle in his initial career though he also maintained his links with Abanindranath. To their circle belonged the talented but reticent B. C. Law (Bimala Charan Laha), an artist of independent means, and the figure painter Jogesh Seal. 125
  • 117. B. C. Law (Bimala Charan Laha), A Bengali Lady, c. 1930s, oil on canvas.
  • 118. Atul Bose, sketch of his wife, 1940s, pencil on paper. The book illustrator Satish Sinha and the sculptors Prohlad Karmakar and Pramatha Mallik were also active in this period. Many of the academic artists had their initial training at Ranada Gupta’s Jubilee Art Academy. Gupta, who was convinced that artistic excellence was possible only within the secure foundations of naturalism, had quit the government art school during the nationalist restructuring of 1905. He carried a lonely torch for the academic nude at his school, nurturing budding academic painters, offering them food and shelter if they had no ostensible means of support.5 Several artists from outside Bengal came in search of an artistic career in Calcutta, notably the painter S. G. Thakur Singh from Punjab and the sculptor V. P. Karmarkar from Maharastra. Satish Sinha, The Maiden of the Deep, c. 1921, lithograph. 127
  • 119. Satish Sinha, Mother Breastfeeding Baby, 1940, chalk study from life. The art school under Percy Brown offered the three following artists basic academic training. Jamini Roy lingered over a decade at the art school where his precocious talent and wayward ways assumed legendary proportions.6 The childhood friends Hemendranath Mazumdar (1898–1948) and Atul Bose (1898–1977), who were from rural Maimansingh, had dreams of becoming artists. Knowing that his zamindar (landowning class) father would not let him take up the vocation of an artist, Mazumdar ran away from home to enrol at the art school in Calcutta. This proved to be a mistake for the headstrong Mazumdar who hated routine work, his disappointment reaching its nadir in 1911. Refusing to join other students in producing artwork to welcome the visiting monarch George v, he left the school to join Gupta’s Jubilee Academy.7 However both these institutions disappointed him in his ambitions of mastering figure painting. Eventually, he taught himself anatomy and figure drawing by means of books that he had sent from England. Atul Bose was from a more modest background and did not face similar family opposition. After spending some years at the Jubilee Academy, Bose moved on to the government art school. His hard work and precocious drawing ability won him the schools’ highest accolade in his final year. 128
  • 120. Hemendranath Mazumdar, Cast Out, c. 1921, oil on canvas. Atul Bose, Hemendranath Mazumdar and Jamini Roy began as penniless artists, doing sundry artistic odd jobs, such as painting scenery for the theatre, or producing paintings of the deceased for the family based on photographs, a popular ‘Victorian’ custom in Bengal. Bose tried to set up portrait practice with little success. One evening the three friends gathered at Mazumdar’s dingy studio in north Calcutta to form a circle of academic artists. The Indian Academy was more of a convivial club, the highly temperamental and ambitious artists thriving on endless discussions on art. As Bose reminisced later, the burning issue of the day was whether the pursuit of naturalism was tantamount to a betrayal of national ideals, and whether the historicism of the Bengal School was the sole path to India’s artistic revival. Though admired for his intellect, Roy was often teased for his weakness for orientalism. Yet, as Bose was to admit later, Roy rejected both the historicism of the Bengal School and the ‘crude’ representational methods of the academic hack. As early as 1920, Roy’s originality was confirmed, if confirmation were needed, by the mounting number of prizes he won. Roy astonished his friends with his remarkable gift. To prove his point about the economy of form, he would, for instance, bring out a drawing in a drastically shorthand style; yet no academic drawing could be more lively.8 129
  • 121. Hemendranath Mazumdar, the moving spirit of the group, proposed that they bring their work to the attention of the Bengali public by publishing it in Bharat Barsha, Masik Basumati and other ‘middle-brow’ magazines, as the orientalists had already done in the influential monthlies Modern Review, Prabasi and Bharati. In addition, the orientalists had been able to launch, with a handsome government subsidy, their own scholarly art journal, Rupam. To counteract Rupam’s dominance, the academic group launched the Indian Art Academy in 1920. Sukumar Roy, whom we have encountered before, had been a champion of academic art, and owned an advanced printing firm. He readily came to their aid.9 While being conciliatory, to the extent of agreeing to include any oriental art of ‘merit’, the journal asserted the right of the academic artists to participate in nationalist efforts towards artistic progress.10 To prove their credentials, they published Bose’s elegant sketch of Rabindranath Tagore and of the recently deceased Maharastran leader, Balgangadhar Tilak, based on a photograph. The magazine got off to a good start, since artists from all over India were keen to send works for publication. To ensure a wide readership, the modestly priced but elegantly produced Indian Art Academy targeted the average well-read laity by covering a wide variety of topics. In addition to articles on art theory that expatiated on naturalism, notably Bose’s discussion of Immanuel Kant’s view of art, it supplied art news and gossip, travelogues, short stories and humorous pieces. However, the ultimate intention of the Indian Art Academy was to publicize the works of Mazumdar, Bose and Roy. Unsurprisingly, it was dominated by full-colour plates of their prize-winning pictures.11 The journal proved to be a white elephant. In any case, for the artists, nothing could replace exhibitions as a vehicle for publicity. During the ascendancy of the Bengal School, government patronage had been transferred from the pro-academic Art Gallery in Calcutta to the Indian Society of Oriental Art. The Tagores exercised strict control over this institution by excluding all academic painters. Effectively debarred from exhibitions, academic artists of Bengal were forced to send their works to shows outside Bengal, even though many could ill afford the cost. The group resolved to challenge the authority of the Indian Society of Oriental Art by founding the rival Society of Fine Arts. The society planned ambitious all-India exhibitions, for which their former teacher Percy Brown readily offered them space in the art school. The group felt it politic to propitiate Abanindranath, the guru of orientalism, by inviting him to be an honorary member of the society, but was cold-shouldered by him. The first exhibition of the Society of Fine Arts (22 December 1921–4 January 1922) showed over a thousand paintings from academic artists from all over India, which went some way towards closing the longstanding gap felt among academic artists.12 The Statesman, which covered the second exhibition (22 December 1922–2 January 1923), singled out Atul Bose’s Comrades as a ‘fine, strong work’.13 The reviewer in the 130
  • 122. Bengali periodical, Bharat Barsha, Biswapati Chaudhury, a minor artist, collector and critic, chose a select number of works, notably those of Jamini Roy, Atul Bose and the sculptor V. P. Karmarkar for detailed analysis. Chaudhury showed imagination in recognizing the qualities in Roy that were to be uniquely his: boldness, simplicity and ‘cultural specificity’. Even more strikingly, as early as 1922, he reflected the shift to local identities in his comment that not only Western art but also Ajanta and Mughal painting were alien to Bengali culture, a sentiment that would grow in momentum within this decade. Chaudhury praised Bose’s Bengal Tiger, a spirited portrait sketch of the Bengali educationist Sir Asutosh Mukherjea, making an intelligent observation that the convincing likeness of an individual depended on the Atul Bose, Bengal Tiger, 1922, pencil sketch on paper. 131
  • 123. artist’s ability to capture his characteristic expression.14 The sketch won Bose a scholarship to the Royal Academy in London, widely regarded as the Mecca of academic art. The young artist’s encounter with Sir Asutosh has become the stuff of legend, much as the portrait has won a place in the public’s affection. Sir Asutosh’s opinion was known to carry weight with the members of the selection committee. In order to impress him, Bose arrived at his doorstep one morning. When the educationist asked him curtly what his business was, Bose boldly proposed to draw the great man. Sir Asutosh was puzzled, for no one had ever made such a demand. However, curiosity got the better of him. To test the young man’s skill, he stipulated that Bose would have to complete his drawing within the short time that he would keep still while he received his daily oil massage. The outcome was the remarkable Bengal Tiger, which the Times Literary Supplement was to use for the educationist’s obituary in 1924.15 Bose spent two years (1924–6) at the Royal Academy, where he produced some fine drawings and oil paintings from the nude, but his most valuable experience was his work with the leading English post-Impressionist, Walter Sickert, whose influence is seen in Bose’s occasional use of sombre greys and browns. hemendranath mazumdar, eros and the nation With Bose’s departure for England in 1924 the circle was disbanded. But this had no effect on Roy and Mazumdar’s careers, which blossomed. Mazumdar won no less than three prizes at the venerable Bombay Art Society in three successive years, including the gold medal of the society for his painting Smriti (Memories) in 1920. The parochial Kanhaiyalal Vakil of the Bombay Chronicle grumbled: ‘One Mr H. Mazumdar of Calcutta won three times the first prize of the Exhibition. It is a disgrace to the Bombay artists . . . Either the Judging Committee must be incompetent or Mr Mazumdar is too high for the exhibition.’16 Around 1926 Mazumdar had his first financial success when a commercial firm acquired the reproduction rights to his painting Village Love for a substantial sum. The painting provided the main attraction for its annual calendar. Mazumdar’s large sensuous oils of partially clothed or nude women and his intimate, voyeuristic eroticism attracted the maharajas of Jaipur, Bikaner, Kotah, Kashmir, Cooch Behar, Mayurbhanj, Patiala and the other princely states who threw open their palaces to him.17 Among the nobility, the Maharaja of Patiala, Sir Bhupindranth Singh (1891–1938), was the most devoted, engaging him as a state artist for five years on a handsome salary. Some of Mazumdar’s works cost as much as 15,000 rupees, an exceptionally large price for the period. Apart from his figures and portraits, he completed an ambitious screen triptych with the help of assistants. In a letter to his wife, Mazumdar proudly tells her that the Maharaja prefers him to the orientalist Barada Ukil, a remark that gives 132
  • 124. a hint of sweet revenge. The Maharaja’s generosity enabled him to fulfil his dream of building his own house with a spacious studio in Calcutta.18 Even as he consolidated his reputation, Mazumdar kept a wary eye on the Bengali public. Bose was absent in England; Roy was preoccupied with evolving his primitivist style. Mazumdar was left to publish the Indian Academy of Art single-handed. He continued to cover all Indian artists but gave considerable publicity to his own work. The publication showcased The Art of Mr H. Mazumdar in five volumes (1920–28?), as well as presenting Mazumdar’s polemical attack on historicism, the ideological foundations of the Bengal School. History painting, he contended, was out of touch with contemporary India. Believing in the universality of mimetic art, he insisted that only direct observation of nature could provide an objective standard. Mazumdar waged a relentless war against the orientalists until the end of his life. Unlike Bose, he never craved their friendship. In his posthumous essays, he excoriated the orientalists who only parroted ancient texts but lacked the sensibility to appreciate contemporary art (by which he meant naturalism). Mazumdar’s faith in teleology made him assert that the ancient paintings of Ajanta were advanced only for their period, but judged by modern criteria, they were full of errors.19 In a late article, ‘Cobwebs of the Fine Arts World’, he summed up his contempt for the ‘authenticity’ of the Bengal School, claiming that their inability to draw was camouflaged by their assertion of a ‘spiritual’ world beyond appearances.20 Yet it was not all polemics. In 1929, Mazumdar launched a new illustrated journal, Shilpi (Artist), offering ‘an arena for free discussion and exchange of thoughts relative to the fine arts – Oriental and Occidental, Ancient and Modern’. He even included an admiring review of R. H. Wilenski’s standard work, The Modern Movement in Art (1927). The reviewer however was clearly sympathetic to the Bengal School, seeing its aims as the same as those of the Western avant-garde, and describing current academic art as an aberration. He admonished Mazumdar and his circle not to go down a blind alley on the grounds of ‘universal principles’.21 Mazumdar’s most opulent publication was the Indian Masters series, containing high quality colour and black-and-white plates, devotedly edited by the Gandhian nationalist A.M.T. Acharya until his untimely death.22 The first volume printed Mazumdar’s well-known painting Palli Pran (The Soul of the Village) shown at the first exhibition of the Society of Fine Arts in 1921, one of the most successful realizations of his ‘wetsari’ effect, which was to become the artist’s signature style. The subject of a rustic maiden returning home in a wet sari after her daily ablutions gave the artist scope to represent the model’s fleshy buttocks and rounded shoulders partially visible through her wet cloth. Figures à dos were Mazumdar’s favourite. He lovingly delineated the rounded nape of the neck, the fleshy contours of the shoulders, the small of the back, the concave of the spinal column, the hips and the buttocks. For all its clever suggestion 133
  • 125. Raja Raja Varma, Water Carrier, c. 1890s, oil on canvas. Opposite: Hemendranath Mazumdar, Palli Pran, 1921, oil on canvas. of an arrested movement, the work was carefully realized in the studio. In order to capture the particular pose he also used photographs. Mazumdar created a new genre of figure painting in India, suggesting sensuous flesh tones and soft quality of the skin, spied through the semi-transparent garment. Although Ravi Varma’s brother C. Raja Raja Varma had first treated la drape mouillée, Mazumdar created an independent genre, spawning imitators, the best-known being Thakur Singh of Punjab. Having discovered a successful formula, Mazumdar exploited it to the full, producing a succession of ‘wet sari’ paintings, revealing the figure from different 135
  • 126. angles. These more conventional poses never attained the easy grace and eroticism of Palli Pran. His one other successful attempt to capture translucent flesh tones was a large ambitious watercolour nude suggestively titled Dilli ka Laddu, loosely translated as ‘the obscure object of desire’. Mazumdar was obsessed with capturing the sexual appeal of the lighter-skinned elite women of Bengal, and even wrote verses on his paintings.23 Most probably the model or inspiration for all these different women was his wife, but the subjects cannot be definitively identified. His draped studies capture the dreamy sensuousness of his sitters absorbed in their own reveries. The subject of Rose or Thorn?, a young woman in a silk sari, wearing elegant earrings and armlets, stands engrossed in her own dream world. The rose in the back- Opposite: Hemendranath Mazumdar, Rose or Thorn?, 1936, watercolour on paper. Hemendranath Mazumdar, Dilli ka Laddu, c. 1930s, watercolour on paper. 136
  • 127. ground has been suggested as symbolizing the pain and pleasure of love. It was shown at the annual exhibition of the Academy of Fine Arts in Calcutta in 1936 and was later to draw accolades at an exhibition of Portraits of Great Beauties of the World, held in California in 1952.24 In socially conservative Bengal in the 1920s, it is hard to gauge people’s true feelings about Mazumdar. As his images were diffused in Bengali journals, his readership could not but have taken a guilty pleasure in looking at them. Classical nudes, occurring on the pages of the same journals since the early twentieth century, did not hold the same shocked fascination because of their cultural distance. Then there were the Bengal School’s mannered, voluptuous semi-nudes.25 The disturbing power of Mazumdar’s women lay in their palpability and immediacy: his subject a young Bengali woman enacting an everyday village scene of returning home after her daily bath. A critic put it well: at a time when women were behind purdah, it was daring to represent someone from the respectable middle-class, someone unapproachable in real life.26 In short, the beholder experienced the frisson of spying on a ‘respectable’ housewife, the proverbial girl next door. The artist’s tantalizing silence about the identity of the model heightened the mystery surrounding her.27 The voyeuristic aspect of his paintings called forth questions about his motives as well as the quality of his work. The Empire had given rise to extreme ambivalences with regard to the body, as its representations became central to the construction and maintenance of British authority in India.28 The rulers were responsible for a new concept of modesty, which provoked serious differences between them and the colonized as to how much body could be exposed without outraging decency. In the past, and at least from the fourteenth century, under the impact of Muslim empires, ‘respectable’ women no longer appeared unveiled in public. Peasant women had no such constraints, nor did respectable Nair women of Kerala hesitate to go bare-breasted as late as the twentieth century. Victorian evangelism discouraged Indian erotic art, and yet turned a blind eye to the Classical nude, which stood for moral purity and the height of art. And yet, in no culture was artistic nudity more ubiquitous than the Victorian.29 Such contradictory pressures created tensions with regard to issues of taste and morality. Tagore led in ‘cleansing’ the Bengali language of its ‘vulgarisms’. But even he reacted against the prevalent ‘Victorian’ prudery. The new concept of shame among the educated was so exaggerated, he wrote in his essay on education (1906), that ‘we start blushing if we see bare table legs’.30 Academic nudes found their way into the mansions of the rich. However, since the Classical nude was not part of the Indian tradition, it became hard to distinguish it from pornography. The situation was made worse by the influx of Victorian and Edwardian pornography, especially ‘art photographs’ from Paris, from the end of the nineteenth century.31 Tagore’s nephew Balendranath Tagore, a discriminating critic, 138
  • 128. took the Classical nude as his model, admiring the Platonic idealization of the unadorned state of nature.32 Yet Balendranath was repelled by the erotic sculptures of Hindu temples. Morality entered the nationalist agenda early on. Swadeshi ideology imagined the modestly draped mother figure or the self-effacing sati or chaste woman as the highest Indian ideal. Interestingly, taste and morality became the subject of a heated debate in 1917. Several nationalist leaders, who normally showed little interest in art, expressed strong opinions on the function of art in shaping the national character. The debate took place in Narayan, a journal edited by the leading nationalist politician Chittaranjan Das, and drew contributions from other prominent figures such as Bepin Pal and Barindranath Ghosh. The writer Nirad C. Chaudhuri, a struggling intellectual in the 1920s, describes Narayan as a diehard conservative paper, in contrast to the liberal Sabuj Patra, endorsed by the Tagores.33 However, the difference between the two groups was more a matter of degree than of kind. Although the Extremist politician Bepin Pal often employed Hindu nationalist rhetoric in his stand against the empire, his response to modernity was not so different from that of the Moderates. In ‘Religion, Morality and Art’, published in Narayan in 1917, Pal ventured that the sole purpose of art and literature was aesthetic pleasure (rasa). Arguing that morality was historically contingent, he reminded his readers of Emile Zola’s works – morally questionable, yet great art.34 The following year an essay, purportedly written by the charismatic Aurobindo Ghosh (actually written by his acolyte, Nalinikanta Gupta), contended that an artist’s aims were different from those of a saint. Unlike a man of religion, the artist treated all aspects of life, even morally questionable ones. Thus the nude must be judged by its treatment, for, unlike photography, a successful painting was able to transmute its subject matter.35 The nationalist historian Radhakamal Mukherjee objected to such irresponsible hedonism: an ‘ugly’ subject could never be a vehicle for beautiful art. The nude, he insisted, was lowest on the artistic scale; it could not encourage exalted thoughts, only lascivious ones. The editor felt obliged to intervene: the aims of the artist and the saint were incompatible; art attained its higher goal only through the profane path.36 The cultural climate demanded that Mazumdar justify his erotic paintings against charges of prurience.37 The editor of the Indian Masters, his ardent admirer, offered a rather disingenuous explanation of Palli Pran. According to him, the village belle’s déshabillé betrayed unselfconscious innocence: although we caught a glimpse of her naked flesh through her wet cloth, her ‘half-turned face and timid gaze’ represented her modesty. He piously admonished the reader against imputing any base motive to her: ‘the healthy growth of a nation’s life is possible only when its women lead the purest of lives’.38 Mazumdar had claimed a high moral ground for his art in competition with the Bengal school. He was thus forced to make strenuous efforts to prove his integrity. In Shilpi he 139
  • 129. offered lessons in figure drawing for the interested amateur, stressing the discipline and hard work that he claimed were absent in photography.39 Not only did the artist’s dedication elevate figure painting to a higher plane, he contended, but the beholder also had the duty to approach it with a pure heart, accepting nakedness as natural and beautiful. The implication was that the onus rested on the beholder. Despite such protestations, the public perception of the dubiousness of his ‘voyeuristic’ works remained. As a famous Bengali wit once quipped, ‘after Mazumdar, [our] mothers and daughters hardly dared to go down to the local pond for fear of artists lurking behind trees and bushes’.40 atul bose and the politics of art in calcutta On Atul Bose’s return from London in 1926 Percy Brown invited him to teach informally at the government art school, in order to help consolidate academic art at the school.41 On Brown’s retirement within two years, however, the orientalists returned in triumph to the school. Mukul Dey, a close associate of the Tagores, was appointed its first Indian Principal.42 After his initial schooling at Santiniketan, Dey learned drypoint etching in Chicago, followed by a period in London at the Slade School of Art under Henry Tonks and Sir William Rothenstein’s mural class at the Royal College of Art. Dey spent several ‘high-profile’ years in London painting, etching and giving lectures. In 1924, he took part in decorating the Indian pavilion at the Empire Festival in Wembley. Bose, who was at the Royal Academy at this time, refused to join him in the decoration, which led to a lifelong animus between them.43 On joining the art school in 1928, Mukul Dey embarked on reforms of teaching and student discipline. He showed an open contempt for Brown and his Deputy, Jamini Gangooly, who was soon eased out of the school.44 Dey then disallowed the annual exhibitions of the Society of Fine Arts, which were held at the art school. Losing his allies at the school and well aware of Dey’s hostility, Bose withdrew from teaching. Although Dey was close to the orientalists and painted in an orientalist style in his formative years, his opposition to the naturalists was not entirely ideological. He himself had trained at the Slade and the Royal College and was a successful graphic artist. One of Dey’s aims was to restore student discipline at the school, which he felt was non-existent. However, the students launched a successful boycott of the school, demanding better teaching of academic art. Consequently, Dey was forced to appoint Bose as Jamini Gangooly’s successor. Bose did not stay long enough to consolidate academic art at the school. In 1929, the government of India announced an all-India competition to produce copies of royal portraits at Windsor Castle for the Viceroy’s Residence in New Delhi. The architect of the new capital, Sir Edwin Lutyens, in consultation with the Viceroy, chose Atul Bose and J. A. Lalkaka of Bombay. Bose left for England in 1930. Lutyens, who had a low 140
  • 130. Mukul Dey, Festive Season, 1940s, drypoint. opinion of Indian artists, was impressed with Bose, asking him to draw his likeness.45 Mukul Dey himself became the next victim of the internecine struggle at the school, being forced to take early retirement, the feud claiming Bose as its final victim. In 1945, two years before Independence, Bose became Principal of the art school, only to hand in his resignation within two years, as he found his every move at the school blocked.46 One of Bose’s lasting achievements was to help found an art society that would not be dominated by any one faction. The Fine Arts Society, we have seen, lost its space at the art school with Dey’s appointment, but Bose soon found a more permanent site.47 In the early 1930s, he enlisted the support of a wealthy benefactor, Maharaja Pradyot Kumar Tagore. Under his aegis, a meeting of Calcutta notables was held on 15 August 141
  • 131. 1933, which passed a resolution to found an all-India association, with government blessing, to promote the fine arts.48 As local newspaper Ananda Bazar Patrika claimed, there was no central organization to coordinate the cultivation of art in India, a gap which the newly founded Indian Academy of Fine Arts filled. This demand for a central government-backed institution to be in charge of the nation’s art had been widespread since the 1920s. It was placed on the agenda at a conference held in connection with the Empire Festival at Wembley in 1924.49 The meeting held in Calcutta reiterated the need for a gallery of European art in the metropolis, which had been abolished in the wake of the Havellian revolution.50 Atul Bose was made secretary of the Academy conjointly with an expatriate European. However, Calcutta’s ambitions of hosting an India-wide organization ran into rough waters. The proposal had come in the aftermath of the bitter conflict between Bombay and Calcutta over the spoils of the New Delhi murals (see Chapter Four). The academy, fully aware of this, tried in vain to reassure Bombay of its non-factional intentions. The partisan journalist Kanhaiyalal Vakil and the art teacher Gladstone Solomon held a protest meeting in Bombay, objecting to the elevation of a ‘regional’ organization to a pan-Indian level. The government, already sensitive to the charge of favouritism, persuaded the working committee of the new Academy of Fine Arts to drop the word ‘Indian’.51 Bose organized the first exhibition, which opened on 23 December 1933 at the Indian Museum. It showed 800 works sent by Indian and expatriate European artists from all over India, as well as the art collections of leading Calcutta families. The best prizes for oils went to Satish Sinha, primarily a graphic artist and a member of the Mazumdar circle, to the expatriate Englishman F.C.W. Forcebury, and to L. M. Sen, one of the muralists at the India House in London. Jamini Roy’s Jashoda won the best prize for painting in the Indian style.52 The second exhibition opened on 22 December 1934, the prize for painting in the Indian style once again going to Roy, while V. P. Karmarkar’s Waghari Beauty won the sculpture prize.53 Despite these successes Bose, disillusioned with factional politics, resigned from the Academy.54 Perhaps what has endured in Bose’s career is his art. From his student days, he had shown a precocious gift for naturalism, as seen in his portraiture and later in remarkable academic studies from the nude at the Royal Academy. On his return from London he tried to resume his portrait practice in earnest with little success. In 1939 Bose had his first retrospective, which at last brought him a measure of recognition. The orientalist guru, Abanindranath, in a spirit of reconciliation, told Bose: you may worship a different god [of art] but you are not godless. Jamini Roy wrote a generous tribute in the catalogue and two influential critics, Shahid Suhrawardy and Sudhindranath Datta, known to us as staunch champions of Roy, were sympathetic to the show.55 142
  • 132. Atul Bose, preparatory sketch for a portrait of his wife Devjani, 1939, red chalk on paper. Atul Bose, The Artist’s Wife Devjani, 1939, oil on canvas. Datta singled out the striking portrait of Bose’s future wife, Devjani, as one of his finest achievements, as the sensitive painting, and the remarkable sketch on which it is based, testify. He recognized the delicate quality of Bose’s drawing, having ‘few rivals in this country’, and also noting the treatment of his academic nudes, ‘faultless yet full of life’. Mindful of the orientalist charge that Indian naturalism smacked of colonial hybridity, Datta argued that the outstanding quality of his work rested on his complete mastery over the medium that he had so deliberately chosen. Pointing out that the impact of European civilization on other cultures was not uniformly disastrous, he argued that Bose’s pictures, despite their European technique, were ‘expressions of the Indian vision of reality’.56 Interestingly, Datta noted that the prevailing political turmoil had made Bose aware of social injustices as evident in some of the works. An admirer of Jamini Roy, Sudhindranath Datta’s appreciation of Bose was necessarily muted. The limitations of Bose’s work, he pointed out, lay in its over-elaboration, an absence of boldness and an over-dependence on the subject matter to the detriment of its formal structure, and ‘in his least successful moments [Bose] is a trifle too academic to be wholly satisfactory’.57 Datta’s modernist critique of Bose is like comparing chalk with cheese, because Bose and Roy’s objectives were entirely incompatible. Bose 143
  • 133. Atul Bose, Preparatory sketch for a portrait of Rani Goggi Devi Birla, c. 1940s, pencil on paper. himself, and his well-wishers, regarded his career as a teacher and a painter as a failure, a career of frustrations and the missed opportunities of an undoubtedly gifted man. Part of his failure may be ascribed to his ‘misplaced’ faith in the essential ‘objectivity’ of representational art. To counter the ‘subjective’ vision of the visual world proposed by both orientalism and the avant-garde, he prepared a sophisticated teaching manual to teach correct drawing with his invented device, the ‘Perspectograph’. Regretting the global excesses of modern art, he dreamed of returning to an art of ‘greater reticence, discipline and self-control’, based on solid empiricism.58 144
  • 134. thakur singh, allah bukhsh and the naturalists of punjab Allah Bukhsh, Before the Temple, c. 1920s, oil on board. Lahore, the capital of Punjab, saw an efflorescence of academic naturalism in the early twentieth century. The Mayo School of Art, shaped by Lockwood Kipling, tended to favour the decorative arts. Hence few successful academic artists received training at the school. The earliest academic artist of note in Lahore was Sri Ram (1876–1926), born in Madras and trained at the art school there. Ram was an accomplished landscape and figure painter in oils and watercolours.59 The most sought-after Punjabi academic painter, Allah Bukhsh (1895–1978), had no formal training in art. A simple man of artisan origins, he absorbed the lessons of naturalism by observing others and by apprenticing with commercial craftsmen-artists. His peripatetic early career included painting stage sets for a theatre in Calcutta, a career also pursued by Thakur Singh, another Punjabi painter in the city, as well as Jamini Roy and Deviprosad Roy Chowdhury. Large stage sets gave Allah Bukhsh the experience to tackle canvases of an impressive scale. Wealthy patrons lined up in Lahore for his history painting, especially ambitious works on Hindu mythology, Punjabi 145
  • 135. Sobha Singh, Interior Scene, 1940s, oil on canvas. folk tales and grand landscapes. His style ranged from a soft-focus treatment of genre scenes or mythological subjects and misty ‘Corotesque’ landscapes to hard-edged outdoor scenes. Winnowing with Buffaloes, for instance, is a masterly evocation of the midday Indian sun, mimicking photography by painting the farmers and the buffaloes in deep shadows to emphasize the blinding light. Allah Bukhsh’s final works express his deep anguish at the mindless carnage of 1947 in two remarkable semi-abstract, almost surrealist landscapes, Anthropomorphic Landscapes 1 and 11.60 Sobha Singh (1901–1986) came to art late in life after having spent some years in the Middle East as a soldier in the First World War. While there, he became fascinated with the land and its inhabitants.61 Singh is best known for his portrait series of Sikh religious leaders and paintings based on Punjabi folk tales in an accomplished but somewhat sugary style that reminds us of Edmund Dulac. The most enterprising among Punjabi academic painters was S. G. Thakur Singh (1894–1970), who left the province to make his fortune in Bombay, where he assisted a professional scene painter for a brief period. He then moved to Calcutta, spending the next 30 years in the city. From making a living as a scene painter for the popular Madan’s Theatre, he joined the Pioneer Film Studio as art director.62 The Tagores became Singh’s patrons, while reproductions of his works in vernacular journals, especially seductive paintings of women, endeared him to the Bengali public. Immensely energetic, he set up the Punjab Academy of Fine Arts singlehandedly to promote his own works, steadily publishing his paintings from the 1920s. Among these, the most ambitious were the four-volumed The Art of Mr S. G. Thakur Singh and Glimpses of India, with introductions by the poet Tagore and Abanindranath. His painting After the Bath, which pays homage 146 S. G. Thakur Singh, After the Bath, c. 1923, oil on canvas.
  • 136. S. G. Thakur Singh, A River Landscape at Sunrise, 1939, oil on canvas. to Mazumdar’s ‘wet sari’ paintings, won a prize at Wembley in 1924. Thakur Singh became best known as a painter of the Taj Mahal and other famous Indian monuments, and picturesque landscapes. In 1935, he moved back to his home town of Amritsar where he established the Indian Academy of Fine Arts, becoming a leading figure in the art world of the province. haldankar, acharekar and the open air school of bombay S. G. Thakur Singh, A River Landscape at Sunset, 1937, oil on canvas. The academic artists of Bombay boasted a flourishing naturalist tradition from the late nineteenth century, partly aided by the powerful presence of the Bombay Art Society, which had a long and colourful history as the bastion of academic art. The reputation of Bombay academic artists suffered briefly during the rise of oriental art in Bengal, but from 1918 to 1934 Gladstone Solomon, the energetic Principal of the art school, helped restore its position in the art world (see Chapter Four). Parallel to the debate on modernism in Calcutta in the 1920s, Bombay witnessed a new generation of academic artists who responded to modernism in the light of their own preoccupations. We have to wait until the late 1940s for fully fledged modernism in the province, but the lightened palette and thick impasto brushwork of these artists betrayed their allegiance to the new anti-academic tendencies in the West. This generation forsook the earlier historicist treatment of ancient mythology that had been the hallmark of a Herman Muller or a M. V. Dhurandhar, turning to the ‘here and now’ and the quotidian, which had interesting parallels with the preoccupation of artists in other provinces. To these artists the quality of the light and the outdoors became more important than the niceties of period details.63 Landscape painting emerged as a major genre in Bombay and Maharastra between the years 1917 and 1930. Of course there had been fine landscape painters before: Raja Varma, the tragic Abalal Rahiman, Jamini Prakash Gangooly and Lucy Sultan Ahmed, all of whom with the exception of Abalal regularly exhibited at the Bombay Art Society, and won plaudits from the critics.64 Viewers at the annual exhibition of the Bombay Art Society in 1922 noticed a keen interest in the natural environment and architecture among a number of rising artists, which prompted the Times of India to dub this new trend the Open Air School. Most noticeably they had shaken off the smooth chiaroscuro and precise drawing of their academic forebears. As Nalini Bhagwat has shown, this new interest paralleled developments in Maharastran poetry that moved away from historicism to a love for the minutiae of nature.65 In terms of style, a modified form of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting took hold of these artists, who now applied freer brushstrokes and thick paints straight from the tube. They sometimes laid on the paint as strips or stipples of bright unmixed colours. In watercolours, a more ‘fluorescent’ surface, created 149
  • 137. with repeated applications of transparent layers and highlights picking out details of objects, brought in a new treatment of natural light. In the work of these Indian artists, the most noticeable aspect was the sketchlike character of the paintings, a treatment that reminds us of the British versions of French Impressionism, particularly Frank Brangwyn colours, William Russell Flint brushstrokes and generally the artists encountered on the pages of The Studio.66 Among the leading ‘Open Airists’, M. K. Parandekar from Kolhapur won the position of ‘Artist by Appointment’ to the Governor of Bombay. M. S. Satwalekar produced impressive picturesque scenes of the Himalayas before he gave up painting to join the nationalist movement.67 150
  • 138. opposite: G. M. Solegaonkar, Mahiari, 1935, oil on canvas. This prize-winning painting shown at the Bombay Art Society exhibition in 1935 encapsulated the mottled effect and heightened post-impressionist colours typical of British posters of the 1920s and ’30s. M. K. Parandekar, Landscape, 1930s, oil on canvas. Of this new generation, I have chosen two who had long and successful careers in Bombay to suggest a flavour of these developments, particularly the new impressionistic treatment of landscape and figures. S. L. Haldankar (1882–1968) was a prize-winning student at the J. J. School of Art from 1903 to 1908. He emerged as the most prolific portrait and landscape painter of the region, winning commendation at an exhibition held at the Royal Society of Arts in London in 1915. The enterprising Haldankar set up a highly successful private art school, Haldankar’s Fine Art Institute, soon after graduation, and founded with his friends the nationalist Art Society of India in 1918 to rival the official Bombay Art Society. As he explained, he felt dissatisfied with the society for being a mouthpiece of the colonial rulers. Yet the Society was not slow to honour the artist in 1925 for his oil painting A Mohammadan Pilgrim. The work was in the late nineteenth-century genre of picturesque ethnography popular at the art school. An artist who used a variety of expressions and media, one of his favourite devices was to illuminate the figure from an artificial light source, such as a lamp placed below the figure, to create a dramatic effect. Among these, the most popular is The Glow of Hope. However, it is the large number of sketchbooks as well as watercolour and oil sketches left by Haldankar that give us an opportunity to study his systematic observation, in the plein air tradition, of the surrounding regions, including the ancient ruins in Bombay and its environs. These painting 151
  • 139. sketches once again remind us of British watercolours of the period that blended the French Impressionist treatment of light with the English Picturesque tradition. In this Haldankar may have been influenced by the watercolours of Cecil Burns, a student of Hubert Herkomer and his teacher at the Bombay art school.68 Portrait painter, watercolourist, illustrator, art teacher, and later cultural delegate to Hollywood in post-Independence India, M. R. Acharekar (1907–1979) took his art training at the privately run Ketkar Art Institute in Bombay, before he joined the government art school at the late age of 21. Later he completed his training at the Royal College of Art in London. In 1929, he secured his reputation with the prize-winning watercolour Concentration, which emphasized the rough-textured, ‘sketch-like’ quality of the painting. While at the Royal College, Acharekar was chosen by the Raj to paint the historic opening session of the Indian Round Table Conference held in London in 1932. In 1935 the Viceroy, Lord Willingdon, selected him for recording George v’s Silver Jubilee celebrations in London.69 Acharekar wrote books on art, among which Rupadarsini: the Indian Approach to Human Form is the most interesting. A burning issue of colonial art teaching was whether drawing from the antique and the nude harmed the Indian student, the orientalists eschewing life study altogeth152 M. S. Satwalekar, Himalayan Scene, 1920s, oil on canvas. S. L. Haldankar, Glow of Hope, c. 1920s, oil on canvas.
  • 140. er on the grounds that it betrayed crass materialism. Acharekar attempted to reconcile colonial art teaching with nationalist anxieties by distilling his years of experience as a teacher. In the book, he juxtaposed ancient Indian temple sculptures with drawings of nude models posed after these sculptures. His aim was to invite students of a modernist bent to examine how ancient Indian artists used their knowledge of anatomy to produce brilliantly simplified forms.70 In contrast to Haldankar’s luminous watercolours, Acharekar specialized in a loose impressionist style with heavy impasto colours, quick brushstrokes and loose applications of paint, to build up a sketch-like rough surface with speckled light distributed over the whole painted surface. karmarkar and the naturalist sculptors S. L. Haldankar, Landscape, 1930s, watercolour on paper. The academic sculpture tradition, founded at the Bombay art school by Lockwood Kipling in the nineteenth century, became widely respected because of G. K. Mhatre’s celebrated student work To the Temple. This tradition continued with the rise of a number of professional sculptors in the 1920s, Mhatre’s son Shyamrao Mhatre, B. V. Talim, S. Pansare and V. P. Karmarkar. Talim specialized in sentimental and literary narratives in 153
  • 141. M. R. Acharekar, Nude at Rest, c. 1940s, watercolour on paper.
  • 142. M. R. Acharekar, a page from Rupadarsini (Bombay, 1958).
  • 143. the ‘Victorian’ mode. The Indian Academy of Art illustrated his sculpture In Tune with the Almighty, an Indian ascetic playing a musical instrument in praise of god. The journal wrote approvingly that the ‘anatomical accuracy of sinews, bones and muscles and the expression of pure bliss . . . convincingly attest how the ideal can touch and blend with the real . . . The sculpture is a silent and direct refutation of the theory that the ideal and the real are [the] opposites which can never meet.’71 V. P. Karmarkar (1891–1966), who was attracted to the formalist simplifications of modernism, including Art Deco sculptures, was perhaps the most original among the Bombay sculptors of the 1920s. Born in a family of traditional image-makers, Karmarkar was discovered by a colonial civil servant, Otto Rothfeld, who arranged for his admission to the art school in Bombay. In 1916, on the advice of Rabindranath Tagore’s elder brother Satyendranath, then posted in Bombay, Karmarkar moved to Calcutta. The Maharastran set up practice in the city, producing busts of leading nationalists and graceful draped female figures inspired by Mhatre.72 In 1920 he went for further training at the Royal Academy, returning to Calcutta after three years. In his absence his earlier patronage had dried up, forcing him to return to his home province in 1925. However, now he was taken up by the Maharastran 156 B. V. Talim, In Tune with the Almighty, c. 1920, plaster of Paris. B. V. Talim, Takali (‘Threadmaking’), 1932, plaster of Paris. The work won the gold medal of the Bombay Art Society that year.
  • 144. V. P. Karmarkar, Graceful Worry, c. 1930, plaster. A regular contributor, he won the Society’s gold medal for his work Koli Girl, shown at the same exhibition, c. 1930. nationalists who wished to commemorate the nationalist icon Chhatrapati Shivaji with an over-lifesize equestrian statue. While these standard public commissions were heroic in scale they lacked the spontaneity and formal simplifications of his smaller bronze, plaster and cement sculptures, many of which graced the garden of his studio near Bombay. He was one of the first to use cement as a medium though he did not use it as radically as Ramkinkar in the 1940s. These smaller sculptures, namely the Conch Blower and Fishergirl, were typical of the period in drawing inspiration from the local poor, especially the rural fishing community.73 157
  • 145. In Calcutta, sculptors were thinner on the ground. Jyotirmoy Roychaudhury, a protégé of the Tagores, received his training at the Royal College of Art, spending his life as an art teacher at various government institutions. One of his early sculptures, titled Spring, was a rather close imitation of a Victorian Cupid and Psyche figure but he went on to produce some competent pieces, including portraits of national leaders such as Gandhi.74 The other Bengali sculptor of the time, Pramatha Mallik, received sculpture lessons from Karmarkar when he was living in Calcutta,75 and was invited by Karmarkar to Bombay to assist him in his public sculptures, which he declined for personal reasons. One of his most assured works, The Soul of the Soil, was reproduced in Indian Masters in 1928. The rough surface treatment of the bronze reminds us of an earlier Bengali sculptor, Fanindranath Bose, who had settled in Scotland at the turn of the twentieth century.76 The editor, Acharya, describes The Soul of the Soil as being inspired by the marvellous poetry of toiling humanity . . . His studies of peasant and poor life . . . have been executed with noteworthy truthfulness and realism . . . Strong, virile and painstaking, this tiller of the soil is no ideal creation of the Sculptor, but is . . . part and parcel of the land he tills and constitutes the very life of his country.77 Here we have yet another sculptor drawing inspiration from the Indian peasantry. damerla rama rao and the artistic renaissance of andhra Damerla Rama Rao (1897–1925) is virtually a forgotten artist today. Belonging to a well-to-do family of Rajamundhry, his attempts to create a local form of artistic nationalism based in the Andhra region of South India were cut short by his untimely death from smallpox at the age of 28. He left behind 34 completed oils, 129 watercolours, 29 sketchbooks and numerous loose sheets in addition to an art school where he had begun to train students in his own style. O. J. Couldrey, Principal of the Govern158 V. P. Karmarkar, Fishergirl, c. 1930s, plaster.
  • 146. Pramatha Mallik, The Soul of the Soil, c. 1928, bronze.
  • 147. ment College of Arts at Rajamundhry, discovered his precocious talent. The Englishman would take him on trips to Ajanta to inspire him, eventually sending him to the art school in Bombay in 1916 where he felt Rao would receive proper training. The Andhran came under Gladstone Solomon’s spell as his mural painting student at the school, as is evident in his painting Siddhartha Ragodaya, completed in 1922. Rama Rao spent the years 1916–20 at the school, winning the first prize for painting,78 and was among the senior students who were presented to Sir Edwin Lutyens by Solomon when he was seeking to impress the architect in order to win the New Delhi mural commission for the Bombay art school (see Chapter Four). Rao’s drawing is said to have pleased Lutyens.79 On his return to Andhra after graduation and a brief visit to Gujarat, where he did portraits of the local aristocracy as well as a sketch of Rabindranath Tagore, Rao set up a painting school at his home in Rajamundhry, assisted by his wife, sister and two friends. In the 1920s, the Bengali painter Pramode Kumar Chatterjee introduced oriental art to Andhra by founding the Jathiya Kalashala (Andhra National Art Institution) in Masulipatan.80 Once a Westernizer, Chatterjee had a change of heart following a personal crisis, embracing the ‘spiritual’ message of the Bengal School in his work. Although a nationalist at heart, Rao opposed the Bengal School’s particular approach, founding his school in direct challenge to Chatterjee at Masulipatan. He had been impressed with Solomon’s contention that the Bengal School’s weakness stemmed from its rejection of life drawing as ‘un-Indian’. In response to the orien- 160 Opposite: Damerla Rama Rao, Nagna Sundari (‘Naked Beauty’), 1924, watercolour on paper. Damerla Rama Rao, Siddhartha Ragodaya, 1922, watercolour on paper. The work is based on Edwin Arnold’s classic book Light of Asia (Boston, 1891).
  • 148. talists, Rao emulated Solomon’s ‘nationalist’ mural class, which aimed to improve oriental art with academic figure drawing. Yet, unlike Solomon, he had no personal animus against the orientalists, enjoying his meeting with Abanindranath and Nandalal on his visit to Calcutta in 1921. It seems most likely though that he felt more at home with Bose and Mazumdar’s Society of Fine Arts. He sent his painting Rishyasringa’s Captivation, inspired by an ancient legend, to the first exhibition of the society held in 1921, carrying off its highest accolade, the Viceroy’s Prize. Lord Reading, the Proconsul, met the artist and purchased his landscape painting The Godavari in the Eastern Ghats. Rao was chosen for the Empire Exhibition held at Wembley in 1924 and was also included among the Indian artists under the Raj at a Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto.81 We have had occasion to come across the influential critic G. Venkatachalam who had been ‘talent scouting’ in the 1920s for innovative artists. He befriended Rao on his return to Andhra. Venkatachalam’s natural sympathies lay with both oriental art and the avant-garde, but he recognized Rao’s talent and his ambition to develop his own style. On the artist’s sudden death, he offered a balanced view of his work, acknowledging his courage, independence and originality in sensing the limitations of the Bengal School. Nonetheless, the critic regretted his inability to break out of the ‘artificial experiment’ of Solomon’s mural class.82 What did Rama Rao achieve in his all too brief career? A number of his works are indistinguishable from those of Solomon’s students in their colour schema and figures. But the few promising ones, such as Nagna Sundari (Naked Beauty) and The Dancer, painted in 1924 and 1925, showed a new departure, a very personal vision of women with elongated figures, heralding a striking mannerist style. The fact that these overcame the monotony of conventional figures can be explained by his insistence 161
  • 149. Damerla Rama Rao, The Dancer, 1925, watercolour on paper, one of his last works. on regular life studies. Unusually daring for the period in Andhra, he painted full frontal nudes modelled by a local woman named Nakula.83 In 1928, Indian Academy of Art paid a handsome tribute to him, regretting his early death, and commenting that his lively works demonstrated ‘a competent naturalist technique with a sound knowledge of the Indian classics’.84 Damerla Rama Rao was remembered in 1947, the year of Indian Independence, in the celebration volume Indian Art through the Ages, published by the newly formed Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.85 162
  • 150. 11 From Orientalism to a New Naturalism: K. Venkatappa and Deviprosad Roy Chowdhury Not only the naturalists but also Abanindranath’s disciples were gradually turning their backs on orientalism, notably K. Venkatappa and Deviprosad Roy Chowdhury, both of whom, in very different ways, projected a heroic image of the artist as a genius. No fewer than forty odd volumes of Venkatappa’s densely packed diary, the most extensive ever maintained by an Indian artist, offer us an insight into the mentality and artistic process of a colonial artist poised on the cusp of modernity and tradition.1 Fiercely jealous of his artistic mission, Venkatappa’s evolution from a painter of the Bengal School to magic realism makes fascinating reading. A muscular hero, the urbane uomo universale, Deviprosad was a larger-than-life figure who projected his own physical prowess on to his ‘Michelangelesque’ sculptures. A versatile artist, his work ranged from delicate ‘orientalist’ miniatures, romantic watercolours and commissioned portraits to colossal public sculptures celebrating national allegories in the late colonial era and two and half decades of Independence. We are allowed an insight into his quirks and idiosyncrasies as well as his powerful mind in the candid memoirs of his wife and lifelong companion.2 In these two supreme individualists, naturalism became inflected in the light of their own specific objectives. venkatappa: from court painter to a colonial artist K. Venkatappa (1887–1962) was born into a family of traditional Tanjore painters attached to the princely court of Mysore. These ‘artisan’ painters used transparent paints for figures, while reserving opaque pigments for costumes and other details, lastly using gold leaf to enhance the whole effect. Venkatappa began as his father’s apprentice when his talent came to the notice of the Maharaja, who sent him to the local art school and engaged an English tutor for him, thus ensuring his entry into the modern colonial world.3 In 1912, he was sent to the Government School of Art in Calcutta, reputed as the leading centre of nationalist art under Abanindranath.4 Venkatappa discovered the cosmopolitan world of Calcutta, joining the inner circle of Abanindranath’s students, who in their turn were intrigued by his artisan background. Abanindranath respected his innate skills, choosing him as one of the students to illustrate his booklet Some Notes on Indian Artistic Anatomy, 163
  • 151. K. Venkatappa, Rama’s Marriage, c. 1918, watercolour on paper. and Sister Nivedita’s posthumous work Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists.5 In Calcutta, Venkatappa started keeping a diary, recording in meticulous detail everyday transactions, which is a uniquely revealing document of his personality and creative process.6 While studying art, he toured north India, visiting major Hindu pilgrim sites. He records his experiments with fasting and other examples of personal endurance with a punctiliousness that verges on ‘anal compulsiveness’ in a Freudian sense. In 1914, Percy Brown, the Principal, recommended him highly for the post of Government Art Adviser. Brown also introduced Venkatappa to 164
  • 152. the visiting English sculptor, George Frampton, who was commissioned to execute a memorial bust of the Viceroy, with a view to sending him to Britain to learn bronze casting. Venkatappa turned these offers down because he did not wish to renege on his obligation to his patron, the Maharaja of Mysore. In 1916, he returned to Mysore for a brief visit, and was never to leave the princely state again. Appointed the state artist, he found Mysore boring after cosmopolitan Calcutta, suffering ill health and difficulties at work. He tried to maintain his links with former friends, took part in major art exhibitions around the country and even took out a subscription to the English newspaper, the Statesman. In 1918, for the second time, the Government of Bengal offered him an art position but he again felt unable to take it up.7 Slowly and painfully, he found himself adjusting to his new life, keeping regular hours at the studio, cultivating the Western habit of taking daily walks, and spending his leisure hours at a local club. Venkatappa produced relief sculpture and painting for the Maharaja but also began selling privately as his works began to be known widely.8 In 1922–4, among his comments on patrons, he recorded an acrimonious encounter with the art collector B. N. Treasurywalla from Bombay who haggled endlessly about the prices of pictures, sending them back for ‘improvements’. These humiliations embittered the proud Venkatappa.9 In his initial years, Venkatappa continued with orientalist historicism, even delving into Sanskrit texts, constantly seeking the advice of scholars at the local University. In 1918 he started taking Sanskrit lessons in earnest, much to the consternation of the Maharaja’s secretary who reminded him of the cost to the state. For all his obsessive punctiliousness, he was a modern colonial artist and not a traditional Tanjore painter. In short, Venkatappa’s self-conscious ‘archaeology’ of ancient Indian culture was at odds with living Hinduism. In addition, Venkatappa took the mastery of representation as a sine qua non of artistic perfection, dismissing the Ragamala miniatures as rigid and formal.10 Venkatappa even ‘modernized’ Shiva with two arms rather than four, which brought him into conflict with the orthodox. nature under a microscope Historicism was no more than a passing phase with Venkatappa about which he expressed reservations even in his student days.11 The story of his very personal form of naturalism began with a sneaking admiration for English watercolours under Percy Brown. In 1926, finally shedding his allegiance to oriental art, he embarked on a careful, empirical exploration of nature, creating in the process a magical vision of Karnataka landscape that transcended mere representation. He had known the Ootacamund and Kodaikanal regions intimately since his youth; he now invested his beloved hills, valleys, meadows and lakes with an uncanny 165
  • 153. quality. Modern Indian critics, who view Venkatappa as displaying mere photographic accuracy, lacking any creative spark, miss out the imagination, self-discipline and the relentless pursuit of an idea that went into the construction of his landscapes. Venkatappa approached his objective in the spirit of an intellectual adventure, recording every single, even trivial detail of his daily life in his diary. This is particularly instructive for 1926, the year that he produced striking contemporary landscapes. He spent six concentrated months between 10 May and 25 October 1926 on the Elk Hill in Ootacamund, a lush green terrain with a cool damp climate punctuated with long spells of ferocious rains. A solitary figure who preferred his own company, Venkatappa took long walks sketching and spending hours in his room at the ymca hostel completing his landscapes. He set himself the task of rendering faithfully what he saw in microscopic detail, devoting four to six months to each painting. For instance, he prepared for his Ootacamund in Moonlight by climbing the hill every evening in near freezing conditions and perching on a precipitous rock to study the surroundings. Before commencing the painting he immersed himself in the environment, repeatedly returning to the same spot to check the details.12 For The Tempest he made an initial sketch from his window as heavy downpours confined him indoors. His obsession eventually drew him outdoors, to observe for several days the effects of the rain on natural light. These paintings of 1926 afford us an intimate understanding of the forests, valleys, mountains and the sky under varying light conditions. The luminosity of his landscapes had been anticipated in the nocturnal glow of his orientalist painting Shiva Ratri.13 With an unusual combination of colours, especially indigos, blues and greens, which he explained as ‘colour perspective’, Venkatappa obtained a glittering brightness in his K. Venkatappa, Monsoon Clouds Breaking, 1926, watercolour on paper. 166
  • 154. K. Venkatappa, The Lake View, 1926, watercolour on paper. washes. He never gave up synthetic European paints entirely, but in 1912 he had already prepared a chart of vegetable and mineral dyes that he may have inherited from his artisan family. In September, as the rains came to an end, he embarked on the defining work of his entire career. The diary takes us through the process of painting The Lake View almost clinically. Choosing the light at dawn as his subject, Venkatappa rose at 4.55 am for several days, went down to the hillside before it became light, sketching the scene and later making improvements back at the ymca. For the actual painting, he set out with his easel for the lakeshore every morning, long before daybreak. There he sought to capture the strange sight of dawn breaking on the distant mountains, the intense light mirrored in the perfectly still waters of the lake. We do not know what emotions it aroused in him, a solitary witness to a desolate, almost primeval world. He makes a typically laconic observation in his diary: ‘I could study the reflections thoroughly to my satisfaction till 8 a.m. [and at] 8.15 a.m. began to work on reflections.’14 The sense of oppressive isolation in the painting is matched by the intensity of natural light. The Lake View, Venkatappa’s most complex work, remained unsold. a most peculiar obsession In provincial Mysore Venkatappa aroused admiration and fear in equal measure for his extreme fastidiousness and blunt outspoken manner. His unconventional comportment, eccentricities and contempt for the ‘philistine’ public became even more pronounced after his retirement from the Mysore court.15 Ever a solitary figure, he took up classical 167
  • 155. music late in life, attaining considerable mastery of it.16 Venkatappa forms a bridge between the old courtly painter and the colonial artist. Here we have the conscious reinvention of the self as artistic genius, not bound by normal conventions, a colonial phenomenon that marked the changing relationship between artists and patrons. Once Venkatappa visited the Public Library in Mysore in order to consult Webster’s Dictionary for the ‘true distinction between the artist and the artisan’ – a distinction that would have mattered little to his traditional painter father.17 As his obituary in the Deccan Herald put it, Venkatappa had a high regard for his own genius, and waged a heroic battle against meanminded and exploitative patrons. Yet such reinvention rested on the slippery ground between traditional Hinduism and the modern West. An ascetic bachelor, he claimed to be ‘married’ to his art, practising the Hindu rite of aparigraha, which involved a fierce aversion to taking help from others.18 Venkatappa’s entry into the modern colonial world was owed to his patron Krishnaraja Wadiyar iv, Maharaja of Mysore, to whom he remained steadfastly loyal. The price he paid for his loyalty was to decline with some regret the British government’s prestigious invitation to participate in the decoration of New Delhi in the 1920s. The Maharaja for his part reciprocated his loyalty: ‘you have made a great name, brought much credit to the state, I . . . proudly show visitors my countryman’s work’. Yet the coda to Venkatappa’s career was the arbitrariness of tied patronage. With the Maharaja’s death in 1940, his successor cruelly terminated his appointment, forcing the artist to leave Mysore. Feared by the public, Venkatappa withdrew into himself, making rare public appearances, and slowly fading from popular memory.19 deviprosad: the artist as L’UOMO UNIVERSALE Deviprosad Roy Chowdhury (1899–1975), widely regarded as the most important sculptor of late colonial India, was the scion of a Bengali zamindari family of Punjabi extraction. Controversialist, imperious, proud of his good looks, intelligence, noble descent and physical prowess, with an innate sense of his own genius, Deviprosad cut a larger than life figure. In addition to painting and sculpting, he wrestled, played the flute, shot big game and wrote short stories in his spare time.20 Inspired by Michelangelo and Rodin, he cast bronze monumen168 K. Venkatappa, Mad After Vina, 1926, watercolour on paper. The painting explains to his guru Abamindranath why he chose music.
  • 156. tal groups 6–9 m high that celebrated the trials and triumphs of the labouring man. Beverley Nichols, who was unimpressed with Indian artists with the sole exception of Jamini Roy, described his work; ‘It is not calculated to set the Ganges on fire, but at least it is alive. Choudhuri has something to say on canvas and is technically competent to say it.’21 In his breathless stride across the subcontinent, Nichols missed Deviprosad’s large-scale sculptures, his particular strength. Critic G. Venkatachalam, who wrote essays defending Indian artists against Nichols’s judgement, wrote admiringly of the sculptor: ‘For originality, individuality, strength and expressiveness his sculptural works are easily the best in the country. Even the Rodinesque touch which characterized his earlier studies . . . was only superficial. Roychoudhury’s art is definitely his own.’22 The East German visitor to India, Heinz Langer, Deviprosad Roy Chowdhury, Self-portrait, c. 1924, watercolour on paper. 169
  • 157. was impressed with his ‘profound feeling for plasticity’, as well as his ‘artistic genius and human charm’.23 Deviprosad had his first painting lessons with Abanindranath, giving evidence of a precocious talent in the two paintings submitted to Wembley, a self-portrait and a primitivist Lotus Pond (see p. 30). Treated in an orientalist style, the penetrating self-portrait and the primitivist figures anticipate his characteristic sense of design and firm drawing. However, his métier was modelling, kindled by his first sculpture teacher, a European named Boeiss. His next teacher, Hironmoy Roychaudhury, trained at the Royal College of Art, taught him to ‘build in’ rather than ‘carve in’ his figures.24 As in the case of Hemendranath Mazumdar, Deviprosad’s choice of art as a vocation caused a permanent rift between him and the head of his family, his zamindar grandfather, who disinherited him. He was forced to take up work as a scene painter for a theatre in north Calcutta, followed by teaching art at a boy’s school in the city. However, recognition was not long in coming. Stella Kramrisch was one of the first to recognize his talent, writing of his bronzes as ‘the first serious contribution modern India has made to the portrait sculpture of modern man’.25 He taught briefly at Santiniketan where he had Ramkinkar among his students. In 1929 he became head of the government art school in Madras, one of the first Indians to run a government educational institution. In the 30 years he was at the school, he inspired generations of art students in South India, helping to end its reputation as an industrial arts centre. The Hindu voiced public recognition of the importance of his appointment. In 1936, reviewing the annual art exhibition of the school, it commented on how Deviprosad had sparked a new creativity among the students who had hitherto produced only conventional work.26 A pupil of Abanindranath, Deviprosad finally cut the orientalist ‘apron strings’ at a public lecture in Madras in 1936, criticizing the unquestioning adherence to tradition and recommending that one learn even from Western art if it was of value.27 Deviprosad delighted in épater les bourgeois with his outrageous views on sexuality, in part an outcome of his discovery of Freud.28 I have mentioned his physical strength. English soldiers stationed in Calcutta were generally feared by the slender-limbed Bengalis for their often violent and unpredictable behaviour. Deviprosad enjoyed picking a fight with them. Bristling with energy, he worked from early morning till evening every single day without fail, often on large-scale sculptural pieces. Despite being in charge of a major government institution for 30 years, he was remarkably productive. We read about the artist’s fiery personality from his wife’s memoirs, published in the 1950s, where she describes him with a mixture of admiration and exasperation as over-frank, oversensitive and overbearing.29 170
  • 158. a sculptor for the toiling humanity Deviprosad Roy Chowdhury, Sumatra Birds, 1920s?, watercolour on paper. Deviprosad commanded a wide range of artistic media from the most delicate jewel-like watercolours, such as Sumatra Birds, Expressionist landscapes and commissioned portraits, to massive bronze sculptural groups. His high professional standards brought him a steady stream of private and public commissions, notably portrait busts of British dignitaries, which left him unsatisfied. Deviprosad sought inspiration from the heroic forbearance of the salt of the earth – the fisherman making his weary way home, weighed down by his dripping net, or the peasant resigned to his humble lot, going about his daily toil. He produced some moving images of the great famine in Bengal in 1943, notably of a mother with her starving infant. Of course, this harrowing subject inspired not only Deviprosad but a number of artists in Bengal. The question is: if his work expressed sympathy for the salt of the earth, what then was his difference from Ramkinkar and the primitivists? Indeed, Deviprosad’s heroic vision of the toiling masses had many similarities with that of the primitivists but the differences were significant. The primitivist idealization of the innocent Santals as the denizens of an unchanging community was essentially a critique of global capitalism, urban modernity and Enlightenment notions of progress. On the other hand, Deviprosad’s sources were an uneasy mix: he drew nourishment more from nineteenth-century Romantic notions of struggling humanity than from a ‘primitivist’ avant-garde critique of modernity. His sculptures of the industrial proletariat were rooted in a progressivist Marxian mode that saw history as inexorably moving forward towards a socialist utopia rather than backward to the village. Deviprosad did not show an overt interest in Marxism, but as a well-read man he shared the elite interest in socialist thought and the trade union movement in India within the larger nationalist struggle of the 1920s.30 Revealingly, his most ambitious compositions glorified urban labourers, such as road builders, rather than peasants or fishermen. Deviprosad’s oppressed humanity was fired by the idea of social justice and had a definite goal. One of his first multiple-figure reliefs completed in the 1930s was on the theme of social justice, the Travancore Temple Entry Proclamation, which celebrated the admission of the Untouchables into the Hindu caste temples in South India. In the 1940s, a critic summed up the artist’s optimistic vision of nationhood in his painting Road-Makers, but 171
  • 159. Deviprosad Roy Chowdhury, An Old Kashmiri Smoking, 1940s?, watercolour on paper. his comments could equally well apply to his ambitious sculptural group Triumph of Labour: Choudhury, strangely for all his aristocratic antecedents, is a socialist on canvas. His striking pictures of labouring proletariat are at once a challenge and an appeal. They are monuments of dignity and strength. [Choudhury’s sculptural group] are of the like who forge mighty highways for the conquest of nations. The ‘Road-makers’ are the forgers of Man’s empire, his extending dominion over elemental forces.31 Deviprosad’s Road-Makers were not simply labourers struggling to dislodge a massive boulder; they were ‘indomitable men [and women] wrestling with nature, doggedly, determinedly, powerfully’, a vision that pitted man against the elements, a well-known romantic topos of the nineteenth century. The Michelangelesque body became his romantic metaphor for man struggling as much against the elements as against injustice. His equation of emotional power with physical strength was closely connected with his obsession with his own body and physical culture. He took an almost sexual pleasure in forcing obstinate metal or clay into shape.32 Deviprosad loved to dwell on the wiry musculature of his 172
  • 160. workers, revealing their bones, veins and sinews through their flesh, often creating an écorché effect. With female figures, he chose to bring out the fleshy, earthy voluptuousness of peasant women in contrast to the emaciated waifs of the Bengal School. An admiring critic waxed eloquent about his virility: Roy Choudhury, like Rodin, is rugged, original and virile; his sculpture has the same elemental fury and strength . . . His genius, for all his great achievements on the canvas, is essentially and pre-eminently three-dimensional . . . The sculpture . . . stands out massive, compelling and alive.33 Deviprosad Roy Chowdhury, detail of Travancore Temple Entry Proclamation, 1936, bronze relief. Perhaps no modern master had explored the body more intensely in its myriad forms and convoluted expressions than Rodin, who created a new form of ‘expressionist’ bronzes with broken, rugged surfaces and fragmented non finito works. Deviprosad seems to have reached Rodin indirectly through Edouard Lanteri, the French sculptor settled in Britain, whose vigorous naturalism celebrating labourers and peasants influenced the new sculpture movement in Britain. Deviprosad recommended his standard treatise, Modelling: A Guide for Teachers and Students, to his students in Santiniketan. Indeed, a whole generation of English and French sculptors were influenced by Rodin’s rough-surfaced bronze, including the previously mentioned Pramatha Mallik and Fanindranath Bose, who had settled in Scotland in the early twentieth century.34 Deviprosad’s rough-hewn style and unpolished bronze were appropriate to his heroic story of the downtrodden. Yet in his most powerful bronzes he moved beyond Rodin in his exaggerated forms, which suggests an ambivalent relationship between him and the discourse of modernism. He often used strong anti-modernist rhetoric, identifying ‘artistic truth’ with mimetic art containing a strong social content, and refusing to ally himself with the modernists because of his ideological commitment to naturalism. He welcomed the new language of art. However, for him the objective of art was to express emotions in a controlled manner, which was only possible with the skill that he found lacking in many of the modernists.35 Yet not only did his gnarled écorché figures go beyond representation towards expressionist distortions, but he himself showed a fascination with the physically ‘ugly’, the grotesque and the macabre in his paintings and short stories as well.36 173
  • 161. Deviprosad Roy Chowdhury, Old Woman, 1930s, bronze. Opposite: Deviprosad Roy Chowdhury, Road-Makers (later renamed Triumph of Labour), c. 1940, bronze. Deviprosad Roy Chowdhury, Dignity of Labour, 1950s, bronze. In Travancore Temple Entry Proclamation, Deviprosad highlighted the expressions of fear and hope in the Untouchables, depicting the oppressed as physically ravaged individuals with gnarled faces and hollow bodies, their degradation presented in an Expressionist manner. In Dignity of Labour, he portrayed the extreme physical effort of trying to loosen a massive, immoveable boulder. After Independence in 1947, his grandiose conceptions and social commitment were found to be appropriate for memorializing India’s anti-colonial struggle. Deviprosad’s interpretations of national allegories – the Martyrs’ Memorial, Triumph of Labour and his over-lifesize statues of Gandhi – are a common sight in India. A version of the Dignity of Labour stands in front of the International Labour Organization offices in Geneva. The artist was working on a colossal 175
  • 162. version of the Martyrs’ Memorial, which was to be the largest group composition in the world, when he died in 1975.37 The memorial would have decorated the great open space in front of the Red Fort in Delhi, symbolizing the unity in diversity that was modern India. The artist’s radio broadcast of 1951 constituted a testament to his life’s achievement: imposing statues on a gigantic scale were an essential quality of sculpture, rather than dainty figures for embellishing drawing rooms.38 176
  • 163. four Contested Nationalism: The New Delhi and India House Murals In spite of the dominance of the local and the quotidian in the art of the 1920s and ’30s, historicism continued to display an amazing resilience. Its final efflorescence gave rise to two competing definitions of nationalism, as advocated by the artistic rivals, Bombay and Bengal, between the years 1912 and 1931. In these crucial years, the two provinces fought tooth and nail to win lucrative Raj commissions for the grand historical murals in the New Delhi Secretariat and in India House in London. This section unfolds the story of these murals, bringing out the ambivalent relationship between the British overlords and their Indian subjects, throwing into bold relief the complex interface of colonialism and nationalism. This is also a story of rivalry and ambition, intrigue and character assassination; it is above all the story of one man’s determination to win the primacy of his institution by any means. The man was Gladstone Solomon, the Principal of Sir Jamsethji Jijibhai School of Art in Bombay in the crucial years 1918–36. the prix de delhi and the murals for the new capital Competition among artists for decorating the public buildings of New Delhi became inevitable once the decision to build the new imperial capital was made public by King George v at the magnificent Durbar held in Delhi in 1911. Almost immediately, a heated controversy broke out over the choice of style: Western or Eastern? The influential E. B. Havell, Principal of the government art school in Calcutta (1893–1906), led those who championed a purely Indian style, to be realized by indigenous craftsmen, as the only way to promote India’s much-needed artistic revival.1 However, attempts to win the main urban plan for Indian architects ultimately failed, because the weight of opinion was in favour of a European architect. The Royal Institute of British Architects (riba) nominated Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens in 1912, an eminent architect who had acquired a high reputation as a builder of elegant English 177
  • 164. country villas, a nomination eagerly accepted by the Indian government. A dyed-in-the-wool Classicist, Lutyens abhorred any form of decoration in his buildings, especially Hindu decoration, stating, ‘Personally I do not believe there is any real Indian architecture or any great tradition.’ Hence, he insisted on ‘the influence of a Western style – i.e. logic, and not the mad riot of the tom-tom’. Armed with this ‘rational’ style, he wished to encourage India’s ‘amazing sense of the supernatural, with its compliment [sic] of profound fatalism and enduring patience’.2 Viceroy Lord Hardinge, weighing the political cost of openly flouting Indian sentiment in a period of mounting political unrest, favoured a strong indigenous element in Delhi. Imposing a European style would also be a betrayal of imperial trusteeship. The trauma of 1857 had dented Raj confidence in fashioning India in the progressive Western image. Henceforth, Indo-Sarasenic architecture came to symbolize the ‘Oriental Raj’ that held together the conglomeration of races, castes and religions under stern paternalism.3 The compromise solution for Delhi was ‘Western architecture with an Oriental motif’, reflecting the notion of senior and junior partners in the empire. Indians were to take charge of decoration in which they excelled, whilst the conception, design and overall control should and must remain with Europeans.4 Sir Herbert Baker, who had become celebrated for his public buildings in South Africa, volunteered his own views on the envisaged capital in The Times of 3 October 1912. Lutyens, he ventured, ‘concentrated his extraordinary powers . . . on the abstract and geometrical qualities, to the disregard of human and national sentiment’.5 Not that he disagreed with Lutyens on the guiding principles, which must be modern and Western. But Baker was prepared to incorporate certain resonant elements from Indian architecture because ‘sentiment and tradition have such a deep signi-ficance’ in the subcontinent. Like a number of romantic imperialists, Baker saw the Empire as a true successor to Pax Romana, with its medley of cultures and races. Since nowhere was this more true than in India, Baker wished to seize this opportunity to celebrate the unity gifted to India by Pax Britannica and the imposition of Western rational order on the Eastern riot of imagination.6 The letter also made clear that he would be the ideal choice to soften Lutyens’s uncompromising Classicism, an argument that won him the collaboration with Lutyens. The senior partner would design the urban layout and the Viceroy’s House, the seat of imperial authority, while Baker would be responsible for the two wings of the Imperial Secretariat flanking the processional avenue leading up to the House. These two eminent architects had been friends for many years. Hardinge, who took the credit for this compromise solution, was in accord with the Raj view that the main architectural plan was to remain European, while Indians could profitably be employed in many of the details. Next came decoration. In 1913, the pro-Indian lobby in Britain, led by the influential India Society, published a substantive report on traditional 178
  • 165. Indian masons, carvers and master-builders. In response to a petition drawn up by this lobby and signed by prominent figures in Britain, the government gave public reassurance of its intention to use New Delhi as a ‘school’ for encouraging Indian decorative skills.7 A studio for Indian craftsmen, supervised by an Indian, to work on wood and stone carvings for the buildings, was one of the ideas mooted by the government. In 1912, Percy Brown, Principal of the Calcutta art school, proposed a workshop for architectural decoration in order to train his students for New Delhi. Hardinge, aware of the orientalists’ disappointment at Brown’s recent appointment to the school (see Chapter Three), cold-shouldered the idea, proposing instead Abanindranath’s pupil Samarendranath Gupta, Deputy Principal of the Mayo School of Art in Lahore, as supervisor of the studio.8 These plans were interrupted by the Great War of 1914–18. But as the official buildings reached an advanced stage of completion in the early 1920s, the question of decoration once again loomed large. Special consideration was given to the Durbar Hall in the Viceroy’s House, conceived as the ritual centre of the imperium, its symbolism derived from the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s Diwan i-Aam i-Khass at Agra. Lutyens contemplated a continuous frieze adapted from indigenous art, but clearly recalling Roman narrative cycles. The work would serve as a school for Indian artists, for without ‘the benefit of such a school or meticulous tutoring and supervision . . . no Indian painter was sufficiently imaginative and adaptable to create a coherent design’.9 Lutyens was well aware of Indian nationalist sentiment through his wife Emily, their friend Annie Besant and the Theosophists, all of whom closely identified with Indian culture. His wife, a niece of Lord Lytton (Viceroy 1876–80) and a pioneering suffragette, represents British imperialism’s obsession with the spiritual alternative to material progress, as exemplified, for instance, by Sir Francis Younghusband. An aggressive imperialist, he had brought Tibet to its knees and yet longed for the spirituality of this defeated nation that he found lacking in the West. Luytens’s own ambivalence towards Indians was not helped by the growing crisis in his marriage. His view is summed up in a letter to his wife: ‘No one seems well here – no vigour . . . The squalor, unkempt ugliness, the dirt, the lassitude is depressing – and oh the flies wherever natives are left alone – horrible.’10 Hence he was keen to use the Delhi project as an education for Indian artists, a missing counterpart to ‘the immense material and intellectual benefits brought to India by the English’. In 1916, he sent a memorandum to the Committee in charge of Building the Capital, proposing an applied Indian School at Delhi, in the medieval European guild tradition, to promote the fine arts of painting. On 30 March 1922, Lutyens presented a ‘Joint Memorandum for the Encouragement of Indian Art’ to the same Committee, this time signed also by Baker and Hugh Keeling, Chief Engineer in charge of building the new capital. The memorandum put 179
  • 166. forward the Prix de Delhi scheme for decorating the capital. The prize students would be offered government commissions, helping this Indian school in the capital to spread its ‘influence and labours over the whole subcontinent’.11 There were compelling precedents for the choice of mural decorations for New Delhi. To nineteenth-century nationalists, nothing less than historic murals on an epic scale adorning public spaces could truly serve the nation. The political potential of murals was fully realized with the spread of Gesamtkunstwerk ideas in architecture, an example of which was the Palace of Westminster, completed in the 1840s. (Gesamtkunstwerk or the marriage of the different arts was a Wagnerian idea that affected William Morris’s notion of architecture as the mother of all the arts, for instance.) Ruskin had described the architect as a mere large-scale frame-maker unless he was also a painter and a sculptor.12 By the 1860s even the Royal Academy, the bastion of easel painting, judged artists by their ability to produce decorative murals.13 The patron saint of murals was the Frenchman, Puvis de Chavannes, whose murals for the nation in the Panthéon in Paris had become justly celebrated. Take also the case of Alphons Mucha. The Czech poster artist had made his fame and fortune in fin-de-siècle Paris; in 1899, in a fit of conscience, he pledged that ‘the remainder of my life would be filled exclusively with work for the nation’. His impressive murals on the Slav nationalist struggle adorn the Municipal Building of Prague.14 The Mexican murals of Diego Rivera, Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco in the 1920s were surely the apotheosis of the public mural project and yet unknown to India until as late as the 1940s.15 In 1902–4 E. B. Havell, head of the art school in Calcutta, who put forward the idea of decorating Indian homes with murals in the manner of Gothic Revivalists, first planted the idea of nationalist murals. In order to equip his students with indigenous fresco techniques, Havell brought in traditional muralists from Rajasthan. His efforts were unfortunately confined to a few experimental fresco buono slabs in the Jaipur method produced by his young collaborator, Abanindranath. A master of delicate miniatures, Abanindranath did not have much luck with large-scale works.16 During the Swadeshi unrest of 1905, Nivedita, the Irish disciple of Vivekananda and a mentor of the nationalist artists of Bengal, proposed that public buildings be decorated with epic murals to serve as modern temples to the nation. The ancient Buddhist frescoes at Ajanta, rediscovered in the nineteenth century, were promptly adopted by the nationalists as a model for emulation. In 1909–11, Christiana Herringham, a moving force in the English mural movement and a translator of Cennini’s Il libro dell’ arte o trattato della pittura (c. 1390), visited India in order to copy the Ajanta frescoes. Nivedita arranged for Abanindranath’s pupils to assist her so that they might gain first-hand experience of these ancient achievements.17 180
  • 167. Abanindranath Tagore, Kacha o Devjani, 1906, fresco on stone slab. the wisdom of solomon When the Raj decided on embellishing the New Delhi buildings with murals, it naturally turned to the two leading government art schools in Bombay and Calcutta. By 1915 Calcutta had stolen a march on Bombay, establishing non-illusionist oriental art as the true expression of the Indian spirit, its claim heartily endorsed by the colonial regime, the selfappointed guardians of ‘traditional art’. In the darkening political horizon, the regime considered artistic nationalism to be a safer alternative to terrorist ‘outrages’.18 As the art establishment, the Bengal School creamed off lucrative state patronage, causing widespread envy or emulation by artists in other regions. The orientalist art theory penetrated even Bombay, the bastion of the ‘Westernizers’. Ravi Shankar Rawal, a promising student of the Bombay art school, defected to the orientalist camp, 181
  • 168. sacrificing his promising career as a portrait painter. An admirer of Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore, he set up a modest art school in Ahmedabad in 1919, which gave rise to a Gujarati version of orientalism. Rawal won the coveted gold medal of the Bombay Art Society with a picture treated in a ‘flat’ Rajput manner, which however was dismissed by a disgruntled Parsi artist of Western persuasion as merely ‘a printed label on mill cloth’.19 With Calcutta’s unimpeded ascendancy, Bombay’s decline was widely accepted as inevitable. The situation was dramatically reversed in 1918 with the retirement of Cecil Burns as Principal (1896–1918), which ended the era of the old guards, haphazard developments and endless vacillations over the school’s objectives. William Ewart Gladstone Solomon, the son of a South African politician of Jewish extraction settled in Britain, arrived from London to take charge of the school on 25 November 1918. The Indian Headmaster M. V. Dhurandhar vividly recalls the day in his memoirs. As he was the senior Indian teacher at the school, his new boss curtly instructed him to submit his works for inspection.20 This assertion of authority by European superiors to remind the Indian staff of their subordinate status was a routine practice in government institutions. Being sufficiently impressed with his works, Solomon mellowed, thus laying the foundations of future collaborations on a series of key projects. In time, Solomon even came to treat the Indian teacher with affection. Ambitious, bristling with energy, relentlessly pursuing his objective of undermining Bengal’s artistic pre-eminence, Solomon left his personal stamp on the school in its crucial years. Solomon was determined to inject a new energy into the moribund art school and provide a persuasive ‘indigenous’ alternative to Abanindranath’s orientalism, the favoured recipient of imperial largesse: Abanindranath’s pupils, for instance, ran premier art institutions in Jaipur, Lucknow, Madras and Lahore, to name only the major ones. But such favours paled into insignificance with the announcement of the government’s ambitious mural project. Solomon resolved to wrest as large a slice of the imperial cake for his students as possible. This he did in wellplanned stages that involved making mural painting the cornerstone of art teaching, in order to bid successfully for the New Delhi murals. Solomon enjoyed an advantage. The ground had already been prepared by Solomon’s predecessors at the school, Lockwood Kipling and John Griffiths, who had secured commissions for their students to decorate public buildings.21 Solomon himself had the advantage of training at the Royal Academy in marouflage (a mural technique consisting of attaching large painted canvases on to the walls as part of decoration instead of painting directly on to the wall). In 1900 his wall panel won him an ra travelling scholarship to study historical murals in Italy. The Studio published it in 1902, with the complaint that the young man was a realist ‘who does not see’.22 182
  • 169. W.E.G. Solomon, The Masque of Cupid, c. 1902, oil on canvas (from The Studio, xxv, 1902). A veteran of World War i, Captain Solomon’s war experience had prepared him for planning the school’s future with military efficiency, each measure a step towards making it the leading art institution in India. However, in order to carry out any reform at all he needed a free hand within the school. This involved the tricky business of divesting the allpowerful Director of Public Instruction (dpi) and his cronies of their hold over the school.23 Events, however, played into his hands. In 1915, the dpi had appointed R. W. Hogarth, a corrupt and incompetent man, as Inspector of Drawing to exercise control over the school.24 Solomon found this situation intolerable. Being a consummate strategist, he had an instinctive grasp of the precise source of power. Having gained the ear of the Governor of Bombay, Solomon succeeded in curbing not only Hogarth but also the dpi’s control over the school. Impressed with Solomon’s single-mindedness, Sir George Lloyd became a fervent champion of his reforms.25 Nor did Solomon underestimate the importance of the local press in shaping public opinion, taking the two leading dailies, the government mouthpiece Times of India and the local nationalist paper the Bombay Chronicle, into his confidence.26 Fresh from this strategic victory, Solomon divested the school of the foundational South Kensington curriculum with decorative arts as its cornerstone. This is unsurprising since Solomon had been nurtured at the rival institution, the Royal Academy, with its fine art bias. In December 1919 he made the revolutionary break by introducing drawing from the nude as a sine qua non for large-scale, many-figured mural compositions. The occasional employment of undraped models was not previously unknown, and indeed under his predecessor Cecil Burns students had turned out life-size figures for mural decoration, but the systematic use of nude models was new.27 The early history of South Kensington, the mentor of Indian art schools, had been one of resistance to this central doctrine of the Renaissance. Solomon’s reform also challenged the prevailing opinion that Indians were capable only of flat decorative drawing. This 183
  • 170. ‘naturalization’ of the Royal Academy practice finally consecrated the school as a ‘fine arts’ institution, a process that had started in the late nineteenth century. Solomon’s task was made easier by the fact that his Indian deputy Dhurandhar was a devotee of the nude.28 The year was barely out when Solomon set in motion his pivotal scheme of starting mural painting as an advanced specialist course. The first generation of students, notably S. Fernandes, A. R. Bhonsale, G. H. Nagarkar and N. L. Joshi, undertook the decoration of the school walls in earnest, the crowning achievement being an experimental lunette, Kala Deva Pratistha (Installation of the God of Art), measuring 308 m2. Executed in the central hall, it marked the ritual inauguration of the school’s new calling. The Governor duly unveiled the murals at a prize-giving ceremony in 1920, offering a generous sum to the school as an encouragement. The public viewing of the murals soon followed.29 The murals aimed at combining European naturalism with Indian decorative ‘sensibility’. Solomon, who had a weakness for allegories in the manner of Alphons Mucha, encouraged students to paint personifications of the four quarters of the day and the four [European] seasons.30 Two prizes were instituted, one for mural design and another for enlarging figures to scale from small sketches to life-size, a prerequisite for any large figure composition. Drawing and painting from the nude now occupied the pride of place in the school. As Solomon was to argue later, every ‘student’s colour is his own. But he may be taught to draw correctly . . . [When] a student can draw the human head and the human figure accurately [he] has mastered the grammar of the language of Art.’31 The visiting English portrait painter Oswald Birley wrote approvingly in 1935 that ‘the work of the Life classes in the Bombay School of Art is well up to the level of the standards of European Schools of Art’.32 In 1923 a commission to decorate the Government House in Bombay followed. A medallion and three panels on the theme of personification were executed in its Durbar Hall, the four of them measuring 396 x 213 cm each, with life-size figures, demonstrating the success of the new department. However strongly Solomon may have stressed the importance of naturalistic drawing for large-scale murals, he must have known that even in Bombay winds of orientalism had been blowing for some time. The journalist Vasudev Metta, otherwise sympathetic to the murals, commented on their ‘un-Indian’ character.33 Back in 1904, the Times of India, the 184 Art School, Bombay, Drawing from the Nude, c. 1920s, pencil on paper.
  • 171. V. G. Shenoy, The Gupta Period, c. 1920s, watercolour on paper, student work for Delhi murals inspired by an Alphons Mucha poster.
  • 172. Unknown artist, Composition with Figures, 1926, gouache on paper, student work. official organ of the province, had made unflattering comparisons between Bengal and Bombay on grounds of cultural authenticity, dismissing Dhurandhar’s paintings as lacking in national characteristics.34 In 1907 the paper again castigated Dhurandhar, as well as M. F. Pithawala and Rustam Seodia. Instead it praised Jamini Prokash Gangooly, an ally of the Bengali orientalists, who had ‘the same decorative arrangement of line and harmony of colour . . . so much prized in the ancient Persian and Indian pictures’. The reviewer concluded: It is a scathing commentary upon the standard of taste possessed by the princes and wealthy merchants of India, that, at a time when the voice of the swadeshiwallah is heard so loud in the land, the walls of their palaces and houses should be lined by third class European originals, or cheap reproductions of the vulgarities of Italian or French painting, while imaginative and beautiful works . . . by painters like [Abanindranath] Tagore and Gangooly, are neglected.35 With such a powerful body of opinion, one simply could not ignore the ‘language’ of Indian art, as enunciated by the Bengal School. Solomon proceeded to learn it with alacrity if only to beat the enemy at his own game. Ajanta murals, the national symbol, had been copied by John Griffiths’s students in Bombay 186 Abanindranath Tagore, Female Figure in Landscape, c. 1910, watercolour on paper.
  • 173. Unknown artist, 1921, student line drawing based on Ajanta. between 1872 and 1881, but it was only in 1909, under the impact of the Bengal School, that ‘pilgrimages’ to this nationalist ‘shrine’ became de rigueur. Solomon took his students to the caves in 1921 in order to study the paintings, claiming that these paintings vindicated his own approach to art. Rejecting orientalist ‘pretensions’ that such art could spring from religious dedication alone, he argued that they demonstrated a ‘scientific’ approach and the constant use of living models: [in] every phase of these decorations pulses a throbbing, vigorous, energetic life . . . They were a band of tremendously practical hard workers. This is a point that cannot be too strongly insisted upon today when there exists a tendency to approach Indian art from the mystical or antiquarian rather than the genuinely artistic point of view.36 187
  • 174. Solomon’s target here was the denigration of life drawing as un-Indian and grossly materialist by the orientalists. Solomon questioned the orientalist abolition of life classes in Calcutta, vigorously defending Bombay’s curriculum with its core teaching of drawing from the antique and from life. The ‘Classic’ styles of Europe and India, he contended, could be combined without any harm to the student. If indeed Greek theory was understood better, it would help the Indian student tackle his own ‘decorative’ heritage more effectively.37 In short, figure study could only strengthen Indian decorative skill, since ‘the inherent love of . . . decorative drawing has been a religious ordinance ever since Vedic times [and was a] deeply-rooted national talent’.38 In keeping with the tradition of British art teachers in India, Solomon published a number of books on Indian art, including Ajanta, partly to propagate his own ‘Indian Art Renaissance’.39 Solomon’s basic credo was that style, whether Eastern or Western, must be chosen in accordance with the needs of a specific mural. But regardless of style, it must be grounded in Western ‘scientific’ figure drawing. He mocked the orientalists ‘who profess to foresee deadly danger in progressive discoveries in art such as drawing a life size figure accurately from life’. Yet Solomon refused to face the uncomfortable fact that the new generation of students was drawn to oriental art as a nationalist discourse which he dismissed as mere expediency.40 Not only through his writings but also through his speeches Solomon engaged in shadow boxing with his orientalist adversaries, constantly challenging their claims to cultural authenticity. Open hostility between him and the orientalists of Bengal broke out almost the moment Bombay’s mural department gained publicity. In October 1921 O. C. Gangoly, editor of the orientalist organ Rupam, took up the cudgels on their behalf.41 Havell, the mentor of the Bengal School, had returned to London in 1906, but continued to make vigorous interventions in Raj art policy from there. He was plainly outraged by the developments in Bombay. It particularly galled him that Solomon had won government support for public murals, the very genre that Havell had sought to make the cornerstone of his own revival. Conversely, to Solomon and his ally, Kanhaiyalal Vakil, the waspish journalist at the Bombay Chronicle, Abanindranath’s mentor was their natural target. Vakil was to unload his vitriol in ‘Humours of Havellism’.42 In 1920 no sooner had the mutual back-slapping over the murals of the Government House in Bombay died down, than the state visit of the British Heir Apparent offered Solomon’s students a particularly ambitious public project. Outraged by the Amritsar Massacre of 1919, Mahatma Gandhi launched his Non-Cooperation movement the following year against what he dubbed the ‘immoral’ empire. On 21 October 1921, the Congress Working Committee passed a resolution that ‘it is the duty of every Indian soldier and civilian to sever his connection with the 188
  • 175. M. V. Dhurandhar, Welcome address to the Prince of Wales by the Parsi Panchayat Fund and Charities, 1921, watercolour on paper pasted on glass and framed. The text reads : ‘We pray, may you live long, / May you live happy, to help / The righteous and punish / The unrighteous, Amen.’ Dhurandhar was also commissioned to design this loyal address. Government and find some other means of livelihood’.43 The visit of the Prince of Wales in November, which was a gesture to mollify Indian public opinion, was seen for what it was, and boycotted by the Congress. Bombay, being close to Gandhi’s power base in Gujarat, was chosen as the likely site for the demonstration of loyalty to the crown. The provincial government embarked on a lavish welcome with the help of the art school, a state institution. Dhurandhar, entrusted by Solomon with realizing the ambitious project, describes it in his memoir. What a difference it was from Dhurandhar’s earlier work in 1905 for the Principal Cecil Burns. For that royal visit, Dhurandhar had prepared a sizeable ‘bird’s-eye view’ perspective drawing of the Alexandra Docks of Bombay. For his efforts he received a small fee and an impersonal letter of thanks from Burns.44 Because of the political stakes involved, the Bombay reception committee of 1921 conceived the idea of massive pylons (rather than arches) to be placed at prominent street corners in Bombay to give scope for ambitious decoration. A modest sum of 8,000 rupees was initially allowed for the entire work. On Dhurandhar’s advice, however, Solomon approached the committee for the much larger sum of 20,000 rupees in order to carry out the job properly. This was sanctioned on condition that the work be completed in eight days. Dhurandhar was the right choice for such a large-scale work, as seen earlier in 1905 and later in New Delhi. Because of the short time within which he had to deliver, Dhurandhar farmed out the work among local artists in addition to his senior students so that each one of them had to execute only two to four paintings within the deadline.45 The decoration of the pylons was finished within a record six days. The 54 m high figures, inspired by the Hindu pantheon, stood on 1.5 m high plinths, ‘displaying multifarious emblems’. When they were complete, Solomon took the Indian Headmaster in his automobile to admire them, declaring that ‘the emblems . . . of the Gods, far from being a com189
  • 176. plex burden seemed in this instance a pure joy and solace to their delineators’.46 That joy was short-lived. Of course, as the main author of the venture, Dhurandhar received the encomia of the pro-government press. Solomon seized the opportunity to publicize the pylons in the Times of India. However, furious letters from the Hindu nationalists to the Bombay Chronicle excoriated Dhurandhar for the depiction of Hindu gods on the pylons, demeaning them by making them wait upon the mleccha (polluting foreigner) rulers. (In the late nineteenth-century the Maharastran revolutionary terrorist Chapekar had publicly branded the British as mlechhas.) As the main identifiable ‘perpetrator’, Dhurandhar was forced to seek police protection after receiving anonymous death threats. On 31 October 1921, Solomon asked Dhurandhar anxiously whether the headdresses and the familiar symbols should be removed from the figures so that they could no longer be identified as Hindu gods. They could then represent abstract qualities like ‘justice’, ‘love’ or ‘art’. On the day of the Prince’s visit, the streets of Bombay were deserted except for pitched battles between the loyalists who came out to welcome the Prince and their nationalist enemies.47 In spite of the debacle, the art school collected rich dividends from this display of loyalty. Solomon proclaimed himself a facilitator of Indian nationalism, viewing the project as a triumphal union of naturalism with Indian decoration. The presence of nationalist politicians at the school prize-giving ceremony the following year further vindicated the ‘nationalist’ character of his efforts: ‘the School’s compound is neutral ground where rival factions fraternally mix, where Cosmopolitan hearts beat in unison to the gentle but irresistible music of Saraswati’s Vina which can still the pulsations of Politics . . .’.48 Grateful for this demonstration of loyalty, Sir George Lloyd proclaimed that ‘the lines upon which the Principal and the School then chose to work were emphatically the right lines – the lines of assimilating to the national Indian genius the best in modern art . . . I have always held that successful art in India must be . . . backed by national enthusiasm.’49 Since Bombay had made European drawing the foundation of Indian art, Indianization had not taken ‘the form of a return to a hide-bound convention, but is acquiring a real sense of form and colour, and at the same time developing the decorative instinct, which so strongly national in character’. It is well to recall here the 1935 Act, offering autonomy to Indians, which was delayed for at least two years by the determined resistance of the ‘“die-hard” group led by . . . Churchill and Lord Lloyd’.50 A romantic imperialist, Lloyd had his own ideas about promoting cultural nationalism in the empire, art being one of his pet projects. In appreciation of Solomon’s efforts during the royal visit, Lloyd declared eight scholarships for the fledgling mural class.51 Solomon was acutely aware of the economic implications of the school’s success, firmly setting his sights on public commissions for the mural class. In a public lecture in September 1923, he appealed to the 190
  • 177. municipal authorities to offer his students public spaces to paint and to hold public competitions to select art works for them.52 The appeal in itself was not that different from the concerns of the previous art teachers who had consistently secured public commissions. But Solomon had his sights beyond mere local sponsorship. He wanted a larger share in the British Empire Exhibition planned for Wembley in 1924. Such a coup would strike at the very heart of Bengal’s domination of the art world. Equally important, the exhibition would also enable Solomon to enlist the support of the influential India Society of London in his bid for the Delhi murals.53 the british empire exhibition The Government of India planned an ambitious display of the natural and artificial products of the empire in 1924, including contemporary Indian art, as a triumph of enlightened patronage. What better way to publicize the success of the new mural class than to win a prominent place in this lavish imperial showcase? Prima facie this was an uphill task for Solomon because in official circles the Bengal School was synonymous with contemporary art in India. Sir William Rothenstein, head of the Royal College of Art, wrote to his friend Rabindranath Tagore on 6 April 1923: [Laurence] Binyon, [William] Foster & myself are acting as official advisers in the matter of Indian representation in the Fine Art section at next year’s Exhibition. We feel that if your nephews could send over their collection of paintings we could show a portion of them & give our people here a chance of seeing the extent and quality of the portfolios.54 Abanindranath’s disciples, a number of whom headed government art schools, were entrusted with the selection of works for Wembley. A Fine Arts Committee was formed which included two orientalists, O. C. Gangoly, the ideologue of the Bengal School, and Samarendranath Gupta, Deputy Principal of the Mayo School of Art in Lahore. However, in order to appear even-handed, Lionel Heath, Principal of the Mayo School, and Solomon were also nominated to the committee. Once there, with the dedicated support of Lloyd and his own forceful canvassing, Solomon was able to secure a strong representation for Bombay.55 His students were invited to send an entire Indian Room, decorated by the different departments, in a triumphant demonstration of Gesamtkunstwerk. Dhurandhar organized the work, which took nine months to complete. On the eve of his retirement, Lloyd paid a last visit to the school to admire the Indian Room before it was shipped to London.56 Entirely built of Malabar teak, the Indian Room boasted a richly painted ceiling, depicting the Hindu sun god Surya and the eight planets, and was embellished with decorative borders of Ajantan inspiration. 191
  • 178. The Indian Room at the Empire Exhibition, Wembley, 1924, photograph. Though Solomon claimed to have preferred actual frescoes to prove Bombay’s credentials in this area, for convenience of shipping the students used the marouflage technique. However, we must not forget that Solomon’s speciality was marouflage. The seven main oil panels of different dimensions, executed by the senior students, were of individual inspiration to emphasize the range at the risk of sacrificing overall unity. The carpets, furniture and sculptures were contributed by different departments. To put a final touch to the school’s claims to excellence, Mhatre’s celebrated student work, the plaster sculpture To the Temple, originally exhibited in 1896, greeted the visitors at the entrance.57 To coincide with the exhibition, Solomon’s book The Bombay Revival of Indian Art was on sale in London. Before leaving for Wembley, he had sent an inscribed copy to Dhurandhar in appreciation, ‘A souvenir of the sunshine and gloom through which we have passed together since Nov 25th 1918.’58 Ostensibly the story of the developments at the school, its true purpose was to make the case for a rival ‘renaissance’. Each chapter relentlessly trumpeted the superiority of Bombay’s naturalist methods over those of Calcutta. In a comparative account of different mural traditions, the chapter on Bombay was placed judiciously next to ancient Ajanta, inviting the intelligent reader to draw the obvious conclusion.59 Despite Solomon’s efforts, it must be said that orientalism remained the acknowledged style of contemporary Indian art at Wembley. Bombay was only a small part of this vast imperial exercise. The exhibition aimed at catholicity in not excluding any established artist, but the colonial art centres dominated.60 Salon artists from Bombay included Dhurandhar and his colleague A. X. Trindade, the veteran portraitists Pestonji Bomanji and M. F. Pithawala, the ‘Open Airists’ S. L. Haldankar, R. D. Panwalkar and M. K. Parandekar as well as S. P. Agaskar, L. N. Tasker and M. V. Athavale. The 192
  • 179. Asit Haldar, Shiva and Parvati, c. 1924, watercolour on paper. Last Touch by Pestonji was priced at 200 guineas, and the much-praised Glory of Pandharpur by Dhurandhar at £150. The Empire Review described it as a ‘remarkable pictorial record of a no less remarkable scene. This widely known artist gave us . . . a vivid glimpse of a celebrated place . . . The crowd he has depicted . . . with such wonderful fervour.’61 The aristocratic amateur Panth Pratinidhi of Aundh also managed to be included. Punjab was represented by Allah Bukhsh, Thakur Singh and A. R. Ashgar, while Calcutta sent members of the Indian Academy of Art, Hemendramath Mazumdar, Jamini Roy and B. C. Law. The orientalist heavyweights included Gaganendranath, Abanindranath and his disciples, Kshitindranath Majumdar, Nandalal Bose, Sailendranath Dey, Sarada Ukil, Asit Haldar and K. Venkatappa, as well as the younger generation, namely Samarendranath Gupta, Roop Krishna, Bireswar Sen and the precocious Deviprosad Roy Chowdhury. We have already encountered his self-portrait (p. 169) and Lotus Pond (p. 30) shown at Wembley. His supple, erotically charged figures were a departure from the Bengal School that anticipated his powerful fleshy sculptures.62 The prominent orientalists from outside Bengal were Samuel Fyzee-Rahamin and Abdur Rahman Chughtai. The ‘naïve’ paintings of Sunayani Devi, who was by now a modernist icon, also featured at Wembley, as well as the work of the Andhran Damerla Rama Rao. Mukul Dey, already a familiar figure in the art world of London, was entrusted with decorating the exhibition site with murals, receiving wide publicity in the process. Atul Bose, who was at the Royal Academy at the time, was also invited, possibly by Dey, to decorate the exhibition pavilion. His refusal to do so caused a lasting enmity between them.63 The contemporary Indian art section was well covered in the press. In Rupam, Vasudev Metta gave a favourable account of Bengal’s contribution.64 In the Empire Review, Lionel Heath, Principal of Lahore art school, paid a tribute to the Tagores as the main artistic inspiration in India, while singling out the independent orientalist from Lahore, Abdur Rahman Chughtai, for his ‘beauty of line and composition . . . ’.65 The 193
  • 180. Studio, the oldest ally of the orientalists, invited their chief ideologue, O. C. Gangoly, to review the show. Refusing to acknowledge the presence of any other style, Gangoly repeated what had become a well-worn cliché: ‘the coining of types from the inner vision, untrammelled by the limitations of a living model, is a distinguishing feature of orientalism’.66 Gangoly then proceeds to play courtier to his imperial patrons: It is said that the supreme significance of the British connection in India is to help modern India to recover the glories of her ancient culture. In the sphere of art, the sleeping princess is opening her eyes to the golden touch of British sympathy. She appears to have sent precious jewels to add to the lustre of the Imperial crown.67 The Bengal Government under Lord Ronaldshay (now the Marquess of Zetland) had been the champion of the Bengal School whose achievements seemed to be self-evident in Wembley. In Rothenstein’s letter of 6 April we learn of plans to acquire the works of the Bengal School at Wembley ‘for a national museum’ in London.68 A letter from the members of the India Society was published in Indian Art and Letters, backing the purchase of these works for a nominal sum of £200 to be the nucleus of a permanent gallery of modern Indian art in London. It was signed by powerful figures, including its President, Sir Francis Younghusband, intrepid explorer, ruthless imperialist and a devotee of Eastern spirituality, as well as E. B. Havell and Lord Carmichael, former LieutenantGovernor of Bengal.69 Wembley was the first grand display of imperial patronage in which Bombay received considerable recognition but it still had an uphill task against the orientalist hold on Western imagination. the battle for the new delhi commission Wembley became a battleground for the rival schools of Bengal and Bombay. Havell penned a scathing attack in Indian Art and Letters on the ‘schoolboyish’ work of the Bombay students. They, he complained in Rupam, filled nearly half the gallery, the remaining space being divided between Bengal and the Punjab. However, in spite of the unsympathetic atmosphere in which they are placed, a few of the exhibits of the Bengali artists stand out from the rest and dominate the whole Gallery as the work of artists who have something to tell which is worth telling, who are sure of themselves and of their art – artists who have ‘arrived’.70 Solomon visited London in 1924 ostensibly to attend the empire spectacle but also to win over the India Society, the redoubt of orientalism which had a ‘casting vote’ in the decision on the New Delhi murals. On 23 194
  • 181. October he addressed the Society, countering Lord Ronaldshay who had recently reminded the Society of the importance of the Bengal School. Solomon concentrated on two of Bombay’s claims: they were the first to discover Ajanta and they had a systematic training in sculpture, both of which qualified them for their ‘alternative’ mural project. In addition, Solomon’s Royal Academy experience of figure study reinforced the existing Indian talent for decorative murals, correcting the tendency to ‘overspiritualize’. Offering economic reasons for the present artistic stagnation in Bombay, he demanded that Bombay be made the ‘spokesman for Indian artists’, in India’s artistic revival.71 A conference on future government art policy centring on state patronage, organized by the India Society, was held at Wembley on Monday, 2 June 1924. Recently ennobled Lord Lloyd and Solomon dominated the conference from the start, since the orientalists and their wellwishers had been unprepared for the onslaught planned by the duo. Only Rothenstein raised a lone voice of protest.72 Chairing the meeting, Sir Francis Younghusband addressed the need to pay attention to the artistic development of India in a tone of benign paternalism. As the chief speaker, Lloyd began by re-affirming his faith ‘in the Indian artist and in the value on his mission to the world’, in a tacit acknowledgement of the orientalist contribution.73 Since the meeting was organized by the India Society, he felt he needed to make this diplomatic gesture towards the Bengal School. Art schools in India, Lloyd reminded his audience, occupied ‘a very unique position, because in that country there exist no salons, or academies, or rather Art Control apart from these institutions’. Lloyd was simply reaffirming the propaganda value of art institutions for the colonial government, a cornerstone of imperial art policy since the 1850s. Despite recent eclecticism, he admitted, the Bengal School had retained its oriental (though not always Indian) flavour, as well as its immediately recognizable conventions. Lloyd then proceeded to expatiate on Bombay’s unique position by invoking Mhatre’s famous work. Except for Calcutta, no other art school practised the fine arts. Not only was the city close to Ajanta but it enjoyed active public patronage, and had a fund of unexpended energy which could be usefully applied to awaken ‘Indian artistic sense’. He readily accepted that Bombay had lost its artistic purpose for a while and took the credit for encouraging ‘Solomon to start murals with stipends and strong life study’ because the murals would compensate for the lack of public art galleries. Lloyd’s talk received the endorsement of the Indian commissioner on the Wembley committee, who was also keen to see Bengal’s monopoly ended.74 Following Lloyd’s ‘temperate’ yet persuasive presentation of Bombay’s case, Solomon introduced his favourite refrain, the success of naturalism at the school: ‘some of the drawings and paintings of the undraped figure compare favourably with some of the best art schools in the West, considering it has been such a short time’.75 Was he causing the ‘de-orientation’ 195
  • 182. of the student body? Solomon reassured his audience: ‘No – there is no fear of that. They are being taught to copy not Europe but nature, and Nature cannot be a faulty teacher.’76 It is worth pondering that until the 1950s, nature was considered by art critics to be a neutral domain that needed to be reproduced faithfully in art, a notion of the unbiased ‘innocent’ eye that has been seriously questioned in the post-war years.77 The high point of the session was the passing of the Prix de Delhi resolution proposed by Lloyd and seconded by Solomon, an idea that had originated with Lloyd’s friend Lutyens, as we have seen. The prize was conceived along the lines of the French Prix de Rome, the successful candidates spending three to four years at a central postgraduate institution, a kind of tropical Villa Medici. These trained students could then be utilized for decorating the public buildings of the new capital. A second resolution was passed aiming to prevent Indian art from being confined to one school, which implied Bengal though it was not mentioned by name. O. C. Gangoly described the Prix de Delhi resolution in Rupam as grossly inadequate, demanding a complete revamping of art education (perhaps wishing to see a more thoroughgoing orientalism in art schools). Dismissing Solomon’s claim that Bombay enjoyed an enlightened public patronage, Gangoly repeated his idée fixe of inviting the government to assume the role of an enlightened patron ‘in the absence of a cultured public in India’.78 At Wembley, Solomon had the satisfaction of ensuring the success of his proposals. Let us now retrace our steps to the events that led to the Prix de Delhi. In 1916, Lutyens, we may recall, had presented a memorandum on the decoration of his buildings by Indian artists to the New Delhi Committee, accompanied by a note on craftsmanship by Baker. When Solomon took up his position in India in 1918, the debates surrounding New Delhi were quite intense given the advanced state of its construction. Lutyens had already visited art schools in India to examine their fitness to embellish his buildings. In 1921, Solomon approached Lutyens to consider the students of the Bombay art school for the Delhi murals. Dhurandhar took the students to Delhi, where they were invited to lunch by the great man. The students were then asked to draw from a piece of Hindu sculpture, kept in an octagonal cabinet in his bungalow. Lutyens’s purpose was to test their competence to carry out the decoration of his buildings.79 Meanwhile Lutyens was having second thoughts about the Indian contribution. On 30 March 1922, he presented a Joint Memorandum with Baker to the New Delhi Committee, elaborating the idea of the Prix de Delhi. It was this that Lloyd had unveiled at Wembley. Significantly, Baker had added a dissenting note in the Memorandum that it did not embody his view of what was essential and of immediate significance. Not only was Baker keen on the Gesamtkunstwerk principles popular in Britain at the time, but he regarded Indian participation in decoration as vital to his buildings. The 1922 Memorandum thus amounted to a com196
  • 183. promise solution in response to the wishes of the New Delhi Committee. Subsequently, in deference to Lutyens, plans for the mural decoration of the Viceroy’s Residence, which was to be Lutyens’s main architectural endeavour, were dropped. Only the Viceroy’s Council Room would display a map in oils showing the full extent of the empire.80 Why did Lutyens change his mind? This had partly to do with his own aesthetic preference even in his English domestic buildings since he discouraged any contribution of painters and sculptors except under the strictest supervision. He had also accepted the New Delhi commission on condition that his architecture followed a severe Neo-classical style.81 More intriguingly, Lutyens began to display a growing anxiety about the Indian artists’ ability to decorate his buildings. Indeed, his own outlook was one of the reasons for Baker’s eventual rift with him. During their travels through India, Lutyens and Baker paid a visit to the Tagores, the ‘ideal community of culture’. This left a more noticeable mark on Baker, who quotes Rabindranath’s poems movingly in his memoirs. India hardly touched, let alone moved, Sir Edwin perching on his lofty heights. The architect’s unhappy conjugal life, exacerbated by Emily’s infatuation with the adolescent Indian ‘messiah’ Krishnamurti, may have had something to do with his insensitivity. Lutyens’s feelings are captured in a letter, probably not meant to be sent, mocking what he saw as the pretensions of an Indian artist (perhaps Samuel Fyzee-Rahamin) who wished to be employed in New Delhi: My Dear Michael, (May I drop the Angelo?) I thank you so much for your letter. The only remark I can make is what a pity it is you cannot design, draw, or observe.82 Indeed, the only Indian artist he ever showed warmth towards was the academic painter Atul Bose, who was invited to sketch his likeness. Baker was ultimately responsible for the decorative experiments in seven rooms of the Imperial Secretariat, representing Indian history and mythology. From his school days Baker had been open ‘to the influences of foreign ideas and methods’.83 As he confides in his memoirs, ‘content in art, national and human sentiment, and their expression in architecture, seem to me to be of the greatest importance’.84 To bring out the peculiarly ‘Indian’ character of the Raj, he delved into Mughal history and Hindu epics with enthusiasm. A firm believer in craftsmanship and the ‘marriage of the arts’, in 1912 he had stated what was to be the architect’s credo in New Delhi, ‘he [the architect] must so fire the imagination of the painters, sculptors, and craftsmen of the Empire, that they may, interfusing their arts with his, together raise a permanent record of the history, learning, and romance of India’.85 To return to Bombay, Solomon was fully aware of the economic benefits of the New Delhi murals for his students. On 27 February 1923 197
  • 184. Lloyd in his speech to the school fully supported Solomon’s economic argument: But the greatest opportunity of all is the one which your Principal has mentioned at length in his report. And let me assure you at once that I have supported and shall continue to support as strongly as possible your desire to be admitted to a part in the decoration of New Delhi.86 By further suggesting at the Wembley conference in 1924 that those responsible for planning the capital would not wish to thwart the revival of Indian art, he implied that support for Bombay was tantamount to guaranteeing Indian artistic revival. He also informed the conference that Sir Phiroze Sethna, a member of the Indian Council of State from the Bombay Presidency, had already pledged his support at a Council meeting in 1922.87 Following Wembley, the India Society held discussions on the Delhi murals and the Prix de Delhi resolution, the topics that were also debated in the Council of State for India. Speaking at the India Society, Lord Birkenhead, Secretary of State for India, lent his support to the Wembley resolutions, but felt the need to limit the damage caused to the orientalists. After stressing the non-political nature of the Society, he reminded his audience of the contribution the Tagores had made to Indian culture.88 The lecture was widely reported in the Indian press, prompting the Bombay Chronicle to read a sinister motive in Birkenhead’s talk. On 13 December 1924 it accused the government of arrogance in refusing to listen to Indian opinion (read Bombay opinion) on the mural issue. If its intentions were truly serious, the paper declared, it would heed the suggestions made by Lord Lloyd at Wembley.89 Solomon, who had taken the Bombay public into his confidence before his departure for the Empire Festival, drummed up support for the Wembley resolutions on his return. He addressed the nationalist Art Society of India and the Bombay Architectural Association in order to publicize the Wembley resolutions. Announcing his Wembley success, he declared that the art school’s unfair neglect had at last been rectified by the publicity received at the Empire Exhibition. He painted an optimistic picture of the vast undecorated wall spaces in India waiting to be filled with nationalist murals.90 On Wednesday, 28 January 1925, the Council of State for India considered the resolution of Haroon Jaffer, the honourable member from the Bombay Presidency, to appoint a committee in order to implement Lloyd’s Wembley proposals. These, Jaffer claimed, would promote art throughout the empire, which would also have commercial implications. India was undergoing an artistic renaissance, even though a national art was yet to emerge, and the Raj should provide cultural stability by centralizing artistic enterprises. The call for a central authority to oversee 198
  • 185. artistic progress seems to have been a leitmotiv in discussions in the 1920s. Jaffer’s statement also implied that oriental art had failed to create conditions that would make it truly pan-Indian.91 Sethna, another member from Bombay, added the amendment that the envisaged institute would not engage one permanent principal, but have rotating ones, each in charge of a particular region. This was to demonstrate that Bombay was acting from selfless motives, although he did not hesitate to add that Solomon was the most able among the heads of art schools.92 A. H. Ley, Secretary to the Department of Industry and Labour, the government spokesman on the Council, expressed his reservations about centralization, suggesting that funding should not be shouldered either directly or entirely by the Central Government. His view was that the whole Prix de Delhi question should be examined further by the Standing Advisory Committee of the Department of Industries and Labour, charged with building the capital. This was passed by the Council.93 At the Legislative Assembly session of Friday, 6 March 1925 N. L. Joshi, another Bombay member of the Council, put a question to Sir Bhupendranath Mitra, the government spokesman, on the progress of Lutyens’s 1922 memorandum. Mitra confessed that nothing had as yet been done, promising to consult the Standing Advisory Committee on the matter.94 The next day Mitra gave the following answer to Joshi: although the Government had not yet accepted the Council resolution of January, it would abide by the decision made by Lutyens and others in 1922. On 12 March, following the deliberations in the Legislative Assembly, the Prix de Delhi resolution passed at Wembley was approved, and a small committee was formed to consider it.95 Solomon had received endorsement for his efforts to prevent modern Indian art being a monopoly of Bengal. He also had the satisfaction of seeing the progress of the Prix de Delhi resolution. In anticipation of success, Solomon engaged, as Havell had done before him, a traditional fresco painter from Jaipur to instruct his students. The artist decorated a lunette at the school with earth pigments transported from Jaipur. It was at this time that J. M. Ahivasi, one of the traditional Nathdwara painters in Rajasthan, was admitted to the school. He later won a government scholarship to study traditional mural techniques. His painting, which won the Bombay Art Society gold medal in 1927, was one of the most successful in capturing the ‘flat’ Rajput style (see p. 206).96 The Bombay Chronicle too kept up the pressure on Solomon’s behalf. On 20 March 1925 it fired a salvo against the Government and its chief architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, who had now turned totally against decoration by Indians. Quoting Lutyens’s Memorandum of 1922, it claimed that Bombay had proposed mural decorations for the state buildings long before him. In addition, both Sethna and Jaffer had been pressing for the rights of Indian craftsmen in the Council of State, but their efforts had been stalled by the authorities. Meanwhile, the paper clamed, Lutyens’s 199
  • 186. rejection of Indian decoration was suddenly sprung on the unsuspecting public.97 Solomon and his ally Kanhaiyalal Vakil, the acerbic journalist with the Chronicle, managed to pack the entire Prix de Delhi Committee with members from Bombay, with the sole exception of the stunned O. C. Gangoly. Not only was Sethna on the Committee, but it also had the dominating presence of M. R. Jayakar, a vociferous member of the Legislative Assembly. Jayakar was a high profile Swarajist politician from the Pathare Prabhu caste in Maharastra, a caste to which Dhurandhar and the sculptor Mhatre belonged, as well as S. A. Brelvi, the editor of the Chronicle. To clinch the matter, Vakil was made Secretary of the Committee.98 The Committee met on 2 April 1925 to pass the Prix de Delhi resolution. Its ostensible purpose was to campaign for the Delhi murals to be offered to Indians. But crucially, national art was to be fostered by encouraging regional differences rather than opting for a superficially ‘attractive’ unity, for there was no single definition of oriental art. Centralization was to be prevented by frequent exhibitions not only at the new capital but in the provinces as well. The hidden agenda of this ‘decentralization’ of art was to undermine Bengal’s favoured treatment by the Raj. The Committee decided that the ‘Prix de Delhi ‘ was to be a separate issue from the mural commission itself. This last was to ensure that even if the prize scheme failed (and it eventually did) this would not affect the mural commission for Bombay artists.99 On the same evening in Bombay, a public meeting held at the Parsi Rajakeya Sabha gave an enthusiastic welcome to the resolution. Jayakar made a blistering attack on the ‘rival’ scheme of Lutyens and Baker, dismissing Lutyens as a ‘builder of English country villas’. Vakil followed with an assault on Lutyens. He had meanwhile written to the India Society in London to seek their support for the Indian artists against the architect.100 The Bombay Chronicle described Lutyens’s 1922 scheme as ‘an insult too glaring and obvious to be tolerated by a self-respecting nation’.101 Finally, in November, Solomon forwarded his plan for a central art institution in Delhi, in which postgraduate students from each region would work for two to three years, to the government. Modestly, he nominated himself as its director and Dhurandhar as his deputy, describing him in the memorandum as ‘affable in his manners [with] a distinguished career behind him . . . a member of the Pathare Prabhu caste which has reputation for devotion to art for art’s sake’. He also recommended that Dhurandhar be appointed Superintendent of the Bombay section of the Central Art Institute for a term of three years.102 The institute never saw the light of day. Havell was watching these developments with mounting indignation. Solomon’s success in winning government funds was a glaring reminder of his own failure with public murals. He held Lutyens and Baker personally responsible: 200
  • 187. who as universal providers were commissioned to restore the arts of the Empire, commend these paintings and propose that the same rhythmical formula, which can be adjusted to all the races of mankind, as an ingenious rhymester turns out limericks, shall be taught in an Imperial School of Design at Delhi by European masters who have acquired ‘reputations in a world-arena’.103 Declaring that Abanindranath was not ‘unrecognized in a world-arena’, he blamed circumstances beyond their control that prevented the orientalists from becoming successful mural artists. On 29 August 1925 he dismissed Solomon’s claim that he had the unanimous support of the members of the India Society, remarking that not a single picture of the Bombay art school shown at Wembley had an Indian outlook.104 In the 1927 edition of his classic Indian Sculpture and Painting, Havell once again questioned the legitimacy of the Bombay revival; while professing to admire Indian art, art teachers now sought to impart ‘universal’ principles of art, insisting on a faithful study of nature, ‘through the paraphernalia and technique of modern European academies’. Havell simply disliked Solomon’s particular definition of nature, offering this verdict: ‘The mural paintings of the Government House, Bombay, the latest and technically perhaps the best products of the system, are a facile parody of Leighton’s fresco of The Arts of Peace . . . but they are neither Indian nor true to nature.’105 Between 1929 and 1930 Havell and Solomon’s close ally Vakil engaged in an open feud in the periodical Roopa Lekha. In response to Havell’s letter to the editor dated 1929, complaining that the indifference of the Public Works Department (pwd) towards Indian art was painfully conspicuous in the building of New Delhi, Vakil accused him of an ‘anaemic attachment to ancient canons’.106 Havell rejoined, with some justification, that Vakil’s writings on architecture threw ‘no light on India’s peculiar architectural conditions and needs’. Had the journalist paid attention to Havell’s books, he would have appreciated the problem.107 Not wishing to be branded a déraciné, Vakil protested profusely that not only was he devoted to Havell’s works, but unlike the orientalists, he alone had been trying to put his precepts into practice. On the other hand, his followers have ‘obstructed hitherto all attempts for a systematic, nation-wide, programme for reconstructive efforts’.108 In 1931, Vakil published a damning judgement on orientalism. Its stagnation, Vakil wrote, was caused by its doctrinaire archaism, which had failed to inspire the younger generation. Indian artists were encouraged to appreciate everything – archaeology, iconography, mythology, philosophy, history and theology – all except the values of art. Once again, he claimed that the English art teacher’s followers had stuck to the letter of his inspiration, but not the spirit. Sensing that the feud had gone on long enough, Havell finally extended an olive branch to his opponents, blaming government indifference for the ‘status quo’ in modern Indian art.109 201
  • 188. For their part, the orientalists had not remained silent during the rise of Bombay as an alternative nationalist style which threatened their very existence. As early as 1921, Gangoly had dismissed Solomon’s efforts. Reviewing Solomon’s book The Charm of Indian Art in 1926, he took him to task for daring to use the frivolous word ‘charm’ with regard to Indian art. Questioning the claims of Bombay as the new Ajanta, Gangoly queried, ‘if the Indian artist was as imaginative as claimed by Solomon, why impose life classes on him?’110 In that year, Vakil paid a visit to Calcutta to gain first-hand knowledge of his adversaries. He described the atmosphere in the Tagore residence with a touch of irony as ‘the realm of fancy and beauty where logic and routine purposely fear to tread’.111 He particularly resented the reverential attitude the Tagores seemed to generate in people, though reporting favourably on their endorsement of the newly founded Benaras Hindu University as the best antidote against public indifference to art.112 Rabindranath’s open-mindedness about art made a strong impression on Vakil, whilst Gaganendranath’s Cubist experiments fascinated him. O. C. Gangoly he could not stand, but then they held irreconcilable views. In 1929, at the height of the Bengal–Bombay rivalry, Vakil described Gangoly’s lecture at the Bharat Kala Bhavan in Benaras as full of vague generalizations and lacking any concrete plans.113 However, by the 1930s, the animus had died down considerably and Vakil wrote sympathetically on Gangoly’s lecture at the newly formed Rasa-Mandal, yet another society to rival the established Bombay Art Society.114 the murals of the imperial secretariat In 1927 the Government of India held an open competition for decorating the Imperial Secretariat designed by Herbert Baker with murals. Well primed by Solomon, in January 1928 Dhurandhar paid a visit to Delhi with his students to study at first-hand the architectural plan, elevations and other details. Dhurandhar measured the dimensions of the Law Members’ Chamber, in order to prepare the preliminary pencil, watercolour and oil sketches for the murals. His experience with large aerial drawings for Cecil Burns, followed by the pylons, had equipped him for large-scale work. The deadline for submitting the coloured sketches to the judges was 7 March 1928, which barely left him a month. But capable of working at great speed, he completed four water-colour sketches, each measuring 183 x 30cm. In August the Department of Industries and Labour asked him to submit the preliminary cartoons for the murals. The senior students of Solomon’s mural class also submitted preliminary watercolour sketches to the committee. As widely expected, in 1928 the Government of India, on the recommendation of the Advisory Committee chaired by Sir John Marshall, offered the lion’s share of the murals to Bombay artists, especially the art school.115 In 1928, the government sanctioned fifty lakhs of rupees (5,000,000), of which one lakh 202
  • 189. M. V. Dhurandhar, The cartoon for Stridhanam, Law Members’ Chamber, left, 1929, watercolour on paper. M. V. Dhurandhar, The cartoon for the Stridhanam, Law Members’ Chamber, right, 1929, watercolour on paper. M. V. Dhurandhar, Stridhanam, Law Members’ Chamber, left, 1929, oil on canvas. M. V. Dhurandhar, Stridhanam, Law Members’ Chamber, right, 1929, oil on canvas. 203
  • 190. (100,000) was to be divided among the artists in proportion to their importance. Dhurandhar was entrusted with the important murals in the Law Members’ Chamber, for which he received the handsome fee of 17,000 rupees.116 The government expected Dhurandhar to complete the paintings by September 1929, leaving him approximately a year. Although Dhurandhar was able to keep to the deadline, he suffered ill health and even despaired of completing the work on time. However, after taking several months off from work, he was able to regain his confidence. Dhurandhar was assigned two generous wall spaces in the chamber, each 7.3 m long and 1.5 m wide, divided into three parts, each to accommodate a 2.4 m long canvas. Dhurandhar’s theme was the dispensation of colonial justice: two laws from the Hindu Civil Code, Bride Wealth (stridhanam) and Adoption (datta vidhana), and an example of the Muslim Shariah law, Last Will and Testament. ‘Framing’ these scenes of civil law was an East India Company court scene, celebrating the empire as an impartial upholder of law and justice. These marouflage panels for the Law Members’ Chamber, consisting of over 300 figures, were completed in the third week of July 1929 in his studio, well ahead of schedule. An informal exhibition, on the eve of their transportation to Delhi, was attended by his close allies, including the politician M. R. Jayakar and Vakil. Explaining his success, Dhurandhar made a public statement that his student experience at Ajanta had left a lasting impression, a somewhat unconvincing statement in view of his lifelong love affair with Western art. Dhurandhar’s friezes in the Law Members’ Chamber were praised by Percy Brown for their draughtsmanship, colours and symbolism.117 Dhurandhar personally accompanied the works to Delhi in order to supervise their attachment to the walls with the help of his students. Solomon, who was directing his own mural students in Delhi, congratulated him with the wish that 50 years hence the Maharastran would be known as the Titian of India.118 Solomon’s senior students were awarded the decoration of the North Block of the Secretariat. As a preparation for the murals, special drawing courses, using Dhurandhar’s large drawing of an undraped figure as exemplar, were conducted at the school. Students also studied details from living models and learned to enlarge sketches to scale in order to produce lifesize watercolour cartoons for the murals.119 The upshot of the Lutyens–Baker clash was that only one of the 340 rooms in Lutyens’s vast palace for the Viceroy was adorned with a visual image: an ambitious map in oil colours of the largest empire in the world, designed by Percy Brown, head of the Calcutta art school, and executed by Munshi Gulam Husain of Lucknow with his assistants. The rest of the murals found a home in the North Block of Herbert Baker’s Secretariat, which was conceived as two massive blocks, with myriad chambers, flanking the ceremonial King’s Way. The uppermost impression created 204
  • 191. by the motley subjects was one of conscious Raj attempts to put Hindu, Muslim and Western elements through a paternalist sieve to produce a cultural purée. Miran Baksh, Assistant Principal of the Mayo School of Art in Lahore, and his students decorated the domes of the loggia of the North Conference Room with Quranic inscriptions, sinuous arabesques and Buddhist geese (hamsa). The narrative murals were executed entirely by artists from Bombay. The veteran Rustam Seodia, the first Indian painter to be trained at the Royal Academy, depicted the four seasons (a European version of four, unlike the Indian six). Four additional lunettes sported a cultural mishmash such as an oriental slave market, Bluebeard, Cinderella and stories from Harun al-Rashid.120 Bombay art school’s contribution, including Dhurandhar’s, was mainly in the marouflage (oils) method, introduced by Solomon, though tempera murals were not entirely absent. The South Loggia was in the care of G. P. Fernandes, one of the first students to be trained by Solomon. He used marouflage on the dome but had the versatility to paint the rest in tempera. The lantern of the dome was brightened by the use of colourful costumes for the artisan figures. G. H. Nagarkar, another senior student of Solomon’s, covered the dome, arches and spandrel with an elaborate series on ‘Hindu Aryan life’, represented by welldrawn figures in low-key colours. The lofty dome crowning the North Block was decorated by Solomon’s students under his supervision, with figures representing different periods of Indian history (see The Gupta Period, p. 185). Eight further lunettes were filled mostly with female figures personifying themes of painting, architecture, music, dancing, poetry and drama. A typical lunette, for instance, on the theme of music represented the classical Indian Todi ragini in the manner of miniatures. J. M. Ahivasi from traditional Nathdwara, who painted the lunette ‘Drama’, was versatile enough to range from a Rajasthani miniature style to deeply modelled figures.121 Poetry, fresco lunette, Secretariat, North Block, 1929, oil on canvas. 205
  • 192. J. M. Ahivasi, Message, 1929, tempera on paper. With a few exceptions, the main problem faced by Solomon’s students was their lack of experience in handling large-scale projects of this kind. Solomon tried to rectify this by seeking the assistance of the students of the Architectural School, who helped with the decoration of the dome.122 Nonetheless, the paintings, completed in Bombay and transported to Delhi to be attached to the walls of the Secretariat, did no service to them. Although the individual figures were often attractive, overall the paintings failed to blend in with the surrounding architecture. Frequently the proportions looked distorted from below on account of the great height at which these paintings were placed. Even a senior artist like Seodia, basically an easel painter, lacked experience with heights and large spaces, which required compensatory optical devices. (Exceptionally, one of the most successful with the heights was G. H. Nagarkar.) Yet Solomon was convinced that the Indian students’ ‘love of decoration’ was vindicated in 206
  • 193. G. H. Nagarkar, Vaishya caste, detail from the Ceiling, Secretariat, North Block, 1929, fresco buono. the New Delhi murals. His formula, as we have seen, was to meld Indian decorative talents with Western figure drawing, dismissing the theory that an Indian Art student should be able to evolve a lifesize figure entirely out of his inner consciousness, because he is an Indian, means that his art must degenerate into the repetition of conventions, as did the art of Egypt. There may be a good philosophy in it, but it is not a working proposition.123 The story of the New Delhi murals would not be complete without a consideration of the work of a ‘heavyweight’ from Bombay among the chosen. Trained at the art school earlier in the century, Samuel FyzeeRahamin did not belong to the Solomon coterie and indeed became his implacable enemy. As a wit once quipped, Bombay was not big enough to hold these two supreme egotists. Solomon’s first public clash with FyzeeRahamin took place in 1924, when he approached Solomon with a view to being the acting head during his absence at Wembley. On Dhurandhar’s advice Solomon decided not to recommend him. Feeling slighted, Fyzee-Rahamin started a vendetta against the school in the Times of India. The feud lasted two years, until the weary editor refused to publish any further letters on the subject.124 The Solomon/Fyzee-Rahamin conflict also had a deeper ideological reason. Trained at the Royal Academy under the fashionable portrait painter John Singer Sargent, Fyzee-Rahamin began his career as a successful portrait painter.125 He was among those who sacrificed their lucrative ‘Western’ career under Mahatma Gandhi’s inspiration. However, he did not simply turn out historicist subjects in the manner of Ravi Varma or Herman Muller. Fyzee-Rahamin renounced naturalism in order to revive the two-dimensional character of Rajput painting, somewhat in the 207
  • 194. manner of Bengal. It is difficult to establish the precise date of his conversion. His romantic liaison with the classical singer Atiya Begum in 1913 may have been a catalyst. The artist from the ancient Bene Israel community of Maharastra converted to Islam and added his wife’s surname ‘Fyzee’ to his own. One of the fruits of their joint explorations of the delights of Indian classical music was Music of India, written by the diva and illustrated by the artist in 1925.126 Fyzee-Rahamin enjoyed a high reputation in London in the inter-war years. Having held a successful one-man show at the Goupil Galleries in 1914, he showed his watercolours of Rajput inspiration in 1925 at Arthur Tooth’s Gallery under the rubric ‘Indian Vedic, Mythological and Contemporary Watercolours’. A leading English critic, Herbert Furst, praised his portrait of Gandhi as ‘a masterpiece of characterization’ in Apollo, in one of his several essays on the artist.127 A Ragamala painting from the album Amal i- Faizi-Rahamin was gifted by the industrialist Victor Sassoon to the Tate Gallery. Another, The Rajput Sardar, was acquired by the Tate at the same time.128 Queen Mary lent FyzeeRahamin’s portrait of Veena Sheshanna, the famous musician of Karnataka admired by Venkatappa, to the exhibition of modern Indian art held in London in 1934. The following year, he showed 45 pictures at a one-man show at the Arlington Galleries.129 These works expounded FyzeeRahamin’s vision of artistic nationalism, claiming to offer a viable alternative to both the ‘archaistic’ Bengal School and the ‘Western’ approach of Bombay. However, in a penetrating though favourable review, Furst diagnosed the predicament of the erstwhile pupil of Sargent. The uneven mixture of Western ‘realism’ and flat ‘decorative’ elements appeared to him to indicate a clash of Western and Indian approaches, the artist revealing an acute hesitation in seeking ‘to turn his view into vision’. Sargent’s ‘realist’ training was incompatible with Eastern ‘decorative’ sensibility, concluded Furst, a problem not faced by traditional Mughal artists.130 Fyzee-Rahamin was among those from Bombay selected to decorate the Imperial Secretariat but he carefully distanced himself from Solomon’s entourage. On 17 June 1926, after winning the commission, he published an article, ‘On Indian Art and Burne-Jones’, in the Times of India, questioning the Bombay art school’s nationalist credentials for the murals, holding naturalism to be incompatible with Indian idealism. In passing, he took a dig at J. A. Lalkaka, an academic portraitist belonging to his own generation. In a sarcastic response, Lalkaka demanded to know the ‘message’ emanating from Indian art. His friend Rustam Seodia, one of the 208 Samuel Fyzee-Rahamin, Rajput Sardar, c. 1925, watercolour on paper.
  • 195. Samuel Fyzee-Rahamin, detail figure, Secretariat, North Block, 1929, fresco buono. Samuel Fyzee-Rahamin, Knowledge, Secretariat, North Block, 1929, fresco buono. Delhi muralists, then joined in, commenting that to ‘establish painting methods on the idealistic basis – as according to Fyzee-Rahamin, Indian art was supposed to have been based on it – would be impracticable and ridiculous as the ideas of a red hot communist’.131 Fyzee-Rahamin’s treatment of Hindu and Muslim allegories in a linear style in two domes of the North Block gives us an insight into his particular approach. Aiming to revive the ancient methods of Ajanta and Bagh, ‘and to preserve only the absolute flatness of Oriental art’, Fyzee-Rahamin mentioned having consulted an ancient text on mural techniques, the Karmabuddhisara. Choosing a limited palette based on finely ground precious stones, he applied them straight on to the dry plaster. Fyzee-Rahamin’s four major themes were inspired by the Western allegorical tradition: Justice, Knowledge, Peace and War. Justice, for example, was visualized as a raven-haired, rather Europeanlooking female figure draped in white, standing on a white lotus and holding in her right hand the scales of justice. Following the tradition of symbolic art, Fyzee-Rahamin made the central allegorical figure, such as Knowledge, larger than the ancillary ones. Below the main personifications he painted six seasons in the Sanskrit tradition, in contrast to Seodia’s four seasons of Western inspiration. The smaller dome con209
  • 196. tained the images of the Hindu trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, while the spandrels were adorned with ashtanayikas (eight conventional heroines of ancient Sanskrit literature).132 Furst, this time reviewing Fyzee-Rahamin enthusiastically, observed that the strength of oriental art was its flatness, whereas modern European artists were caught in a dilemma over whether to eliminate depth altogether. However, tradition had collapsed in both East and West and all ‘artists of today come to their task primarily with the intellect, and consequently, with a self-consciousness that prevents them from doing what their forebears were able to do; that is to say, to ply their art as trade naturally, without doubtings and questionings’. Convinced that no genuine Indian style could survive in the cultural tide of colonialism, he welcomed Fyzee-Rahamin’s attempts to create a unified expression in New Delhi that avoided the drawbacks of both Calcutta and Bombay, which was in his view, ‘the only sound alternative’.133 Percy Brown, who also made a careful analysis of the murals in Delhi, complimented the artist on his delicate drawing and painting. Solomon’s cantankerous ally Vakil however rubbished them: ‘they were distinctly Western . . . his figures of women are uniformly wooden [with] apparently no mural feeling in the work . . . ’.134 The murals, on view from 1931 following the inauguration of New Delhi, did not win universal approbation. Baker initially felt that the murals would inspire Indians for generations. He even urged the government to print a small explanatory pamphlet. Arthur Gordon Shoosmith, builder of public edifices in India, criticized the faulty draughtsmanship and cloying romanticism of some of the works.135 And Baker soon had private misgivings. In 1931, the Secretary to the Department of Industry and Labour confided to the President of the Bombay Art Society that Baker had found the work in New Delhi to be ‘very unsatisfactory’ and the outcome of ‘the first impatient efforts’.136 Baker later reflected: In the buildings of New Delhi, where I felt that encouragement should have been given to India’s great traditional art of mural painting, my advice as to the training and selection of artists was not taken, and painters with no thorough training in the difficult technique were for political reasons turned loose and uncontrolled upon my walls, and the architect was ignored.137 As we shall see, this may have been one of the reasons for leaving out both the Bombay art school and the ‘marouflage’ method for the murals of India House, London. 210
  • 197. the india house murals Unquestionably Solomon had pulled off a spectacular coup for his students, which had followed inexorably from the Wembley resolution of 1924. However, during the same period, another important project was being hatched: the decoration of India House at the Aldwych in London. The building was conceived by Sir Atul Chatterjee, the first High Commissioner for India in London, designed by Baker and Gilbert Scott, and completed in 1928. Baker had become good friends with Chatterjee during the period that the Bengali was Minister of Public Works in Delhi. Chatterjee shared Baker’s vision of ‘romancing’ India through her craftsmen and when he was transferred to London, ‘some of the work of artistic expression, [which] we might have done in the Delhi buildings, happily found place on the walls of the India House’.138 Baker and Scott’s attention to the details of Indian history as well as of Indian architecture is evident in the building. As a leading colonial architect, Baker had also been involved with the neighbouring South Africa House. In both projects, the imperial government sought to give scope to the local mural painters. South African artists, Baker concluded, had by and large failed because they produced the work before undergoing rigorous training. The architect was convinced that in order to execute the murals successfully Indian painters required the necessary training.139 On Baker’s advice, Chatterjee approached the government in August 1927 with a scholarship scheme for decorating India House. Sir William Rothenstein, head of the Royal College of Art, was the right person to consult. He had been active in the British mural movement, and had set up an experimental mural studio in the college. Moreover he was a friend of the Tagores as well as of Baker’s. Four successful candidates were to train under him in painting on plaster, followed by a year in Italy studying old masters, before embarking on the actual murals at India House. On completion of the project, these artists could expect further work in the new capital.140 The New Delhi murals had whetted Fyzee-Rahamin’s appetite and he considered himself to be best suited for the London project. Rothenstein was not actually on the selection committee, but his opinion was known to carry weight. Fyzee-Rahamin decided to make a personal plea to him. On 6 March 1928, when the deliberations were going on, Fyzee-Rahamin despatched a letter to him that was a mixture of transparent flattery, moral outrage and blatant self-promotion. He began by suggesting that four young students would be incapable of executing murals along ‘Indian lines’ after only eighteen months experience in England. Continuing in an indignant tone he alleged that the proposal would impede the progress of Indian art because a European training was bound to destroy ‘whatever Indian element may still have remained with them’. Rothenstein, he added flatteringly, was one of the few who knew the importance of preserving the Indian tradition, which would suffer if students were to rush to foreign countries for training.141 Finally appealing 211
  • 198. to the English artist’s good sense, he suggested that the best alternative would be to entrust the work to those who were already experienced in the indigenous tradition. Although a senior artist, Fyzee-Rahamin was even prepared to be ‘retrained’ by Rothenstein in order to obtain the commission. Rothenstein poured cold water on this unwarranted solicitation, disagreeing that ‘a little training’ in European mural decoration would ‘blight’ the Indian spirit. ‘I seem to remember that you yourself claimed that you have been a student of Sargent, yet this has not prevented you from adopting Indian conventions’, he wrote.142 The India House Scheme was publicly announced by the Department of Industries and Labour on 9 November 1928. At an open competition held on 12 March 1929 the selection committee chose, on Rothenstein’s advice, four artists out of some 74 contestants. FyzeeRahamin was shortlisted, along with Seodia, because of their previous work at the Secretariat. However, in the end the committee turned them down because of their seniority and experience. The scholarships were meant to encourage artists in their early or mid-career who would benefit from further training.143 The chosen four were Bengalis: Sudhansu Sekhar Chaudhury, Ranada Ukil, Lalit Mohan Sen and Dhirendra Krishna Deb Barman. Sen, who was a teacher at the government art school in Lucknow, had already completed a mural course at the Royal College in London in 1926. His works had been acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum and Laurence Binyon, Keeper of Oriental Antiquities at the British Museum, had engaged him to copy the ancient frescoes of the Bagh Caves in central India. The other three were all trained in oriental art. A prize-winner at exhibitions, Ukil had learned Indian painting at the government art school in Calcutta in 1922–4, followed by tutelage under Abanindranath. Deb Barman had been a student of Nandalal’s mural class at Santiniketan and had accompanied the poet Tagore to Java. Chaudhury had been in prison as a revolutionary terrorist. After his release, as part of rehabilitation, he took up painting under Abanindranath. One may speculate that his selection was meant to be a magnanimous gesture on the part of the Raj. Although it was denied at the time, the choice of the Bengali artists was swayed by the government policy of balancing different interest groups in India. Because Bombay had swept the board in New Delhi, Bengal was to be placated with India House. In any case, Solomon’s students were preoccupied with the New Delhi murals at this time. As they admitted later, they could not prepare for the competition in the short time at their disposal.144 The four arrived at the Royal College on 23 September 1929. In welcoming them, Rothenstein exhorted them to bring out the Indian quality in their work, for all they lacked was a knowledge of modern techniques. They quickly settled down and gained much from the practical advice of Professor Ernest W. Tristram and E. Michael Dinkel in the mural department. Hitherto they had little experience of working together; yet the 212
  • 199. design made jointly by them for the decoration of the dome of India House was perhaps the most successful of their works.145 One of the artists, Deb Barman, has left us a lively account of his experience in London. At Santiniketan, his teacher Nandalal used to urge students to work in natural surroundings and approach art in a spirit of contemplation. The Royal College was the very opposite, resembling a factory, full of bustle and hubbub, with some 500 extremely keen students jostling for the cramped space. The Bengalis gradually became adept at producing large designs at the college.146 The Times of 30 March 1930 reported Queen Mary’s visit to the college. She was gratified that the Bengalis had ‘kept to the Indian tradition’, purchasing Sen’s work Girl Working in a Potter’s Yard. At a garden party held at Buckingham Palace the artists turned up in white Bengali dhoti and panjabi which was much admired.147 After spending a year at the college, the students visited Florence, Arezzo and Padua in Michael Dinkel’s company to perfect the egg tempera method. Deb Barman was charmed by Florentine maidens, who literally ‘stepped out of the canvases of Raphael and Botticelli’. Later they visited Vienna while Dinkel returned to London. The Bengali artists commenced work at India House on 9 April 1931, coincidentally a few months after the murals of New Delhi were thrown open to the public. A studio was allocated to them in India House where they prepared their preliminary cartoons, measuring between 2.8 m2 and 12/15 m2, with largerthan-life figures. Ten months were spent on designing. The dome posed special problems because of the curvature, a problem that was known to have beset Solomon’s students in New Delhi. Initially, the artists expected to use oils but egg tempera was found to be more suitable as it was supposed to bring out the flat linear quality of oriental art. Twenty-four carat gold paint was lavished on the background.148 The Dome, India House, 1931. 213
  • 200. The Dome, India House, 1931, fresco buono, detail showing the emperor Ashoka’s court. The iconographic programme for India House decoration was as follows: the lunettes in the exhibition Hall on the ground floor by Ranada Ukil and Sudhansu Sekhar Chaudhury represented Hindu and Muslim subjects. Lalit Mohan Sen was assigned a large space in the library, while Deb Barman was in charge of the pendentives of the Octagonal hall on the first floor, where he depicted the four great classes of Hindu society and the four great stages of Hindu life (varnasramadharma). Then followed the decoration of the quadrants. However, the dome was by far the most ambitious as it represented great moments in Indian history, notably the reigns of the Buddhist emperor Ashoka and the Mughal emperor Akbar. According to The Studio, ‘All four artists are united in the design and execution of the decoration of the dome, which is admirable in its effect of colour and as a complete scheme . . . [The] work carried out is a successful example of traditional Indian painting applied to modern use.’149 The art magazine expressed the hope that the whole scheme would see a successful completion. However, before its completion Sir Atul Chatterjee was replaced by Sir Bhupendranath Mitra, the cautious official at the centre of the construction of New Delhi, whom we have encountered before. Rothenstein complained that the new High Commissioner, ‘a financial expert, with no sense of the arts . . . sent for me constantly, fearful always that the painters were idling, and again doubtful of the reasonableness of their claims to payment’.150 For the head of the Royal College, it was a trying situation. Not only were excessive demands made on his time, but he was also expected to act as a policeman. The political climate in India was changing rapidly as well, prompting the government directive that the artists return to India immediately after completing the painting in the dome, and without further work on the project. Rothenstein tried to interest the Indian leaders attending the Round 214
  • 201. The Dome, India House, 1931, fresco buono, detail showing the emperor Akbar’s court. Table Conference in the future of the artists Deb Barman and L. M. Sen, but they had the future of India on their mind. Rothenstein wrote to the Viceroy on behalf of Ranada Ukil and Sudhansu Chaudhury. However, acutely aware of the ugly controversy raging in Bombay, he added that he did not wish to press the claims of the Bengali artists. Lord Willingdon assured him that something would be done for them on their return.151 This never happened. It is quite significant that Deb Barman is silent on the India House work in his later memoirs.152 Baker predictably felt disappointed with the murals, as he had done with the New Delhi ones, expressing this in a letter to Rothenstein, ‘What I did see of their colour I did not think very good. It seems to me that all Indian painters make the vital mistake of following the colour scheme of Ajanta, where, accidentally, I think, and due to decay, browns prevail.’153 Baker had correctly noticed that the general predominance of browns in Ajanta had something to do with the fact that the blues and whites had perished. He was convinced that the close imitation of Ajanta had led to the prevalence of red-earth colour at India House. However, the architect did concede that a good start had been made in restoring India’s ‘great tradition’. In 1930 an exhibition of paintings of the Bombay art school at India House, arranged through the good offices of Chatterjee and the India Society, did nothing to assuage the resentment of Solomon’s allies.154 In 1931 the Times of India unleashed a virulent campaign on the choice of the Bengalis for India House. This led to an acrimonious and protracted exchange between the Times of India, the Bombay Art Society, the India Society of London and the Government of India over claims and counterclaims regarding favouritism towards Bengal that lasted a good part of the year. 215
  • 202. The Times of India alleged a conspiracy between the India Society and the Indian government to deprive Bombay of its legitimate prize. On 6 April 1931, three days before the Bengali artists were to commence their work at India House, the Times of India, mouthpiece of the Bombay artschool faction, issued a warning under the heading, ‘India Society’: ‘Bombay should realize that very intelligent forces are mobilizing in Delhi and London to scoop the big stakes in art revival.’155 When constructive efforts in art education were in their infancy and confined to Bombay, the India Society supported the ‘Prize of Delhi’, alleged the paper, but now Baker was playing fairy godmother to Rothenstein’s Indian mural painting class, while Bombay watched helplessly as its scheme was ‘hijacked’ for the benefit of another province. In an allusion to the celebrated passage in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the paper addressed the Marquess of Zetland and Lord Lytton (a former Governor of Bengal and a former Viceroy), Laurence Binyon, the Keeper of Oriental Art at the British Museum, and Rothenstein ironically as ‘honourable men’. The next day, Lalkaka, who was chosen to copy royal portraits at Windsor, felt obliged to register his own protest.156 On 10 April, under the heading ‘India Society Again’, the Times of India accused the Bengali High Commissioner, Chatterjee, of securing ‘this regrettable family arrangement’. Nor were the four artists spared. Bombay must insist on her rights, concluded the paper sanctimoniously.157 The paper fired the next salvo on 12 April 1931, claiming a sort of ‘copyright’ for Bombay over the ‘invention’ of Indian murals: ‘It is a fact that Bengal did not compete in the first and then most difficult competition, though criticisms have emanated from that province which now wants to join the competition . . . [as] the initial problems of mural painting on a really comprehensive and unusually difficult scale have actually now been solved.’158 On 24 April, the pugnacious Vakil joined the fray, describing the India Society as a reactionary setup and claiming that ‘its pet henchmen, both in London and in India, have prevented many ideas and resisted many reconstructive endeavours for the advancement of art in India’. Forestalling any rebuttal that Bombay had already won the New Delhi commission, he described the ‘hard earned’ commission as a mere ‘earnest of good intentions of the government of India’. Vakil joined in the personal vilification of Chatterjee, Rothenstein and Sir John Marshall, Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India and member of the selection committee.159 The India Society, learning that its members had been libelled in the Times of India, issued a formal protest on 6 May, pointing out that it never backed any specific school but only gave general encouragement to Indian art. Nor did it take responsibility for opinions expressed by individual members, reminding the paper that it was through the Society’s efforts that the exhibition of Bombay art students at India House in the Aldwych had been possible.160 There were activities behind the scenes as well. On 7 May, Alan Green, Deputy High Commissioner for India, had sent a confidential let216
  • 203. ter to Wiles, regretting that the whole affair was based on a misunderstanding, but then ‘it would be too much to expect a journalist to acquire correct information from public records’. Green was especially peeved that the accusation followed closely on the heels of Chatterjee’s generosity to the Bombay art school. He went so far as to suggest that the very limitations of Solomon’s ‘marouflage’ murals in Delhi had led to the decision to train Indians in proper frescoes at the Royal College. ‘I think you will agree’, Green offered, ‘that marouflage is a somewhat unworthy form of mural decor.’ However, as a comforting gesture, he assured Bombay that there was still plenty of room in India House to cover.161 Wiles, who also happened to be a member of the India Society in London, was seen by the art-school faction as an ally of the Society, and complicit in helping the Bengalis. Feeling obliged to clear his name, Wiles sought public clarification about the India House commission from the President of the Society.162 Younghusband wrote to the Times of India on 20 May denying any favouritism shown by the Society. The paper however refused to accept this, assuming a tone of outraged reasonableness: ‘we never asked for more than that Bombay should be allowed to participate with other provinces in the work in London and New Delhi’. Complaining further that the committee for the forthcoming Burlington House exhibition of modern Indian art consisted almost entirely of orientalists, it refused to accept that Bombay had received any special favours in merely being invited to exhibit at India House. Two days later, the combative Jayakar joined the fray, firing at random at a number of favourite targets. He felt it an affront that Indian artists were never shown with contemporary British artists, demanding that the planned museum of ancient Indian art in London must expand to include modern Indian art. The recent publication on Ajanta by Laurence Binyon, a friend of the orientalists, was dismissed as lacking first-hand experience. The Maharastran finally accused Chatterjee of rigging the India House project in favour of Bengalis, the ‘art litterateurs, dilettantes and connoisseurs, who have unfortunately made of Indian art elsewhere a symbol of preciosity and practical ineffectiveness’.163 The next day T. S. Shilton, Secretary to the Department of Industries and Labour responsible for the Delhi and London projects, wrote to Wiles, ostensibly to correct certain ‘misunderstandings’, but in fact to answer Solomon’s faction. In the first of the two government schemes, he pointed out, Bombay had swept the board. In the second, the four Bengalis were chosen at an open competition. Shilton made no bones about the underlying political reason, the balancing of different interest groups in India: You will thus see that equal opportunities were afforded to all artists and schools of art in India in both the above schemes and there is no justification at all for any heart burning in Bombay over the award of scholarships to Bengali artists. In fact so far as the Government 217
  • 204. of India are concerned there has been much greater work given to Bombay School of Art than to Bengal.164 Shilton then gleefully informed Wiles: ‘You may be pleased to hear that we have had a protest from Sir Herbert Baker against the decoration of the ceilings and walls of a building designed by him with paintings which he describes as “very unsatisfactory” and to which he refers as “first impatient efforts”. This is of course not for publication.’165 On 29 May 1931, Sir Francis Younghusband, President of the India Society, wrote to George Wiles, President of the Bombay Art Society, insisting that no council member of the India Society was on the selection committee. Wiles decided to go public in the Times of India the very same day. Objecting to the character assassination of individuals, especially of high officials, Wiles sought to cut the ground from under Solomon’s feet. He pointed out that many artists both in India and abroad had doubted whether the methods of training followed by the Bombay School were consistent with the ideals of Indian painting.166 He also revealed that the vociferous Sethna and Jayakar were both on the Finance Committee of the Assembly when the measure was passed, but not a squeak was heard from them. Sethna’s later claim that the presence of the majority of Bombay artists in the New Delhi project was a mere accident was plain poppycock. The issue was not allowed to die a natural death, for it had opened old sores. Though disappointed at failing to obtain the India House commission, in the Times of India of 4 June 1931, Fyzee-Rahamin aired his own grudge against Solomon, which he had harboured since 1924. His own orientalism, which sought, like the Bengal School and the Gujarati artists, to revive the indigenous tradition of flat decorative painting, had little patience with Bombay’s ‘naturalist’ revival. While Rahamin accepted that the Government communiqué had misled the artists and the public in not making clear that the project was meant for young artists, he deplored the lack of public interest in obtaining the commission for Bombay. He also criticized Jayakar’s conduct as unbecoming in favouring the art school rather than Bombay artists in general, adding: Mr Jayakar’s assumption that I tried and failed in the competition is amusing . . . I need no certificate from the dilettante and school masters who at their best only entertain the novice. My attempt to compete, as Sir William Rothenstein himself put it, could not be in order to learn from him, but to protect the reputation of Indian art in Europe by representing the best.167 This provoked Sir Phiroze Sethna, Member of the Council of State, to retort: [Fyzee-Rahamin] as your readers must know, avails every opportuni218
  • 205. ty to attack the art school and its supporters, including myself. As a committee member, I must put right mistakes. The condition was that they must train under Rothenstein and Fyzee-Rahamin was willing to do that. So Jayakar was right to point out his own selfish motives in trying to deprive others. An artist of fifty cannot improve much and young men were taken. As a member of the government, Sethna also felt obliged to defend Chatterjee against baseless allegations of corruption. Somewhat mistakenly, in his letter of 29 May to the Times of India, he also objected to Wiles’s criticism of the art school, expressing surprise that Wiles, who was Finance Secretary to the Bombay Government, was attacking another government institution. Wiles felt obliged to deny the charge vigorously in the paper of 7 June.168 Realizing his mistake, Sethna apologized to Wiles in a personal letter, admitting that he had been misled by the Bombay Chronicle and FyzeeRahamin’s letter. But he urged Wiles to write to the Times of India in support of the Bombay artists, adding, ‘I intend to move a resolution for more help to Indian art and we should all come together.’169 On 13 July, Wiles informed Younghusband of deliberate distortions by the Times of India.170 On 30 March 1932, at the agm of the Bombay Art Society, it was strenuously denied that the institution was a mouthpiece of the India Society. If some individual members had expressed reservations about the art school, this was not a result of collusion. Lalkaka, who attended the meeting, made another vociferous protest. As for Rothenstein, he was disillusioned with the whole India House affair, showing signs of strain in this clash of two very different cultural expectations, Indian and European. As he complained to Tagore in a rather lofty vein, ‘The paintings [of India House] are among the best I think, of any Indian mural paintings; and these young men have learned something I think: how to work together . . . But I wonder how much aesthetic sense there is in truth among your countrymen.’171 Bombay’s parochialism had soured his view. He also felt used by the government and abused from different quarters for all the trouble he had taken. The long feud between Bombay and Calcutta over the murals had an amusing sequel. On 15 March 1932, at a Council of State session, Sethna presented a resolution that if the Delhi murals were deemed satisfactory, further work should be offered to Indian artists. Although he was careful not to demand the commission exclusively for Bombay, he suggested that because of its seniority and pre-eminence as well as the burden carried by it during the campaign for New Delhi murals, it ought to be given special consideration. He was astute enough not to deny the success of the India House murals, but suggested that their importance was diminished by the fact they were outside India.172 Sethna’s move stirred a hornet’s nest. While J. C. Banerjea, a member of the Council from Bengal, supported his general plea for Indian artists, he took this chance to air Bengal’s grievance. Describing Bombay as neither Indian nor modern, but a ‘queer 219
  • 206. amalgam’, he blamed Bombay’s propaganda and provincial rivalry for Bengal’s failure to obtain a just share in the Delhi murals. And yet, he asserted, Bengal had created the renaissance and had moreover Nandalal Bose as a muralist.173 J. A. Shillady, Secretary to the Department of Industries and Labour, responded to Sethna with sarcasm, reminding the house of his blatantly partisan statement made in 1924, ‘the work shall be entrusted to Indian artists, and preferably to the Bombay School of Arts’. Sethna had also been one of the members to complain that Bombay artists could not compete in the India House scheme because they were engaged in the New Delhi murals. This caused some merriment in the house, for it demonstrated to the members that Bombay was not starved of commissions. The resolution was then withdrawn. Shillady, speaking for the government, reassured the members that, funds permitting, it had no objection to helping artists.174 solomon’s MAROUFLAGE: the final balance sheet How successful was Solomon’s mural project and its claims to introduce a new Indian style? Judged by the economic criteria, Solomon was remarkably successful. He ensured the livelihood of his students, thereby reversing Bombay art school’s decline in the early years of the last century. Solomon’s artistic revival also had the ambitions of ‘restoring the traditional entente’ between the painter and the architect as a critical element in India’s artistic revival.175 His much-trumpeted entente through marouflage, which consisted of pasting large canvas panels onto the walls, was dismissed by the Deputy High Commissioner for India as ‘a somewhat unworthy form of mural décor’.176 The late nineteenth-century view of proper murals as painting directly on the walls, as expounded by Cennini for instance, may seem a trifle limited to us today. After all, the great Caravaggio produced canvases to be attached to the walls as part of architectural decoration.177 Nonetheless, one of the serious problems faced by Solomon was that the panels for the Secretariat were pre-painted in Bombay and then taken to Delhi, which contributed to their failure to blend in with the overall architectural design. Their defective proportions arose from the fact that there was no understanding of the architectural peculiarities of the site even though Solomon had consulted students of architecture. Several artists were not even aware that the great height of the dome and the large spaces covered required compensating optical devices. Hence, one of the persistent criticisms of the murals was that, while the details were often attractive enough, overall the works suffered from a lack of experience in working with large spaces.178 Solomon seems to have been aware of marouflage’s weakness, and paid Havell a backhanded compliment by engaging a traditional Jaipur mural painter for his students. But this had only a limited success, since Solomon himself lacked personal expertise in this technique. Only J. M. Ahivasi from Nathdwara 220
  • 207. in Rajasthan, and Fyzee-Rahamin, who was not part of the faction and appears to have consulted an ancient Sanskrit text, had success in this area. What about Solomon’s claim that he had created a new ‘national’ style? Here too we are on a slippery ground. He persistently broadcast that a sound understanding of nature, in other words, Western illusionist drawing, enhanced the decorative instincts of Indian students by improving their representational skills. The difference, as perceived by Solomon, lay in the use of naturalistic figures based on a knowledge of anatomy, as opposed to the flat ‘mental’ images of the Bengal School. Yet, when we examine the works of Bombay we cannot escape the fact that they were not that very different from oriental art. Indeed if one were to describe paintings from Solomon’s mural class in a few words, it would be personifications à la Mucha overlaid with traces of Ajanta and the Bengal School. solomon and enemies within While Solomon achieved national success by his brilliant tactics, his own position within Bombay was far from secure. Among local celebrities, Fyzee-Rahamin took every occasion to denigrate the school in his lectures in Bombay and abroad well into the 1930s. On 27 December 1930 in his talk at the Students’ Brotherhood Hall in London on the ‘eternal’ and ‘divine’ nonrepresentational mainsprings of Indian art, he did not fail to cast aspersions on the Bombay art school.179 Following his Wembley triumph of 1924, Solomon resumed the restructuring of the school.180 In 1925, the University Reform Committee, chaired by Jayakar, proposed a Fine Arts Faculty that would include the art school. Solomon was initially in favour, as this would have raised the status of art students, but quite inexplicably he backed out, claiming that ‘an ounce of practice was better than tons of theory’.181 Between 1926 and 1928 his old enemies, Hogarth, the Inspector of Drawing, and P. Lorry, the Director of Public Instruction, began plotting to crush him. The dpi ordered an audit of the school with a view to forcing Solomon’s early retirement. This, however, backfired. Following an enquiry instigated by Jayakar, Hogarth himself had no option but to take early retirement. In the process, Solomon won total independence from the Education Department in all curriculum and policy matters. In 1928, the Governor, Frederick Sykes, announced at a meeting: ‘In order that the School of Art may develop on its own lines, we have decided that from April 1 next the School of Art is to be constituted into a separate Department, independent of the Education Department.’182 This marked a momentous change, as the school, hitherto an adjunct of industry, became an independent academy, completing a process that had begun way back in the 1880s. The final threat to Solomon and the art school came in 1932. Faced with an acute financial crisis, a committee appointed by the Bombay government reached the conclusion that the province could not afford the luxury of a fine art institution, whereas its valuable land could be sold for profit. After 221
  • 208. considering the alternatives, namely charging a higher school fee or staff redundancies, the committee recommended its closure unless it could be taken over by the Federal Government, which was due to be established.183 This drastic recommendation may have in part been prompted by the continued hostility of the dpi. In response, Jayakar launched a campaign to save the school. The Bombay Art Society was conspicuously lukewarm in its support, possibly because of the India House affair. The campaign succeeded, earning the school a reprieve.184 By now Solomon had lost his appetite for controversy. In 1935, the year before his retirement, he penned a letter of thanks to the India Society for all the help extended to the art school.185 Let us finally consider briefly the wider nationalist politics affecting the art school in the crucial decades of the 1920s and ’30s. As the cultural politics of the New Delhi murals were unfolding, the Gandhian movement bit deeply into the daily routine of this colonial institution. In 1921, in nearby Gujarat, in the wake of the Non-Cooperation movement launched by the Mahatma, widespread riots broke out in large towns, culminating in the Chauri Chaura massacre.186 Many students donned khadi (homespun cloth), not only as a way of declaring solidarity with the Congress but also to defy the school authorities. Dhurandhar was a natural target because of his close association with the government, a number of them boycotting his classes. However, most students lacked commitment. As they encountered no opposition from the teachers, they soon returned to class.187 During the Civil Disobedience of 1928–30, Gandhi was thrown into prison, Jayakar being one of the leaders negotiating with the Raj on his behalf. It was an explosive period, hardly a time for students to concentrate on art. Public meetings were convened every day; demonstrations were taken out every morning; many students joined the picket lines. The Congress boycott of law courts, universities, legislative assemblies and other imperial institutions was remarkably effective. The movement peaked in the summer of 1930 with a general strike that virtually paralysed the government.188 A few students initially came to the school. However, from the third day students, led by one Khadilkar, commenced their picketing. Dhurandhar was then the Acting Director. When he learned that Khadilkar was threatening students who refused to join the strike, he successfully reined him in by appealing to his nationalist sentiment and reminding him of his previous kindness to him. According to Dhurandhar, Khadilkar was harassing a fellow Indian who had reached a senior position.189 Dhurandhar’s memoirs claim that the civil agitation failed to disrupt school activities. As a civil servant, he felt it his duty to maintain discipline at the school during the unrest. His contribution to the nationalist struggle, he believed, was through his art and the government commissions he won for his students. He saw no contradiction between his professional ambitions and political conscience, which gives us a glimpse into the complexities of Indian responses to the anti-colonial struggle. Dhurandhar’s confidence sprang partly from the example of the nationalist politicians 222
  • 209. who were not averse to joining the provincial governments from the 1920s onwards. The peak of power-sharing was reached in 1935 when the Congress formed ministries in the majority of the provinces in India. Even in 1939, when the Congress withdrew its co-operation with the government after it was snubbed by the Viceroy over the declaration of war, other political groups rushed in to co-operate with the regime. For instance, Vasantrao Dabholkar, who had Dhurandhar’s vote, was one such non-Congress politician who stood at the Council of State elections at this time.190 In the 1940s, this accommodation between the Raj and the nationalist politicians became increasingly difficult. Political conditions worsened, polarizing opinions and putting intolerable burdens on Indian loyalties. Few students at the art school in Bombay remained untouched by the tales of the heroism of the Indian National Army in Southeast Asia or the mutiny of the Indian naval ratings and their subsequent repression. A moving testament to this period is a series of paintings produced by the students of the art school inspired by these events.191 the swansong of imperial patronage It is appropriate that I end the section on Raj patronage with the exhibition of modern Indian art in Britain in 1934, the largest ever to be held in Britain until the Festival of India in 1982. It was foreshadowed by an exhibition of decorative designs, paintings, architectural drawings, modellings, copies of murals and other products of the Bombay art school which opened at India House on 8 October 1930. As the catalogue claimed, there ‘does not at present exist enough demand for painting in the archaic style [orientalism] to refuse to give training also in portraiture and figure painting’.192 The Morning Post singled out for praise The Creation of Tilottama by D. G. Badigar, a former student of Solomon, who was now studying at the Royal Academy. Not only had this work been enlarged to scale, opined the paper, ‘which confirmed Solomon’s successful training, but its exquisite decorative design was not marked by the distortions and monotonous colours of the Bengal School’.193 Queen Mary, who paid a visit to the show, expressed an interest in Dhurandhar’s sketch for the New Delhi mural Stridhanam (Bride Wealth). The sketch belonged to Leslie Wilson, the former Governor of Bombay, who felt obliged to present it to her. As Wilson cherished the work, Dhurandhar made another copy for him.194 Dhirendra Krishna Deb Barman, one of the artists working on the India House murals at the time, ruefully admitted the success of Solomon’s propaganda in England.195 The India Society had been accused by Solomon’s group of being an obscurantist body obsessed with ancient Indian art. In 1934, it sought to prove them wrong by hosting an immensely ambitious exhibition of modern Indian art at the Burlington Galleries. By this time an undeclared truce had broken out between Bombay and Bengal, leaving the orientalists once again in power. The enterprising brothers Barada and Ranada 223
  • 210. Ukil (one of the Indian House four) were given charge of organizing the event.196 There were elaborate preparations, a lot of diplomatic flurries and much advance publicity in the press, journalists closely following the brothers’ every move. Notices appeared even in the distant American Art News on 20 June 1932, not to mention the English papers. Both Vakil and Solomon visited London before the exhibition to safeguard Bombay’s interests, but they were now in a more conciliatory mood.197 The opening of the exhibition on Monday 10 December was carefully orchestrated to squeeze in as much publicity as possible. To underscore noblesse oblige, the Duchess of York, who formally opened the exhibition, and the Maharajkumari (princess) of Burdwan posed for press photographs. The President of the Royal Academy was in attendance as the chief guest. The Marquess of Zetland, the loyal friend of the Bengal School, introduced the exhibition. In 1930, he had urged the members of the Round Table Conference, who had met in London to decide the political fate of India, not to neglect art.198 The secretary of the India Society expressed his own satisfaction with the flowering of two vigorous renaissances under imperial patronage though once more reaffirming Bengal’s pre-eminence.199 Notices appeared in a variety of papers, notably the Illustrated London News, The Times, The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph and Manchester Guardian, the last admonishing Indians to revive the glories of ancient art by resisting the lures of Western art.200 The 500 works at Burlington House included a number of large format paintings. Augmented by works from the collections of the Queen, the Marquess of Zetland and quite a few Maharajas, the show represented virtually all the reputed Indian artists of older and younger generations that spanned three decades of the twentieth century. The only surprising omission was the controversial Amrita SherGil.201 The Times, which reviewed the show in extenso, failed to discover any masterpieces, though it recognized the abundance of talent, not to mention Bengal’s primacy. Although hesitating to speak with authority on the orientalists’ symbolic colours, since that subject was ‘not to be touched by anybody unversed in Indian philosophy’, it felt dismayed by their misty gradations borrowed from Japan. Gaganendranath ‘excited the greatest interest’, while admiration for Rabindranath had by now been reduced to mere curiosity.202 Ramananda Chatterjee, the veteran journalist from India, who had done much to shape Indian taste, covered the show for his Modern Review.203 In the wake of this grand spectacle of empire, which had opened with so much fanfare, the memory of Indian artists in Britain gradually faded away. The political situation in India was deteriorating even as 224 A. C. Rodrigues, Scene, 1942, watercolour on paper.
  • 211. M. S. Kerkar, Stretcher, 1943, watercolour on paper. the war clouds started gathering on the distant European horizon. This particular swansong of imperial patronage had all the panoply of a state occasion before Raj politics entered its final meltdown. The government expected the grand exhibition to demonstrate the limited popularity of the Congress and highlight its cordial relations with the hereditary princes who trusted the Raj more than the nationalists. For the artists this was the last demonstration of ambitious government patronage. From this moment artists would rely on private patronage and their own resources rather than on the endorsement of the colonial regime. 225
  • 212. Epilogue The year 1947 marked the end of the British Empire and the creation of modern India and Pakistan in the midst of anarchy and communal violence. It also brought an end to the debates on art as a vehicle for nationalist resistance. The heroic age of primitivism, the most compelling voice of modernism in India, had in effect ended in 1941. Two of its chief protagonists died in that year, Rabindranath Tagore at the age of 79, and Amrita Sher-Gil at 28. The surviving member of the trio, Jamini Roy, only added refinements to the striking artistic language that he had perfected in the 1930s. However, younger artists such as Ramkinkar and Benodebehari continued well into the 1940s, as did some of the figurative artists, notably sculptor Deviprosad Roy Chowdhury. How can we sum up this defining period, which threw up larger than life figures that changed the face of Indian art through their compelling visions of Indian modernity? Their modernity was, as we know, viewed through a wide range of artistic lenses in resistance to colonial rule. By 1905 the nationalist Bengal School had rejected the Victorian history painting of the previous era as the handmaiden of imperialism, constructing their own historicism by an amalgam of flat non-illusionist styles. In contrast, most of the artists of the 1920s and ’30s disavowed the historicist master narrative, which had obsessed the previous generation. They sited their nation, not in the historic past, but in the local and the present, which allowed for multiple aesthetic possibilities. The debate between the modernists and the naturalists in this period was essentially within the broader spectrum of global modernity, as they drew their inspiration from international figures such as Tagore, Gandhi, Marx and Freud. When the discourse of modernism came to India in the 1920s, its flexible radical language provided the artists with a new tool to construct their images of anti-colonial resistance. Modernism’s most fervent advocates, the Indian primitivists, proposed a far-reaching critique of colonial modernity, drawing upon peasant culture in an affirmation of the local and the present. Yet their anti-urban, anti-capitalist counter-modernity had global implications. Interestingly, even the naturalists, who were 226
  • 213. L. P. Khora, Independence Day, 15 August 1947, 1947, watercolour on paper. sceptical of the modernist discourse, believed in the ‘here’ and the ‘now’ rather than the past. However their engagement with modernity was negotiated through the universal ‘rational’ order of illusionist art and their faith in the ultimate triumph of the toiling masses as a vindication of the inexorable human progress. The key primitivists, Tagore, Sher-Gil and Roy, did not spawn any devoted followers. They were individualists, shunning groups and movements, but making their ideological differences with the naturalists and orientalists clear through their own work. In the 1940s, the last decade of the empire, the differences between the primitivists and their adversaries began to fuse as artists, writers and intellectuals were drawn into the vortex of war, famine and peasant revolts in the dying empire. The art of this decade reflected less colonial anxieties than global anti-fascist resistance. The Communists declared their solidarity with the ‘proletariat’, viewing anti-colonial struggle as part of a wider resistance to world capitalism. Communist artists produced pamphlets depicting the struggle of the masses, in a style reminiscent of Käthe Kollwitz, Mexican popular prints and Russian ‘agit prop’ art. The momentous events taking place could not but affect the young. as we see in a series of paintings by the students of the Bombay art school glorifying Indian resistance to the empire. Against this background two artistic agendas emerged that brought out the tensions between avant-garde formalism and socialist radicalism, both having global implications. The Calcutta Group, a band of ‘progressive’ artists, consciously adopted an experimental approach to painting, looking to Paris as their source of inspiration. The Progressive Artists of Bombay, also formalists, briefly flirted with Communism but remained sympathetic to social causes. They were initiated into international modernism by three refugees from Vienna who were resident in the city in the 1940s: Walter Langhammer, Rudi von Leyden and Emmanuel Schlesinger, who helped wean these artists away from the provincial modernism of Britain. The Progressive Artists were some of the main architects of Indian modernism, which came to fruition later in Nehruvian India – another story. In this book I have tried to bring home to the reader the complex interactions of a whole set of competing, not to say contradictory, tendencies which modernity gave rise to, infusing local colours into what was a global phenomenon. 227
  • 214. References The Bengali calendar used here bears the following relationship to the Christian one, for instance 1352 = 1945ad. Prologue 1 J.-P. Sartre, Black Orpheus, trans. S. W. Allen (Paris, 1951), p. 39, quoted in R. Linley, ‘Wifredo Lam: Painter of Negritude’, Art History, ii/4 (December 1988), p. 533. See L. S. Sims, Wifredo Lam and the International Avant-Garde, 1923–1982 (Austin, tx, 2002). Césaire was an iconic West Indian poet of Negritude. 2 W. G. Archer, India and Modern Art (London, 1959), may be taken as a classic example of the study of non-Western art essentially as a derivative enterprise. In an essay on ‘decentring modernism’, to be published in Art Bulletin (Intervention series), I develop the relationship of power and authority between the West and its others as expressed in histories of non-Western avant-garde art and possible ways of thinking beyond current practices. 3 W. Rubin, ‘Primitivism’ in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern (New York, 1984). I do not need to rehearse here the arguments and rebuttals in this controversy except to add that Hal Foster, ‘The “Primitive” Unconscious of Modern Art’, October, xxxiv (Fall 1985), pp. 45–70, and James Clifford, ‘Histories of the Tribal and the Modern’, Art in America (April 1985), pp. 164–215, offer trenchant critiques of the Western art historical canon. For my own work on Western representations of Indian art, see Much Maligned Monsters: History of Western Reactions to Indian Art (Oxford 1977), especially chap. vi. See also critique of Eurocentric discourses of modernism by Latin American critics, R. A. Greeley, ‘Modernism: What El Norte Can Learn from Latin America’, Art Journal (Winter 2005), pp. 82–93. 4 M. Baxandall, Patterns of Intention (Berkeley, ca, 1985), pp. 85ff., on the passage: ‘influence is a curse of art criticism primarily because of wrong-headed grammatical prejudice about who is the agent and who the patient: it seems to reverse the active-passive relation which the historical actor [the artist] experiences and the inferential 228 beholder will wish to take into account’. 5 Thomas Crow, The Intelligence of Art (Chapel Hill, nc, and London, 1999). Elizabeth Cropper in The Domenichino Affair (New Haven, ct, 2006) persuades us of the limitations of applying Vasarian teleological concepts of mimesis and authorship. 6 J. Clark, ‘Open and Closed Discourses of Modernity in Asian Art’, in Modernity in Asian Art, ed. J. Clark (Sydney, nsw, 1993), pp. 1–17. Clark applies Umberto Eco’s theory of semiotics to the process of knowledge transfer, distinguishing between open and closed systems of discourses. 7 A. Stokes, ‘Reflections on the Nude’, The Critical Writings of Adrian Stokes (London, 1978), pp. 336–7. I am indebted to Stephen Bann for the reference. Criticism of the avantgarde, particularly with an engagement with Marxism, is a vast field, going back to Walter Benjamin and Carl Einstein with Clement Greenberg’s influential defence of the aesthetics of autonomy in the 1930s providing the benchmark through the 1950s and ’60s. In the post-war era, the powerful and nuanced works of the October group of postmodern critics, Rosalind Krauss and Hal Foster, social historians of art, namely T. J. Clark and Thomas Crow, and the theoreticians of visual culture have defined the field. I cannot do more than briefly acknowledge the importance of these works here. 8 For a revisionist discussion of this problem in Renaissance art, see Emilia e Marche nel Renascimento: L’Identita Visiva della ‘Periferia’, curated by Giancarla Periti (Azzano San Paolo, 2005), introduction by Pier Luigi De Vecchi and Giancarla Periti, pp. 7–11. Taking up Enrico Castelnuovo and Carlo Ginsberg’s essay, ‘Centre and Periphery’, in History of Italian Art, i, trans. C. Bianchini and C. Dorey, preface by P. Burke (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 29–112, Periti argues that the centre–periphery relationship in art is not spatial but art historical, which articulates hierarchical power relations. 9 Crow, The Intelligence of Art. 10 Keith Moxey, ‘Discipline of the Visual: Art History, Visual Studies and Globalization’, in Genre, 36 (2003), pp. 429–48. N. G. Canclini, Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity, trans. C. Chiappari and S. Lopez
  • 215. 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 (Minneapolis, mn, 1995). G. Kapur, ‘When was Modernism in Indian Art?’, in When Was Modernism? Essays on Contemporary Cultural Practice in India (New Delhi, 2000), pp. 298–9. P. Bourdieu, ‘The Production of Belief: Contributions to an Economy of Symbolic Goods’, trans. R. Nice, in Media, Culture and Society: A Critical Reader, ed. R. Collins et al. (London, 1986), pp. 154–5. G. Mosquera, ‘Modernity and Africana: Wilfredo Lam on his Island’, in Fondació Joan Miró, cited in Sims, Wilfredo Lam, p. 174. In ‘Border Lives: The Art of the Present’, in The Location of Culture (London, 1994), pp. 1–9, H. K. Bhabha, a proponent of the subversive function of hybridity, states: ‘[The] interstitial passage between fixed identifications opens up the possibility of a cultural hybridity that entertains difference without an assumed or imposed hierarchy.’ See the critics of hybridity, Journal of American Folklore, Special Issue: Theorising the Hybrid, cxii/445 (Summer 1999), especially Andrew Causey’s thoughtful paper. See the critical engagement with these issues in K. Mercer, ed., Cosmopolitan Modernisms (Cambridge, ma, 2005). T. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago, il, 1962). This is especially true of the Greeks, despised by the conquering Romans for their lack of valour, and yet revered by them for their art and intellect. R. Schwab, La Renaissance orientale (Paris, 1950). On G. F. Hamann and the German rejection of Western Enlightenment, see F. Manuel, The Eighteenth Century Confronts the Gods (Cambridge, ma, 1959). Today it is intimately connected with post-modern and post-colonial thought. See J. J. Clarke, Oriental Enlightenment: The Encounter Between Asian and Western Thought (London, 1997), who argues persuasively that any serious history of Western thought must take note of the impact of philosophical ideas from India, China and Japan on the West. See also W. Halbfass, India and Europe: An Essay in Understanding (New York, 1988). On Heidegger and Eastern thought, see infra, p. 341. J. Head and S. L. Cranston, Reincarnation, an East West Anthology (New York, 1961), on Tolstoy’s interest in Indian thought. See L. P. Sihare on Bergson and Worringer, p. 30. E. Forgács, The Bauhaus Idea and Bauhaus Politics, trans. J. Bátki (Budapest, 1995), p. 78. P. Mitter, Art and Nationalism in Colonial India, 1850–1922: Occidental Orientations (Cambridge, 1994). See also Tapati Guha-Thakurta, The Making of a New ‘Indian’ Art: Artists, Aesthetics and Nationalism in Bengal, c. 1850–1920 (Cambridge, 1992), and more recently a work on Bengal covering the period from the last decade of the Raj to independent India until the 1970s: Nicolas Nercam, Peindre au Bengale, 1939–1977 (Paris, 2006), which deals with national identity and post-independence ‘progressive’ art. C. Harrison and P. Wood, eds, Art in Theory (Oxford, 1992), p. 3. Mitter, Art and Nationalism. A. Abbas, ‘Cosmopolitan Descriptions: Shanghai and Hong Kong’, in Public Culture, xii/3 (Fall 2000), p. 775. Cosmopolitanism is now seen to be a global phenomenon. See its critiques in the same issue. 23 P. Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (Princeton, nj, 1993), speaks of two spaces, the inner spiritual and the outer secular space of colonial Bengal. On the socio-cultural phenomenon of the Bengali Bhadralok and their role in creating an autonomous culture in Calcutta, see S. Chaudhuri, Calcutta: The Living City, i (The Past) (Delhi, 1990). 24 Mitter, Art and Nationalism, p. 268, and J. Broomfield, Elite Conflict in a Plural Society: Twentieth-Century Bengal (Berkeley, ca, 1968). On the Viennese intelligentsia, see C. E. Shorske, Fin de Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture (Cambridge, 1979). 25 The exception was Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941), the widely travelled poet, composer, playwright, essayist, political thinker and renaissance personality. See K. Kripalani, Rabindranath Tagore (New York, 1962), as well as R. Chatterjee, ed., The Golden Book of Tagore (Calcutta, 1931), on the international tribute paid on his seventieth birthday. The other cosmopolitan was the polyglot essayist Nirad C. Chaudhuri, whose intellectual development took place in colonial Bengal. One of the sites of such negotiations of modernity was the ‘adda’, which is a cross between leisurely intellectual conversation and local gossip among close friends, similar in spirit to French café culture. Dipesh Chakrabarty, ‘Adda: A History of Sociality’, in Provincialising Europe (New Delhi, 2001), chap. 7, p. 180, speaks of the practice ‘as a struggle to be at home in modernity’. He considers ‘adda’ as a Bengali intellectual meetingpoint. I would add that the addas were sites that allowed virtual cosmopolitans to function in colonial Calcutta. 26 I extend Benedict Anderson’s imagined community of print culture as the component of modern nationalism to the global scene. The members of this intellectual community will never know most of their fellow-members personally: Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins of Nationalism (London, 1983). 27 In the 1930s when the younger modernist poets in Calcutta, Bishnu Dey and Sudhindranath Datta, moved out of Tagore’s shadow, they turned to French literature, and poets such as Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Stephane Mallarmé and Paul Valéry. 28 D. Pan, Primitive Renaissance (Lincoln, ne, and London, 2001), on whose excellent work I base some of my arguments. 29 Indian artists were by no means the only ones to valorize primitivism. The Cuban artist of mixed Chinese, African and Spanish ancestry, Wifredo Lam, offered a critique of colonalism by combining Western primitivist aesthetic with contemporary African elements. His Afro-Cuban themes were a form of political assertion: Sims, Wifredo Lam, 1, p. 223. 30 Pan, Primitive Renaissance, p. 112. 31 See R. Rumold and O. K. Werkmeister, The Ideological Crisis of Expressionism (Columbia, sc, 1999), and especially C. W. Haxthausen’s article, ‘A Critical Illusion: “Expressionism” in the Writings of Wilhelm Hausenstein’, pp. 169–91. 229
  • 216. 32 B. Elliott and J.-A. Wallace, Women Artists and Writers (London, 1994), mention that their strategy of exposing the particular discourse of modernism as a matter of power relations aims at empowering women artists on the margins. Their ideas could well apply to my discussion here. See a recent work on the nationalist art of ‘marginal’ Europeans such as the Slavs in relation to the avant-garde: S. A. Mansbach, Standing in Tempest: Painters of the Hungarian Avant-garde (Cambridge, ma, 1991). 1. The Formalist Prelude 1 S. Roy, ‘Shilpe Atyukti’, Prabasi (Asvin 1321 [1914]), pp. 94–101. The great Indian director Satyajit Ray’s father, Roy was a brilliant satirist and creator of nonsense poems, dying of the tropical disease kala azar at age 32. On his contribution to the graphic arts, see P. Mitter, Art and Nationalism in Colonial India, 1850–1922: Occidental Orientations (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 133–6. 2 ‘Gleanings: Automatic Drawing as a First Aid to the Artist’, Modern Review, xxi/1 (January 1917), pp. 63–5. My special thanks to Ted Dalziel of the Library, National Gallery of Art, Washington, dc, who took considerable trouble to obtain the journal for me. 3 Tagore’s novels, Gora (1909) and Gharey Bairey (1916), and his lectures on nationalism delivered in Japan in 1916 condemned jingoism and extreme nationalism. His letters from Japan in 1916 urged his nephews to travel to broaden their minds: K. Kripalani, Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography (Calcutta, 1962); he took his protégé Nandalal to Japan in 1924 to help broaden his mind and invited a Polish and a Japanese artist to teach at his university at Santiniketan. On Kramrisch, see B. Stoler Miller, ed., Exploring India’s Sacred Art (New Delhi, 1994), pp. 3–29. 4 B. K. Sarkar, ‘The Aesthetics of Young India’, Rupam, ix (January 1922), pp. 8–24. Agastya (Canopus), ‘Aesthetics of Young India: A Rejoinder’, Rupam, ix (January 1922), pp. 24–7. In The Futurism of Young Asia (Berlin, 1923), Sarkar offered a blueprint for the modernization of India. Listed as one of the pioneering sociologists, Sarkar was a fascinating character whose contribution to social science is only now being recognized (see http://www.multiworld.org/ m_versity-/articles/alatas.htm. of Syed farid Alatas, accessed 16 April 2007) Among a number of his papers published in different European languages in Europe and the us, he put forward a universalist view repudiating racial difference, accepting only historically contingent ones. Despite his own views, Sarkar generously secured the German National Gallery in Berlin for the Bengal School exhibition, see O. C. Gangoly, Bharat Shilpa o Amar Katha (Calcutta, 1969), p. 313. Gangoly also mentions that the German Orientalist Wilhelm Cohn was one of the sponsors of the show. 5 Sarkar, ‘Aesthetics’, pp. 16–18. See also his Futurism of Young Asia. In his lectures in the West, Sarkar criticized European Orientalists for creating a false dichotomy between East and West. Stephen Hay, Asian Ideas of East and West (Cambridge, ma, 1970), p. 260, however comments 230 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 that Sarkar evinced deep ambivalence about modernism and the ‘Asian Spirit’. C. Bell, ‘The Aesthetic Hypothesis’, in Art (London, 1914), excerpted in C. Harrison and P. Wood, eds, Art in Theory (Oxford, 1992), p. 116. On Fry and Bell’s influence in India, see Giles Tillotson, ‘A Painter of Concern’, India International Centre Quarterly, xxiv/4 (Winter 1997), pp. 57–72. Agastya, ‘Aesthetics of Young India: A Rejoinder’, p. 25. B. Ghosh, ‘Panditer Lage Dhanda’, Bijoli (15 Vaisakh 1329/28 April 1922). The sage Agastya was Gangoly’s nom de guerre. I am indebted to Mark Haxthausen for pointing this out. S. Kramrisch, ‘The Aesthetics of Young India: A Rejoinder’, Rupam, x (April 1922), pp. 65–6; ‘An Indian Cubist’, Rupam, xi (July 1922), pp. 107–9; In the early twentieth century, colonial representations of Indian art were challenged by critics led by E. B. Havell and A. Coomaraswamy (P. Mitter, Much Maligned Monsters: History of Western Reactions to Indian Art [Oxford 1977], chap. vi). Kramrisch in ‘Indian Art and Europe’, Rupam, xi (July 1922), pp. 81–6, rejected the colonial idea that the higher aspects of ancient Indian art were derived from Greece and Rome, an intervention that later flowered into her major studies of Indian art. Johannes Itten’s notes for 7 May 1921: ‘Rabindranath Tagore tritt an seinem 60. Geburtstag mit einem Programm aus Rezitationen und liedern im Deutschen Nationaltheater auf’; and 1 October 1922–March 1923, ‘BauhausAusstellung in der Society of Oriental Art in Kalkutta; Leitung: Dr Abanindranath Tagore (ein Neffe der Dichter’s). Organisation in Weimer durch Georg Muche’, in Das frühe Bauhaus und Johannes Itten (catalogue of exhibition celebrating 75 years of Bauhaus, Weimar), (Ost Fildern-Ruit, 1994), pp. 516, 518. R. K. Wick, Teaching at the Bauhaus (Stuttgart, 2000), p. 82. The works, expected to remain there from October 1922 until March 1923, never returned to Europe. The whole saga is recounted by R. Parimoo, The Art of the Three Tagores (Baroda, 1973), pp. 168–9. ‘Internationale Kunstausstellung Das Bauhaus, Kalkutta, 1.12.1922–1.1.1923’, in Paul Klee: Catalogue Raisonné, Paul Klee Foundation, Museum of Fine Arts, iii (Berne and London, 1999). I owe the reference to the Calcutta show to C. R. Haxthausen. Catalogue of the 14th Annual Exhibition of the Indian Society of Oriental Art (Calcutta, December 1922), International Section: Modern Phases of Western Art, Introduction by St K (Stella Kramrisch), pp. 21–3. I am grateful to Arif Rahman Chughtai for making the catalogue available for me to study. There were also 5 pen-and-ink sketches, 14 watercolours and 6 woodcuts by Lyonel Feininger, 5 watercolours, one pastel and one coloured painting [?], 5 action pictures (examples of teaching method) and 11 lithographs of the Tyrolese landscape by Johannes Itten, 29 woodcuts by Gerhard Marcks, 9 etchings by George Muche, 7 watercolours by Lothar Schreyer, works by Margit Tery-Adler, Sophie Körner and 49 ‘practice [student] work in the course of instruction’. The recent Director of the Bauhaus Museum at Weimar states that the student works were
  • 217. 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 priced between £5 and £15 and the work of Sophie Körner was £3. I am not sure if it is given in the current price or of that period (‘Legend of the Bauhaus’ in The Hindu, online edition, Sunday, 8 July 2001.) More intriguingly, even Klee and Kandinsky priced their works between £15 and £20, which may suggest that these were their less important works. However, there were people who knew their precise worth and the works never returned to Europe, causing Itten to complain until his death (as expressed by his widow in Zurich). On the disappearance of the works, see Parimoo, The Three Tagores. The Statesman and The Englishman of 15 December 1922. Review in Rupam, xiii/xiv (January–June 1923), pp. 14–18. The Catalogue, pp. 3–4. S. Ringbom, ‘Art in the Age of the Great Spiritual’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes (1966), p. 389. A. Tagore, Bageswari Shilpa Prabandhabali (Calcutta, 1962), p. 119. This lecture was given around 1922–3. S. Kramrisch, ‘An Indian Cubist’, Rupam, xi (July 1922), pp. 107–9. See Mitter, Art and Nationalism, Epilogue, on the political reasons for the decline of orientalism. A review of Bauhaus works appeared in Rupam, xiii/xiv (January–June 1923), p. 18. The impact of Cubism in Bengal in this period is attested in a letter of Nandalal’s, see note 22. Obituary tributes to the Marquess of Zetland and William Rothenstein in Visva Bharati Quarterly, n.s., iv/1 (May 1938), pp. 1–4. The exhibition of Gaganendranath’s works at the Academy of Fine Arts, Calcutta, on 26 May 1976, suggests early dates for his work such as 1888. See Mitter, Art and Nationalism, p. 275 on William Rothenstein’s admiration for his uncle Jyotirindranath’s phrenological portraits; Rothenstein had them published (Twenty-five Collotypes from the Original Drawings by Jyotirindranath Tagore [London, 1914]). D. Chatterjee, Gaganendranath Tagore (New Delhi, 1964), p. 15; Purnima Devi, Thakur Badir Gogonthakur (Calcutta, 1381), p. 29, and Mitter, Art and Nationalism, on his cartoons, pp. 174–5 and colour pl. xi. Also S. Bandopadhaya, Gogonendranath Thakur (Calcutta, 1972). Rupam, xi (July 1922), pp. 108–9. Because of his interest in dynamic forms he eventually turned to the Futurists. Issues of derivation and originality were also being debated at this time, as is evident from comments in the next pages of Rupam. Devi, Thakur Badir Gogonthakur, p. 131, mentions his explorations of Cubism. The Englishman (28 December 1922). Postcard from Gaganendranath to his ex-pupil Roop Krishna in Lahore. Postmark illegible but it belongs to a group written in the early 1920s. Obverse shows a ‘Cubist’ painting. Text on reverse: I am sending you a sample of my cubism. What do you think of it? (Sotheby Sale, 15 October 1984, lot 13). On Gaganendranath, also Nandalal to Asit Haldar, 29 June 1922, ‘While thinking of Cubism I was reminded of something. When the potter turns his wheel the centre appears to be simultaneously whirling and yet remaining still’ (letter deposited at Bharat Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan). Indian Daily News (10 January 1924). The Englishman (5 January 1924). 25 The Statesman (6 January 1924). 26 Forward (6 January 1924). 27 Forward (19 December 1925); The Englishman (29 January 1925, 19 December 1925). 28 B. K. Sarkar, ‘Tendencies of Modern Indian Art’, Review of the 17th Annual Exhibition of the Indian Society of Oriental Art, Rupam, xxvi (1926). 29 The Englishman (4 September 1928). 30 Welfare (24 September 1928). 31 Devi, Thakur Badir Gogonthakur, pp. 151–3; ‘Indian Society of Oriental Art Exhibition’, The Englishman (24 December 1929). 32 Bombay Chronicle (30 June 1926). 33 Forward (6 January 1924); E. H. Gombrich, The Sense of Order: A Study in the Psychology of Decorative Art (London, 1979), p. 149. 34 Bombay Chronicle (30 June 1926). 35 Obituary tributes to the Marquess of Zetland and William Rothenstein in Visva Bharati Quarterly, iv/i, pp. 1–4. 36 Welfare (24 September 1928). One of the more informed reviews of Gaganendranath’s 1928 retrospective at the Indian Society of Oriental Art acknowledges Roger Fry’s importance. See T. Steele, Alfred Orage and the Leeds Arts Club (Aldershot, 1990). I am grateful to Sheila Rowbotham for the reference. 37 In ‘A Painter of Concern’, Giles Tillotson describes this aspect of Roger Fry’s work as a divorce between formalism and emotional life. I think he is right but the most interesting thing is Fry’s own ambivalence with regard to pictorial representation (India International Centre Quarterly, xxiv/4 [Winter 1997], pp. 57–72). L. D. Dalrymple Henderson, ‘Mysticism as the “Tie that Binds”: The Case of Edward Carpenter and Modernism’, Art Journal, xlvi (1987), pp. 29–37, discusses the mystic elements in Fry’s early seminal Essay in Aesthetics (1909). Fry was impressed with Edward Carpenter’s mystical ideas about art being the expression of emotions of the imaginative life. But Fry’s ideas underwent a change from 1909 to 1920, when he published his retrospective selection of essays (Vision and Design, London 1920). Although he seems to agree with Bell’s formalist notion of significant form he also contradicts it in terms of his early ideas, which he never quite gave up. In sum, what he disliked was ‘anecdotal’ Victorian art, but about ‘representation’ as such he was more ambivalent than Bell. 38 W. G. Archer, India and Modern Art (London, 1959), p. 43. 39 See M. Cheetham, The Rhetoric of Purity (Cambridge, 1991). 40 The Vertical Man: A Study in Primitive Indian Sculpture (London, 1947). On his patronizing condescension towards Indian nationalism, see India and Modern Art, pp. 34–7. These primitivist sentiments, we know, were disseminated by Roger Fry, Clive Bell and later in Herbert Read, the conduits for modernism in the colonies. 41 On the essentializing myth of the ‘good’ docile primitive in Raj policy while suppressing actual tribal uprising, D. Rycroft, Representing Rebellion: Visual Aspects of CounterInsurgency in Colonial India (New Delhi, 2006). 42 Similar sentiments were first expressed by Lord Curzon in 1905 (see Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 235, 377 and 231
  • 218. passim), who dismissed the Bengali nationalists as being unrepresentative. 43 Archer, India and Modern Art, p. 43. 44 Golding, J. Cubism: A History and an Analysis, 1907–1914 (London, 1968). Franz Marc and Lyonel Feininger created an imaginary world of animals and of architecture respectively while the left-wing revolutionary Georg Grosz put fragmentations and a distorted perspective at the disposal of a powerful political narrative, Homage to Oskar Panizza. Their contents were more revolutionary than those of the classic Cubists. My thanks to C. W. Haxthausen for our discussions on these issues, which confirmed several of my ideas. 45 Max Osborn’s review, cited in Rupam, xv/xvi (July–December 1923), p. 74. On Osborn covering the Berlin Sezession of 1911, Kunstchronik, xxii/25 (5 May 1911), col. 385–90. On Osborn, D. E. Gordon, ‘On the Origin of the Word “Expressionism”’, Journal of Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, xxix (1966), p. 371, note 17. 2. The Indian Discourse of Primitivism 1 Dey, Reverend Lalbehari, Govinda Samanta, or the History of a Bengal Raiyat, 2 vols (Calcutta, 1874), p. 4. The great nineteenth-century novelist Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay often set his stories in the village but not with peasant characters. 2 From the website bengalonline.sitemarvel.com/saratchandra.html (accessed 3 October 2006), Bengali Greats Series, The Immortal Wordsmith of Bengal. Source: Sarat Sahitya Samagra, 1993. Prem Chand’s Godan, his famous novel on rural poverty and despair, was published in the year of his death. 3 Tagore’s poem in the Chaitali collection, addressing civilization, demands that primitive forest life be returned to India in exchange for the colonial city, see Rabindra Rachanabali, i (Calcutta, 1961), p. 550. 4 Tagore, Rabindra Rachanabali, xi, p. 589. ‘Tapoban’ was originally published in Prabasi in 1316 (1909). On his holistic ideal of education, see below, chapter Two, ii. 5 J. Rosselli, ‘The Self-Image of Effeteness: Physical Education and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Bengal’, Past and Present, lxxxvi (February 1980), pp. 121–48. On Bengali idealization of Santal sexuality, for instance, S. Bandopadhaya, Shilpi Ramkinkaralapchari (Kolkata, 1994), p. 4; Tagore’s poems, ‘Saontal Meye’ (the Santal Girl) in Bithika, Rabindra Rachanabali, iii, pp. 294–6, or on the Oraon tribal girl, in the poem ‘Shyamali’ (The Dark Beauty), where he comments admiringly on their tradition of free love, Rabindra Rachanabali, iii, pp. 435–6. 6 Classic photographs of tribal women were taken in the 1940s by Sunil Janah. To photograph the tribals, Janah lived with them, recording their uninhibited lifestyle: S. Janah, The Second Creature (Calcutta, 1949). 7 D. Rycroft, Representing Rebellion (Oxford, 2006). On the pioneering anthropologist, see R. Guha, Savaging the Civilized: Verrier Elwin, His Tribals and India (Chicago, 1999). 232 8 D. C. Ghose, ‘Some Aspects of Bengal Folk Art’, Lalit Kala Contemporary, xxix (1952), pp. 38–9. J. Jain, Kalighat Painting: Images from a Changing World (Ahmedabad, 1999); Susan Bean, ‘The Kalighat Style: Triumph of Invention and Tradition’, catalogue of the exhibition ‘Kalighat Pat’, Arts India (New York, 2003). Bean quotes Mukul Dey’s 1932 article that he coined the phrase Kalighat in 1910, but Kramrisch used the phrase as early as 1925 (see below, note 11). On folk art at nationalist fairs in the 1860s, Mitter, Art and Nationalism, p. 222. Rudyard Kipling’s father, Lockwood Kipling, was the first collector of this art. Mrs S. C. Belnos, Twenty-Four Plates Illustrative of Hindu and European Manners in Bengal (London, 1832), p. 14, who was probably the first elite artist to draw attention to it, illustrated a Kalighat painting hanging in a ‘native hut’. 9 K. Samanta, Nandalal (Bolpur, 1982), i, pp. 393–8. 10 Banglar Brata (Calcutta, 1919), was translated by Andrée Karpélès and T. M. Chatterjee into French as L’Alpona: ou les décorations rituelles au Bengale (Paris, 1922). 11 S. Kramrisch, ‘Sunayani Devi’, Der Cicerone, Halbmonatsschrift für Künstler, Kunstfreude und Sammler, xvii (1925), I Teil, p, 88. 12 A. Ghosh, ‘Old Bengal Paintings’, Rupam, xxvii/xxviii (July–October 1926), pp. 98–103, and Ghose, ‘Some Aspects of Bengal Folk Art’, pp. 38–9. Indeed there is some suggestion of Matisse and Léger having seen Kalighat paintings. 13 Quoted in W. G. Archer, India and Modern Art (London, 1959), p. 101. V. Dey and J. Irwin, Journal of Indian Society of Oriental Art (1944), p. 33. Dutt’s major collection was shown at an exhibition (The Statesman, 23 March 1932). 14 In 1942, in Cyril Connolly’s Horizon, Ajit Mookerjee described the Kalighat painters’ ‘collective’ as representing people’s rebellion against elite decadence and extolling its modernist character: ‘Kalighat Folk Painters’, Horizon, v/30 (June 1942), pp. 417–19. 15 E. W. Said, ‘Orientalism Reconsidered’, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays (Cambridge, ma, 2000), p. 203. Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, La Mentalité primitive (Paris, 1922), proposed the notion of the ‘primitive mind’ as the pre-rational stage of the modern mind, which was also Freud’s view. 16 S. Hiller, The Myth of Primitivism: Perspectives on Art (London, 1991), especially her excellent introduction and persuasive chapters by Daniel Miller and Rasheed Araeen. This penetrating work lays bare the hegemonic aspects of colonial primitivism. On the controversy over the moma exhibition, see Hal Foster, supra, Prologue n.3. S. Errington, The Death of Authentic Primitive Art and Other Tales of Progress (Berkeley, ca, 1998). 17 H. Foster, ‘Primitive Scenes’, Critical Inquiry, xx/1 (Autumn 1993), pp. 71–2. 18 The primitivist critique of civilization went back to the ancient Greeks and Romans but returned with added force in the colonial period: G. Boas, Primitivism and Related Ideas in the Middle Ages (Baltimore, md, 1948) and A. O. Lovejoy and G. Boas, Primitivism and Related Ideas in Antiquity (Baltimore, md, 1997). 19 M. K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj (Ahmedabad, 1938), reprint of 1909 translation by himself from Gujarati. One of the influ-
  • 219. 20 21 22 23 24 ences on his primitivism was Ruskin, a great critic of Western industrial capitalism. M. K. Gandhi, Collected Works, xlix (Delhi, 1958–84), p. 298. In contrast to Gandhi, Marx’s critique of capitalism was trapped within the teleological foundations of Western ideology. E. F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful (London, 1973), a critique of the Western model of development, was based on Gandhian intermediate technology. Gandhi launched his peasant movement in 1918 in Champaran in Bihar and Kheda in Gujarat, thus creating a rural power base for his Non-Cooperation movement of 1921: J. M. Brown, Gandhi’s Rise to Power (Cambridge, 1972). Zhang Xianglong, ‘Heidegger’s View of Language and the Lao-Zhuang Fao-Language’, trans. S. C. Angle in Chinese Philosophy in an Era of Globalization, ed. R. R. Wang (Albany, ny, 2004). See Martin Heidegger, On the Way to Language (New York, 1982). I am in Joel Kupperman’s debt for the reference. F. Pellizzi, ‘Anthropology and Primitivism’, Res, xliv (Autumn 2003), pp. 8–9. Much work has been done in tracing the complex role of primitivism in modern European art. See the pioneering R. Goldwater, Primitivism in Modern Painting (New York, 1938), on the moma catalogue, Foster, supra, Prologue, n.3, and C. Rhodes, Primitivism and Modern Art (London, 1994). For a useful summary of primitivism, P. Mitter, ‘Primitivism’, in Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology, ed. D. Levinson and M. Ember, iii (New York, 1996), pp. 1029–32. David Pan, The Primitive Renaissance (Lincoln, ne, and London, 2001), pp. 100–01, is particularly perceptive on this issue. He questions the conventional formalist wisdom about primitivism and non-representational art that tends to underplay its cultural importance. Tagore’s perception in the West as a prophet of spirituality found followers and detractors in equal numbers, which ultimately proved to be his downfall. Even if full of ambiguities and redolent of nationalist essentialism, the expressionist dream of restoring a unified and integrated community shared certain ideas of the anti-colonial primitivists (see C. W. Haxthausen, ‘A Critical Illusion: “Expressionism” in the Writings of Wilhelm Hausenstein’, in R. Rumold and O. K. Werkmeister, The Ideological Crisis of Expressionism [Columbia, mo, 1999], pp. 171–191). S. Ringbom, ‘Art in the Age of the Great Spiritual’, Journal of Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, xxix (1966), pp. 386–418. L. Sihare, ‘Oriental Influences on Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian, 1909–1917’, dissertation completed under Robert Goldwater at New York University, 1967. While his scholarship is impressively exhaustive, his combative partisanship is over the top. Kandinsky was called ‘un prince mongol’ by the influential critic Will Grohmann because of his interest in Theosophy. James J. Sweeney, ‘Piet Mondrian’, Partisan Review, xi/2 (1944), pp. 173–6; Peter Fingensten, ‘Spirituality, Mysticism and Non-Objective Art’, Art Journal, xxi (Fall 1961), pp. 2–6. Ringbom was a contributor to the major show organized by M. Tuchman, The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890–1985, exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 (Los Angeles, 1986). See a reiteration of the influence of the Upanshadic notions of Brahman and Atman on Mondrian in Robert Welsh, who is unconvinced of the importance of Calvinist stress on logic in the artist as claimed by M. H. J. Shoenmaekers, ‘Mondrian and Theosophy’, in Piet Mondrian, 1872–1944, Centennial Exhibition (New York, 1972), pp. 35–51. J. Baas, The Smile of the Buddha (Berkeley, ca, 2005), is a recent popular work on the subject. J. Golding, Paths to the Absolute (Princeton, nj, 2000). Pan, The Primitive Renaissance, pp. 102–20. T. Steele, Alfred Orage and the Leeds Art Club, 1893–1923 (Aldershot, 1990), p. 180. Michael Sadler was a founding member of the radical socialist Leeds Arts Club. Sihare too mentions Kandinsky’s public reticence about mysticism, whose aim of attaining the transcendental by rational means has been described as ‘rational irrationalism’; R. K. Wick, Teaching at the Bauhaus (Stuttgart, 2000), pp. 119–220. Tuchman, The Spiritual in Art, p. 37, on Vivekananda’s influence on Malevich. See the important discussion, ‘Primitivism and Abstraction’, in Pan, The Primitive Renaissance, pp. 102–20. Sihare, ‘Oriental Influences on Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian, 1909–1917’, pp. 31–6. M. A. Cheetham, The Rhetoric of Purity: Essentialism and the Advent of Abstract Painting (Cambridge, 1991), p. 164. On the Raj project of inculcating good taste in Indians through academic naturalism, Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 29–34 and passim. W. Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 2nd edn (Munich, 1912), in Complete Writings, ed. K. C. Lindsay and P. Vergo (Boston, ma, 1982), p. 173. i two pioneering women artists 1 Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 184, 204. 2 B. Sadwelkar, The Story of a Hundred Years: Bombay Art Society (Bombay, 1988), xxii–xxiii. Illustrated Catalogues of Bombay Art Society Annual Exhibitions, 1938–1947 (fortyseventh to fifty-seventh year). 3 In personal communication, Satyajit Ray mentioned to me one Pareshbabu who gave art lessons to middle-class women at home. Mrs Dwijendranath Maitra, wife of an eminent doctor and friend of the Tagores, received favourable reviews for her competent academic still-lifes, which I saw at her son Satyen Maitra’s residence in Calcutta. Satyajit’s aunt from his father’s side, Sukhalata Rao, brought up in a liberal Brahmo atmosphere, received Vivekananda’s Irish disciple Sister Nivedita’s encouragement to paint. 4 The Statesman (24 December 1922); she showed two works, Pink Lotus and Worshipper; see also The Englishman (31 January 1921); The Statesman (30 January 1925); Empire (29 December 1919). 5 Quoted in K. Chatterjee, ‘Sunayani Devi: A Pioneering Primitive, 1875–1962’, in Sunayani Devi: Alliance Française (Calcutta, 8–18 September 1982), p. 11. 6 Tagore, Rabindra Rachanabali, ‘Childhood’, x, p. 150. 7 A. Kar, ‘Sunayani Devi – A Primitive of the Bengal School’, 233
  • 220. Lalit Kala Contemporary, iv (1966), p. 4. 8 Interestingly, Kramrisch speaks of men’s schizophrenic bilingual existence. P. Chatterjee, ‘The Nation and Its Women’, in A Subaltern Studies Reader, 1986–1995, ed. R. Guha (Minneapolis, mn, 1997), on material/spiritual distinction in nationalist discourse also reflected in social space, bahir (world)/ ghar (home), women occupying the inner and spiritual. 9 D. Chatterjee, ‘Conversation with Sunayani Devi’, in Sunayani Devi Retrospective, ed. C. Ghosh (Birla Academy, 22–7 February 1977). 10 Chatterjee, ‘Conversation with Sunayani Devi’. 11 In 1915 they exhibited at the annual exhibition of isoa (Screen a), but Sunayani was singled out (Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 326–7). 12 K. Chatterjee, Sunayani Devi: Alliance Française. 13 Ibid., pp. 3–4. 14 G. Venkatachalam, Contemporary Indian Painters (Bombay, 1927), p. 84. 15 K. Chatterjee, Sunayani Devi. Her admirers included Mukul Dey, O. C. Gangoly, Nandalal Bose and Jamini Roy. 16 G. Chattopadhaya, ‘Sunayani Devi’, Triparna (1360), p. 33. 17 K. Chatterjee, Sunayani Devi. 18 M. Mukhopadhaya, ‘Sunayani Devi’, in Ghosh, Sunayani Devi Retrospective, unpaginated. 19 S. Kramrisch, in a German periodical translated into Bengali as ‘Svatasphurtti (Spontaneity)’, Prabasi, xxii, i/4 (Sravan, 1329 [1922]), pp. 543–4. This has been mentioned in all earlier works on Sunayani but I have not been able to trace the German periodical. Unfortunately the Bengali translation only mentions the title Kunst. One assumes Kramrisch gave the details herself to the translator. Here my translation is from the Bengali. 20 Kramrisch, ‘Sunayani Devi’, p. 93, on her creative process, also confirmed by her grandson Kishore Chatterjee. 21 Kramrisch, ‘Sunayani Devi’, pp. 93 and 87. 22 Ibid. 23 Kar, ‘Sunayani Devi – A Primitive of the Bengal School’, 7; K. Chatterjee, ‘Sunayani Devi: A Pioneering Primitive (1875–1962)’. 24 Kramrisch, ‘Sunayani Devi’, pp. 87 (doll) and 88 (Kalighat). See Oskar Schlemmer on the importance of primitive dolls in modernism (Folkwang Museum, Essen, infra, iii, note 77). 25 Sunayani was influenced by the elite vogue for Kalighat but according to K. Chatterjee, ‘Sunayani Devi: A Pioneering Primitive, 1875–1962’, it is not recorded when she saw village dolls. In 1919 her brother Abanindranath wrote the classic booklet on Bengali women’s ritual art, see supra, note 10. 26 Kramrisch, ‘Sunayani Devi’, p. 87, Her claim that Sunayani owed a debt to no colonial style is contradicted in another passage (p. 93), where she correctly identifies her watercolour washes with the Bengal School. 27 Modernist admiration for naïve, mentally disturbed, children’s and primitive art is widely known. 28 Kramrisch, ‘Sunayani Devi’, p. 87. 29 Ibid. See also note 24 above. 234 30 Kramrisch, ‘Svatasphurti’, Prabasi, xxii, i/4, p. 545. 31 Venkatachalam, Contemporary Indian Painters, pp. 82–3. See also his essay, ‘Peasant Art in India’, 4 Arts Annual (Calcutta, 1934), pp. 175–6. 32 J. Fineberg, Discovering Child Art (Princeton, nj, 1998), pp. 95–121. 33 M. Casey, Tides and Eddies (Harmondsworth, 1969), p. 183. 34 A. S. Raman, ‘The Present Art of India’, The Studio, cxlii (July–December 1951), pp. 97–105, calls her the author of real art renaissance, her greatness lying in the discovery of a new plastic synthesis of East and West. H. Goetz, ‘Amrita Sher-Gil’, The Studio, cl (July–December 1955), pp. 50–51, calls her the greatest modern Indian painter. Charles Fabri, a close friend and admirer, writes about the difficulty of writing about her and disbelieves the ‘objectivity’ of those who knew her, ‘Amrita Sher-Gil’, Lalit Kala Contemporary, ii (December 1964), pp. 27–30. For an exposition of her nudes in the context of Indian culture and feminist concepts, see G. Sen, ‘Woman Resting on a Charpoy’, in Feminine Fables: Imaging the Indian Woman in Painting, Photography and Cinema (Ahmedabad, 2002), pp. 63–100. 35 K. Khandalavala, Amrita Sher-Gil (Bombay, 1944). 36 Primary sources on Amrita Sher-Gil are in the public domain as they have been published for some time. The Sher-Gil memorial volume of the journal The Usha is an important contemporary source as it includes the responses of her contemporaries and her own writings. N. Iqbal Singh’s biography, Amrita Sher-Gil: A Biography (New Delhi, 1984), with extensive quotations from her letters, is valuable, and I use it extensively as primary material for her life. The important critical work is V. Sundaram et al., Amrita Sher-Gil (Bombay, n.d). I was not allowed access to her letters written in the late 1930s as her nephew Vivan Sundaram intends to publish them. However, my feeling is that my basic argument about her primitivism as a surrogate for her divided self will not be substantially modified with their publication. Rather I trust they will confirm my conclusions. As the book went to press, I came across Yashodhara Dalmia’s charming biography, Amrita Sher-Gil: A Life (London, 2006). In May–July 2006, Vivan Sundaram held an important show of digital photomontages, based on mainly family photographs, at the Sepia International Gallery in New York, which vividly brought back to life Amrita, her family and her milieu: Vivan Sundaram, Retake of Amrita, with essay by Wu Hung (New York, 2006); a shorter Re-take of Amrita, first published in Delhi in 2001. The Sher-Gil bandwagon has started rolling at last beyond India. In 2001–2, a major exhibition was held in Budapest, which claimed Amrita for Hungary with a richly documented catalogue based on material provided by her relations, Ervin Baktay, Ernö Gottesmann and Vivan Sundaram: Keserü Katalin, Amrita Sher-Gil the Indian Painter and her French and Hungarian Connections (Ernst Muzeum, Budapest, and the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, 2002). In 2006–7 Munich will show her work. Note also Sára Sándor’s documentary film, which I have not been able to see. 37 M. Muggeridge, Chronicles of Wasted Time, No. 2: The
  • 221. Infernal Grove (London, 1972), p. 322. 38 V. Sundaram, Re-take of Amrita (Delhi, 2001). This digital photo-montage is a collaborative project, ‘radiating desire’, by her nephew who combines photographs including those by her father Umrao Singh, the ‘essential photographer’, reproductions of Sher-Gil’s work, and a ‘fictional’ account of the father–daughter relationship. In a letter to her mother Amrita states that she prefers sari not only because it is beautiful, but because only Eurasians wear Western dress in India (Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil, pp. 93–4). In fact from her mother’s side she also had French, German and Jewish blood and her Hungarian name was Dalma. 39 Muggeridge, Chronicles of Wasted Time, p. 322. 40 See above, Prologue, note 2. The nationalist nostalgia for a mythical ‘authenticity’ or ‘purity’ is now increasingly exposed as a spurious one. 41 The Académie was a well-known place for art training and had among its students Alexander Calder and Isamo Noguchi. See Kaoru Kojima’s list of Japanese artists who worked at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1871 to 1958, ‘Furansu Kokuritsu Bijutsu Gakko ni Mananda Nihonjin Ryugakusei’, Aesthetic and Art History, Jissen Women’s University, xiii (Tokyo, 1998). J. Milner, The Studios of Paris (New Haven, ct, 1988), pp. 17–25. The École was the oldest art academy in Paris and had CarolusDuran as a teacher, infra, ii, note 4. 42 In Paris, Sher-Gil epitomized the West’s view of otherness. Proutaux exoticized her as ‘an exquisite and mysterious little Hindu princess [who] conjures up the mysterious shores of the Ganges’. The late Khandalavala kindly gave me access to her drawings in his collection, some of which are reproduced here. The facts of her life are recorded extensively, including in Iqbal Singh, Amrita Sher-Gil. Other details I have also taken from Vivan Sundaram’s family accounts in Re-take of Amrita. 43 ‘Sher-Gil, Evolution of My Art’, originally published in the memorial volume Usha (reproduced in Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 139). 44 Khandalavala, Amrita Sher-Gil, 22, reproduces the letter. 45 Letter dated c. April 1941, from Saraya to her sister in Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 100. See also Singh, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 140. 46 Amrita Sher-Gil, Special Number, The Usha, iii/2 (August 1942), p. 34. 47 The exhibition took place on 21 November–7 December 1937. Charles Fabri and Rabindranath Deb quoted in Singh, Amrita Sher-Gil, pp. 87, 108–9. 48 J. P. Foulds, ‘Amrita Sher-Gil and Indian Art’, Civil and Military Gazette (7 November 1936). He also wrote ‘The Art of Amrita Sher-Gil’, 4 Arts Annual (Calcutta, 1936–7), p. 34. I am indebted to Deborah Swallow for information on Foulds. 49 Singh, Amrita Sher-Gil, pp. 83–4. 50 Her letter of 6 November 1937 to Nehru about his autobiography, A Bunch of Old Letters (New York, 1960), p. 192. Sundaram’s ‘Re-take on Amrita’ exhibition contains rare photographs of Nehru with the artist. She seems to have died mysteriously, with allegations of a botched abortion that led to a fatal infection. See Dalmia, Amrita Sher-Gil, for a balanced view of the event. 51 Letter of 17 April 1937 to Khandalavala, in Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 111. 52 In standard anthologies of women artists she finds no place. Honourable exceptions are Whitney Chadwick, Women, Art and Society (London, 2002); Marina Vaizey in Dictionary of Women Artists, ed. Delia Gaze, ii (Chicago, il, 1997), pp. 126–68; Geeta Kapur in Dictionary of Art, ed. Jane Shoaf Turner, xxviii (London, 1996), pp. 593–4. 53 Brian Eno thinks that Popova did not suffer from gender distinctions but this is doubtful (‘Forgotten Heroes’, The Independent Arts and Books Review, 22 October 2004, p. 2). 54 L. Prieto, At Home in the Studio (Cambridge, ma, 2001), p. 5. 55 See Chadwick’s succinct summary in Women, Art and Society. We can think of many remarkable painters who remained in the male shadow, namely Gontcharova, the photographer Lee Miller, and even the writer Colette herself, especially in her early days. 56 Singh, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 116. 57 Letter to sister, Singh, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 92; letter to sister, 2 February 1937, mentions Barada Ukil as ‘staring at me in his silly way’, Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 105. 58 E. Billeter, The Blue House: The World of Frida Kahlo (Houston, tx, 1993); see also G. Kapur, ‘Body as Gesture’, When Was Modernism (New Delhi, 2000), pp. 12–17, who adds class as a form of alienation in Sher-Gil’s case. My thanks to Viktoria Villanyi who suggested that I look more closely at the similarities between Sher-Gil and Kahlo. 59 Prieto, At Home in the Studio, pp. 94–6. F. Borzello, Seeing Ourselves (London, 1998), also writes on female Bohemians, in ‘Breaking Taboos’. Judith Thurman’s biography, Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette (New York, 1999), offers insights into some of the predicaments of modern women, even though Sher-Gil and Colette were significantly different. 60 Vivan Sundaram interviewed several of the surviving lovers, see Re-take of Amrita. 61 Prieto, At Home in the Studio, pp. 192–4. 62 Borzello, Seeing Ourselves, pp. 137–9, ‘The Naked Self’ on female nude self-portraits. 63 Vaillant, quoted in Singh, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 37. 64 Letter to Khandalavala, 16 May 1937, in Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 112. 65 Letter to Khandalavala, 17 January 1937, in Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 102. 66 J. Augustine, ‘Bisexuality in Hélène Cixous, Virginia and H. D.: An Aspect of L’Écriture Féminine’, in Sexuality, the Female Gaze and the Arts, ed. R. Dotterer and S. Bowers (Toronto, 1992), pp. 13–14. It is only today that such ideas are theorized as bursting the boundaries of sexual identity. 67 Singh, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 28. Marie Louise avoided physical consummation even though she made overtures, which led Sher-Gil to conclude that she had sexual hangups. 68 Singh, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 58. 69 B. Dhingra, Sher-Gil (New Delhi, 1965), p. ii, who was a friend, mentions her admiration for Dostoyevsky, writing about her deep feeling for the miserable existence of the ordinary people. 235
  • 222. 70 Muggeridge, Chronicle of Wasted Time, p. 47. 71 Chadwick, Women, Art and Society, p. 9. Julia Kristeva, ‘Is there a Feminine Genius?’, Critical Inquiry, xxx/3 (Spring 2004), pp. 493–504, suggests that in the erosion of earlier notions of natural procreation in the age of sexual polymorphism and lack of fixed identities, each individual invents his or her domain of intimacy, wherein lies genius, or simply creativity. The incommensurability of the individual is rooted in sexual experience and one’s genius rests in the ability to question the socio-historical conditions of one’s identity, the legacy of Hannah Arendt, Melanie Klein and Colette (slightly paraphrased). 72 Khandalavala, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 29. Her letter to him dated 13 February 1937 mentions her French professors’ habit of making devastating criticisms. I remember this unpleasant trait in the talented painter Nirode Mazumdar who had been trained in André Lhote’s studio in Paris. 73 Letters to Khandalavala, dated 24 August 1937 and September 1937, in Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil, pp. 115, 117. 74 Letter of 17 April 1937, in Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 111. In her article, ‘Indian Art Today’, she mentions Roy’s experiments in folk art, ibid., p. 140. 75 Letter to Khandalavala, February–March 1938, in Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 124. 76 Letter to Khandalavala, February–March 1938, in Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 124. and yet in 1939 she wrote less dismissively, ibid., p. 129. 77 Sher-Gil, The Usha, p. 24. 78 Letter to Khandalavala, 15 January 1937, referring pejoratively to Solomon, in Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 102. 79 Sher-Gil, ‘Trends of Art in India’, in Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 142. 80 Khandalavala was the first to mention her connection with the soil, and later Archer, whose chapter on her is titled, ‘Art and the Village’, India and Modern Art, pp. 80–99. 81 Sher-Gil, ‘The Story of My Life’, The Usha (Special Number: Amrita Sher-Gil), iii/2 (August 1942), p. 96. 82 Ukil quoted in Singh, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 45. 83 E. Sen, ‘Prominent Women in India’, Sunday Statesman (5 April 1936); Singh, Amrita Sher-Gil, pp. 55–6. 84 Prabasi, viii (Agrahayan, 1346), pp. 237–8. 85 Letter to Khandalavala, 24 August 1937, in Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 115. 86 Sher-Gil, ‘The Story of My Life’, p. 96. 87 Sher-Gil, ‘Art and Appreciation’, in V. Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil: Life and Work, Marg, pp. 42, 142. She actually quotes Clive Bell. See the influence of significant form and aesthetic emotion popularized by Bloomsbury critics on Indian artists, Tillotson, ‘A Painter of Concern’, pp. 57–72. 88 Sher-Gil, The Usha, iii/2 (August 1942), p. 22. 89 Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 20, on the Hungarian painters known to her. Rather than modernists, I find her work bears some resemblance to the post-Impressionist and realist works of the lesser-known Hungarian artists. On the Hungarian art movement, see Arte figurative in Ungheria tra 1870 e il 1950 (Milan, 1987) (catalogue of exhibition, 5–30 November 1987), pp. 40, 53–4 and S. A. Mansbach, Standing 236 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 in Tempest: Painters of the Hungarian Avant-garde (Cambridge, ma, 1991), introduction and chap. 6, ‘Hungary’, pp. 267–313. In 1979, when I was examining her work at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, I was struck by the fact that, contrary to the general view, her work was far closer to the Central and East European ‘realists’ than to French modernists, an idea I presented in my Radhakrishnan Lecture at Oxford in 1991. G. Wojtilla, Amrita Sher-Gil and Hungary (New Delhi, 1981), was the first scholar to mention the influence of Hungary on her and more recently, Keserü Katalin, Amrita Sher-Gil the Indian Painter. See Lerch’s work in K. Schröder, Neue Sachlichkeit: Österreich, 1918–1938 (Vienna, 1995), pp. 151–7, and the catalogue, Der Maler Franz Lerch (Museum of the City of Vienna, 1975), which contains a number of works remarkably similar to Sher-Gil’s. S. A. Mansbach, Standing in Tempest, pp. 93–7. Singh, Amrita Sher-Gil, pp. 42–3, who gives the name Prem Chand (who was later a general?), a young student who was intrigued enough to sit for her. This is of course not the great novelist. Compare pls 5 and 6 in Wojtilla, Amrita Sher-Gil and Hungary and Szöny’s Funeral in Zebegény. Sher-Gil, ‘Evolution of My Art’, originally published in the memorial volume Usha, in Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 139. Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 19. On Muggeridge, Singh, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 52. Letter of 13 February 1937 to Khandalavala, Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil, pp. 105–6. Kafka’s alienation may have partly been a reflection of his being a Jew in Czechoslovakia. Singh, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 99. In this letter to Tandon she even acknowledges the importance of the Bengal School. Sher-Gil, ‘Evolution of My Art’, p. 140. Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 5. Letter of 1938 to her parents, Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 126. Letter of 10 June 1935, in M. Muggeridge, Like It Was: The Diaries of Malcolm Muggeridge, ed. J. Bright-Holmes (New York, 1982), p. 133. Singh, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 97. One would have to be careful not to exaggerate this intimacy with women as she had an intense affair with Muggeridge and unhesitatingly shared her intimate thoughts with Khandalavala, though the relationship seems to have been platonic. E. L. Buchholz, Women Artists (New York, 2003), p. 95. See the importance of portraits for the Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo (Rome and New York, 2001) published by the Banco de Mexico, Trustee for the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, English translation by Mark Eaton and Louisa Panichi (New York, 2001). The painting, ‘Earth Herself’, p. 154, shows a white and a dark woman. Diego Rivera in ‘Frida Kahlo’, pp. 233–4, speaks of two Fridas as German versus Indian and Spanish, which lie at the heart of her achievement. The two women in The Conversation
  • 223. are her sister and her friend Denise Prouteaux. 104 Excerpt from her diary, 1 August 1925, in Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 87. 105 Published in Paris in Minerva, in The Usha, iii/2 (August 1942), p. 41. 106 Sen, ‘Prominent Women in India’. 107 Sher-Gil, Usha, iii/2 (August 1942), p. 39. 108 Singh, Amrita Sher-Gil, p. 48. 109 Ibid., p. 52. 110 See her letters to her sister dated 6 December 1940 and 14 March 1941, and to her close friend, Helen Chamanlal, July 1941, in Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil, pp. 136–7. 111 With regard to this late style I can think only of Nicholas de Stael in the 1950s who developed a radical form of colourism. 112 Tillotson, ‘A Painter of Concern’, pp. 57–72, on modernist formalism versus the emotions. 113 Archer, India and Modern Art, p. 99. 114 Sher-Gil, ‘Evolution of My Art’, p. 139. Privately too she felt obliged to repudiate her early work. 115 Letter of 1 July 1940 in Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil, pp. 132–3. 116 Geeta Kapur makes the important connection between these works and miniatures in ‘Sher-Gil’, The Dictionary of Art, xxvii (London, 1996), pp. 593–4. 117 See Csontváry, published by Bibliotheca Corviniana (Hungary, n.d.). This was suggested to me by Swasti Mitter after her visit to Budapest where a Csontváry retrospective was being held in 1995, and Viktoria Villanyi who is Hungarian. Csontváry, like Amrita’s mother, was Jewish Catholic. 118 Kapur, ‘Sher-Gil’. ii rabindranath tagore’s vision of art and the community 1 D. Souhami, Paris, Sappho and Art: The Lives and Loves of Natalie Barney and Romaine Brooks (London, 2005). Among others, Zemlinsky’s Lyric Symphony and Janácek’s Wandering ˇ Madman were based on Tagore’s poems. Tagore’s visit to Hungary is commemorated in a plaque by Lake Balaton. See also R. Chatterjee, ed., The Golden Book of Tagore (Calcutta, 1931). 2 R. Parimoo, The Three Tagores (Baroda, 1973), is a pioneering, scholarly work on Rabindranath. W. G. Archer, India and Modern Art (London, 1959) also offers us insights into his use of the Unconscious. Thanks to them we know what primitive sources Tagore used, but only when we pose the question of why he used them do we realize the wider global implications of his work. In short, we need to go beyond style to appreciate Tagore’s modernism. For reproductions of Tagore’s paintings, see A. Robinson, The Art of Rabindranath Tagore (London, 1989). 3 This is one of two in the collection of I. K. Kejriwal of Calcutta. Jyotirindranath’s phrenological drawings (see supra, i, note 19). Rabindranath also produced a few drawings with strong outlines, notably a pen-and-ink puzzle dated 1893, as part of a parlour game played in the family (Rabindra Bhavan Ms. 277(A) 27). 4 Tagore, ‘Urop Jatrir Diari’, 23 September 1297, Rabindra Rachanabali, x (Calcutta, 1961), pp. 398–9. Carolus-Duran was the assumed name of Charles-Emile-Auguste Durand, 1837–1917; The Dictionary of Art, v (London, 1996), p. 812. The French artist was commissioned by King Chulalongkorn of Thailand to paint his portrait; A. Poshyananda, Modern Art in Thailand (Singapore, 1992), pp. 12, 15, 16 and colour pl. 1. 5 Letter to Indira Debi, July 1893, in R. Tagore, Chhina Patrabali, quoted in S. Bandyopadhyaya, Rabindra Chitrakala Rabindra Sahityer Patabhumika (Bolpur, 1388), p. 3. Letter of 17 September 1900 to the scientist Jagadish Bose humorously deprecating his sketching activity, in Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Works of Art (ngma catalogue) (Delhi, 1981), p. 15. 6 S. Ghosh, Okampor Rabindranath (Calcutta, 1973), p. 87 (translation of Victoria Ocampo’s Tagore en las barrancas de San Isidro). See his son’s amusing comment about Victoria not allowing him to travel to Peru: Rathindranath Tagore, On the Edges of Time (Calcutta, 1958), p. 148. S. Walsh, Stravinsky, The Second Exile, France and America, 1934–1971 (London, 2006). 7 On Rivière, a major figure in the diffusion of modernism, see W. Rubin, Primitivism in 20th Century Art, exh. cat., New York Museum of Modern Art (New York, 1984), i, pp. 162–3. On Victoria’s part in this, see Tagore, On the Edges of Time, p. 148. It was held on 9–16 May (Daily Mail, 11 May 1930) under the auspices of the Association des amis de L’Orient, which had a long connection with the Tagores through Susanne and Andrée Karpelès (Parimoo, The Three Tagores, pp. 121–2), and coincided with the year of the poet’s Hibbert Lectures at Oxford. On the number of works shown, see Tagore’s letter to Rothenstein, in W. Rothenstein, Since Fifty (London, 1939). I have counted eight masks and eleven other subjects in Tagore’s show. 8 Bidou translated in Rupam, xlii/3–4 (April–October 1930), p. 27. Le Semaine à Paris (9–16 May 1930) was favourable, unlike the critic Saint Jean Bouche D’Or. It called his work, ‘le setiment d’un masque humain’. 9 Excerpted in C. Harrison and P. Wood, eds, Art in Theory (Oxford, 1992), p. 448. See The Modern Review, supra, i, note 2. C. R. Haxthausen points out that the Calcutta interest in automatic drawing had predated Breton by some years. 10 Southall’s introduction (I use the European reviews of Tagore’s 1930 exhibitions, including Joseph Southall’s, preserved at Rabindra Bhavana, Visva Bharati University, Santiniketan, under the heading, Foreign Comments, Henceforth all the reviews will be sourced as Foreign Comments except where stated otherwise). On the dates of the shows in different cities, see Bandyopdhyaya, Rabindra Chitrakala Rabindra Sahityer Patabhumika, pp. 298–9. Tagore renounced his knighthood after the massacre of unarmed demonstrators by General Dyer. Parimoo, Three Tagores, p. 112, on his Dartington visit. Sixty Works of Joseph Southall in the Fortunoff Collection, exh. cat. with essays by Richard Breeze et al. (London, 2005), on the artist. 237
  • 224. 11 S. Appelbaum, ed. and trans., Simplicissimus: 180 Satirical Drawings from the Famous German Weekly (New York, 1975), p. 55, cartoon by Olaf Gulbransson (‘The Height of Fashion inspired by Rabindranath Tagore. Fashionable Berlin practises contemplation of the navel’). 12 M. Kämpchen, Rabindranath Tagore and Germany: A Documentation (Calcutta, 1991), for a balanced account of the range of reactions. Thomas Mann Diaries, 1918–39, trans. R. and C. Winston (New York, 1982), p. 117. Mann complained that Tagore did not seem to know who the novelist was. 13 E. Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, iii (New York, 1957), p. 128. Freud was offended by the off-hand way Tagore summoned him. 14 Letter to Lily Klee, 27 October 1917, in F. Klee, Paul Klee: Briefe an die Familie, 1893–1940, vol. ii: 1907–1940 (Cologne, 1979), p. 885. Klee found Tagore’s book lacking intensity, eroticism and humour. R. K. Wick, Teaching at the Bauhaus (Stuttgart, 2000), pp. 72–7, 92–130, on Gropius and Itten. Harrison and Wood, Art in Theory, p. 338, on Gropius. See also infra, p. 79. On favourable views of Tagore, see Kämpchen, Rabindranath Tagore and Germany, infra, note 15. 15 Max Osborn on the Indian art exhibition in Berlin in 1923, Rupam, xv–xvi, p. 74. On Tagore’s role and reputation, A. Aronson, ‘Tagore Through Western Eyes,’ in Rabindranath Tagore: A Celebration of His Life and Work, ed. R. Monk and A. Robinson (London, 1986), p. 23, and, more comprehensive, Kämpchen, Rabindranath Tagore and Germany. 16 Reporters from Hamburg, Breslau, Leipzig, Baden, Vienna, and even distant Budapest attended the show (Walter Habiger in Neues Wiener Journal, 19 July 1930). L. Thormachten’s letter on behalf of the National Gallery to the Möller Gallery expressed interest in acquiring the works chosen by Justi though unable to pay for them. Tagore in a letter of 16 August 1930 to Justi donated the works in appreciation of German hospitality (Foreign Comments). Tagore spoke in a number of cities on his philosophy of art. 17 Tagore, ‘Rusiar Chithi’, in Rabindra Rachanabali, vol. x, pp. 673–746 on his view of Russia. On Russian response, A.P.G. Danil’chuk, A Dream Fulfilled (Calcutta, 1986). Tagore mentions that about 5,000 people visited the exhibition, Rabindra Rachanabali, x, p. 698. Visva Bharati Bulletin, xv (November 1930), pp. 1–5. I am grateful to Naresh Guha for the information on Russia. Catalogue of the Danish exhibition: Udstilling Akvareller Og Tegninger Af Rabindranath Tagore (Charlottenburg, 1930). 18 A. K. Coomaraswamy’s Foreword, Exhibition of Paintings by Rabindranath Tagore: Souvenir Catalogue, The Fifty–Sixth Street Galleries (New York 1930). R. Lipsey, Coomaraswamy, iii (Princeton, 1977), p. 85, on Coomaraswamy’s disillusionment with the Indian nationalist movement by this time. 19 R. Rolland, Inde, Journal 1915–43: Tagore, Gandhi et les problemes indiens (Paris, 1951), pp. 285–6. 20 Münchener Telegramm-Zeitung (23 July 1930); Vorwärts (21 July 1930); Hamburger Fremdenblatt (26 July 1930). 21 Vossiche Zeitung (17 July 1930). 238 22 Though Rothenstein may have preferred more traditional art, he was imaginative enough to appreciate Tagore’s originality: Rothenstein, Since Fifty, pp. 175–6. Tagore and Rothenstein’s correspondence: M. Lago, Imperfect Encounter (Cambridge, ma, 1972), pp. 325–9. 23 Purabi, Rabindra Bhavan Ms. 102 (1924); Rakta Karabi, Ms. 151 (1923), Kheya Ms. 110 (1905), see also P. Mukhopadhyaya, Rabindra Jivani Katha (Calcutta, 1961), pp. 98–9 (date of Ms. 21, Asvin 1312). 24 P. Mitter, Art and Nationalism in Colonial India, p. 126. 25 McKnight Kauffer’s poster is familiar to us from the cover of E. H. Gombrich’s Art and Illusion. This American artist was quite influential in the early twentieth century and his poster The Early Bird, for the Daily Herald, was a familiar sight in London Underground stations, which Rabindranath could not have missed on his visit to Britain in 1920 or later. Tagore’s interpretation is a loose one and his image is the reverse of Kauffer’s, but he uses the forward thrust of the poster. Nude on a Flying Bird was shown in Berlin and Paris in 1930. 26 P. Weiss, Kandinsky in Munich (Princeton, nj, 1979), p. 173. Compare illustrations of Tagore, Hölzel and Eckmann: H. H. Hofstaetter, Jugendstil (Baden-Baden, 1968), p. 132. I had seen the example of a page of ‘erasure’ by Klimt in a short film on Art Nouveau called ‘Women and Flowers’ at the Academy Cinema, London, about 30 years ago but I have not yet been able to trace the exact source. The Klimt page seemed remarkably like Tagore’s erasures. But see the catalogue of an exhibition at the Kunsthaus, Zurich, by Toni Stooss (Stuttgart, 1992), fig. ‘z’ 36 Sketches for initials, p. 242, postcards, p. 353, and Klimt’s letter to Marie Zimmermann, where he crosses out words in a decorative manner or uses letters to create designs. C. M. Nebehay, Gustav Klimt (Vienna, 1969), p. 54. See Mitter, Art and Nationalism, on Indian graphic art inspired by Art Nouveau. However, the point to remember is that from Aubrey Beardsley and William Morris to Art Nouveau and Jugendstil, all of them were deeply involved in the connection between word, text, typology and decorative design. See M. Bisanz-Prakken, Heiliger Frühling (Munich, 1999), for the range of Jugendstil designs. For Hölzel’s composition with writing, see C. Hänlein, Adolf Hölzel, Bilder, Pastelle, Zeichnungen, Collagen (Hanover, 1982), several examples of ‘Komposition mit Schrift’, 1900 (fig. 129, p. 76), and 1920 (fig. 188, p. 52). I have not been able to find any reference in Hölzel to Tagore, and Tagore seldom mentions the people he met. 27 N. G. Parris, ‘Adolf Hölzel’s Structural and Color Theory and Its Relationship to the Development of the Basic Course at Bauhaus’, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1979, pp. 154–61, discusses Hölzel’s method in detail. 28 Weiss, Kandinsky in Munich, p. 44. It is interesting that Hölzel later reintroduced figures in his work and became more concerned with painting (on Hölzel’s last drawings and pastels and his conversation with the author, Margot Boger-Langhammer et al, Adolf Hölzel (Konstanz, 1961); A. Hildebrandt, Adolf Hölzel, Bauhaus Archive (Darmstadt,
  • 225. 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 1969)). Hölzel later went for an early Abstract Expressionism, as colour became his main interest (I am grateful to Norbert Lynton for this information about Hölzel in the 1920s). In a work of considerable scholarship, Ketaki Kushari Dyson proposes Tagore’s colour blindness as a factor in his painting, see Ronger Rabindranath: Rabindranather sahityae o chitrakalay ronger vyavyahar (Kolkata, 1997). The idea was first mooted by Kramrisch which she based on Tagore’s self-confessed colour blindness, see S. Kramrisch, ‘Form Elements in the Visual Work of Rabindranath Tagore’, Lalit Kala Contemporary, ii (December 1962), p. 38. ‘What is Art’, in P. Neogy, ed., Rabindranath Tagore on Art and Aesthetics (Calcutta, 1961), p. 29. ‘The Religion of an Artist’, 1924–6, ibid., p. 37. ‘My Pictures (i)’ (28 May 1930), Foreword to the exhibition catalogue, ibid., pp. 97–8. ‘My Pictures (ii)’ (2 July 1930), p. 100. See Parimoo, The Three Tagores, pl. 269. Friedrich Ratzel’s three-volume The History of Mankind (London, 1896), trans. A. J. Butler, with an introduction by the anthropologist E. B. Tylor, was a standard work. Again Tagore does not use an image as such but combines a whole range of objects. See vol. i, pp. 65–87, on art and religion, pp. 38–106, 145–300, and vol. ii, pp. 1–203, on Native Americans and Pacific Islanders. T. Dacosta Kaufmann, ‘Stereotypes, Prejudice and Aesthetic Judgements’, in M. A. Holly and K. Moxey, Art History Aesthetics and Visual Studies (New Haven, ct, 2002), pp. 71–84, on Ratzel’s importance in art history. This manuscript is preserved at the Rabindra Bhavan in Santiniketan. W. Kandinsky and F. Marc, The Blaue Reiter Almanac, intro. K. Lankheit (New York, 1965), pp. 82–9. Tagore mentions her death in his reminiscences, leaving out the possibility that he was in love with her, Rabindra Rachanabali, x, p. 118. Bandyopadhaya, Rabindra Chitrakala, p. 144, on her suicide. Tagore’s purported depiction, She Has Committed Suicide, is listed as no. 191 in Exhibition of Drawings, Paintings, Engravings, Pottery and Leatherwork by Rabindranath Tagore (Calcutta, 1932). Also A. Mitra, ‘The Dark Lady of Tagore’s Paintings’, Statesman Supplement (9 May 1983), and A. Chaudhury, ‘Jyotirindra Rahasya’, Kolkata, v/1 (August 1977), p. 46. In any case, whether he did depict her or not is less interesting than his use of masks for faces. On Gropius, see Wick, Teaching at the Bauhaus, p. 58. Coomaraswamy, Exhibition of Paintings by Rabindranath Tagore: Dresdener Anzeiger (19 July 1930); Nationaltidende (9 August 1930); Kaines-Smith, Bidou (Foreign Comments). Letter to Rothenstein, 30 March 1930, in Lago, Imperfect Encounter, p. 326. Tagore, ‘Jibansmriti’, Rabindra Rachanabali, x, p. 50. Wilhelm Viola, Child Art (Kent, 1944), quoted in Parimoo, The Three Tagores, 118. On Klee, see M. Francisco, ‘Paul Klee and Children’s Art’, in J. Fineberg, Discovering Child Art (Princeton, nj, 1998), pp. 95–121, and ‘There is an Unconscious Vast Power in the Child’, pp. 68–94. J. Boissel, ‘Quand les enfants se mirent à dessiner, 1880–1914’, Les cahiers du Muséee national d’art moderne, xxxi (1990), p. 30. 42 Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. J. Strachey et al., 24 vols (London, 1953–74), p. 21. P. Gay, Sigmund Freud and Art (New York, 1989), p. 18; S. Freud, Civilisation and Its Discontents (London, 1930), p. 57. 43 E. Kris, Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art (New York, 1952), pp. 13–31. E.H.G. Gombrich, ‘Freud’s Aesthetics’, Encounter, v, xxvi/1 (January 1966), pp. 30–40. 44 On Freud’s ‘Creative Writers and Daydreaming’, see J. J. Spector, The Aesthetics of Freud (New York, 1973), pp. 53 and 110; Gombrich, ‘Freud’s Aesthetics’. Gombrich writes of infantile play of combinations and associations as a key to joke in Freud but to be meaningful this play must be anchored to conventions and culturally given meaning in literature and art. Creative people have the mastery of what Freud calls ‘undeveloped dispositions and suppressed wishes liberating dominant memories’, ‘Psychoanalysis and the History of Art’, in B. Nelson, Freud and the 20th Century (New York, 1957), pp. 186–206. 45 Comtesse de Noailles, A. E. de Brancovan, ‘The Visible Dreams of Rabindranath Tagore’, Calcutta Municipal Gazette, Tagore Memorial Special Supplement, May 1986 (reprint of 1st edn of September, 1941), pp. 176–9. Vossische Zeitung (16 July 1930). Tagore speaks of unpredictability in a letter dated 7 January 1928, see Neogy, Tagore on Art, p. 90. 46 ‘My Pictures’, 28 May 1930, Neogy, Tagore on Art, p. 97. 47 Letter dated 1931 to Ramananda Chatterjee, editor of Modern Review, in Neogy, Tagore on Art, p. 105. 48 Spector, The Aesthetics of Freud, p. 169. Gombrich, ‘Verbal Wit as a Paradigm of Art: The Aesthetic Theories of Sigmund Freud’, in Tributes (London, 1984), pp. 93–105. 49 Berlingske Tidende (9 August 1930). 50 Gombrich, Art and Illusion, pp. 89, 155–7. 51 The essay by Current Opinion, ‘Gleanings: Automatic Drawing as a First Aid to the Artist’, Modern Review, xxi/1 (January 1917), pp. 63–5, based on the work of the English artists Austin Spare and Frederick Carter, inspired by Freud and Jung, describes the limitations of representation and the usefulness of dredging up memory from the subconscious in releasing creative energy in drawing. However, unlike Tagore, these artists are representational and merely use the subconscious to improve their drawing. Tagore’s radicalism totally discarded representational accuracy. 52 ‘My Pictures (ii)’ (2 July 1930), Neogy, Tagore on Art, p. 101. He had a more ambivalent relationship with psychoanalysis, ibid., p. 54. 53 B. Dey, Jamini Rai (Kolkata, 1384), p. 86, letter dated 7 June 1941. 54 Letter, 7 November 1928, Neogy, Tagore on Art, p. 89. This is even more explicitly suggested in a letter to his daughterin-law from Paris in 1930, where he says that his flow of writing has stopped and he paints (Pratima Devi, ‘Gurudeva’s Paintings’ [1954] in commemoration of Tagore’s death and dedicated to Leonard and Dorothy Elmhurst of Dartington, deposited at Rabindra Bhavan, Santiniketan). In the play Rakta Karabi (1923), he began to 239
  • 226. 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 240 change his lyrical naturalist style, moving towards gesture, as suggested by Binode Bihari Mukhopadhyaya, Chitra Katha (Kolkata, 1390), p. 307. Neogy, Tagore on Art, p. 87. Neogy, Tagore on Art, p. 70. These prehistoric monsters complemented his late whimsical essay, ‘Shey’, an exercise in free fantasy, ostensibly written for his granddaughter (Rabindra Rachanabali, vii, pp. 849–940). W. Steiner, Venus in Exile (New York, 2001), p. xix, comments on the revival of interest in the nineteenth-century academic nude in the early twenty-first century, charting the cultural anxieties behind the avant-garde resistance to the female subject as a symbol of beauty. More recently Arthur Danto in The Abuse of Beauty: Aesthetics and the Concept of Art (New York, 2003), has reasserted the importance of beauty in mediating between objects and our sensibility, which he points out was a serious aesthetic crime to modernists. As an option in art, beauty is, he says, a necessary condition of life as we want to live it. Take for instance, the stanza from a famous song, ‘More, oh more, O Master! Please strike me more’, from a spiritual song for the Brahmo community on the adoration of the Deity with a tinge of Vaishnava sacred poetry. The stanzas movingly refer to life’s sufferings endured by the poet. (‘Aro aro prabhu, aro aro/ emni kore amay maro/’) The particular imagery lends itself to an interpretation on the level of the sacred erotic, as is often is the case with mystical poetry. However, the masochistic image suggested here is entirely allegorical, the suffering for which the Lord is responsible, ‘Prayaschitta, Puja’ series Poem No.228 from Gitabitan o Bibidha Kavita, in Rabindra Rachanabali, iv, pp. 76–7. I am grateful to Monisha Bhattacharya for locating the passage I vaguely remembered from my younger days. See an amusing episode with the male nude model in Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 275–6. The first frank fullfrontal nude was John Newton Souza’s self-portrait in 1947, which scandalized Bombay. Nude, 12 November 1934, Rabindra Bhavan (1854.16). D. Pan, Primitive Renaissance (London, 2001), pp. 19–20. ‘What Is Art?’, Neogy p. 16; ‘The Religion of an Artist’, Neogy, Tagore on Art, p. 56. ‘My Pictures (iii)’, Neogy, Tagore on Art, p. 104. ‘What is art?’, Neogy, Tagore on Art, p. 16; ‘The Religion of an Artist’, Neogy, Tagore on Art, p. 56. ‘The Religion of an Artist’, ibid., p. 41. R. Rolland, Tagore, Gandhi et les problemes indiens, pp. 285–6. Tagore’s views on nationalism and his return of the knighthood after the Amritsar massacre made him unpopular in Britain. Nor did Tagore remain silent at Japan’s military aggression against China in 1938, as seen in his indignant letter to the Japanese poet, Yone Noguchi: K. Kripalani, Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography (Calcutta, 1962), p. 385. On Tagore’s importance in nationalism, Sumit Sarkar, The Swadeshi Movement in Bengal (Calcutta, 1973). His critical 1916 lecture on nationalism aroused widespread hostility, including in America, Kripalani, Rabindranath Tagore, p. 257. Berlingske Tidende (9 August 1930). Interview in 1925 with Dilip Roy, a widely travelled 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 Bengali intellectual, ‘Alap Alochana, Rabindranath o Dilip Kumar Rai’, Rabindra Rachabali, xiv, pp. 930–32. ‘Entretiens Tagore – Romain Rolland, 24.6.26’, Rabindranath et Romain Rolland, Lettres et autres écrits, Cahiers Romain Rolland (Paris, 1961), xii, pp. 179–86. Notably the annual exhibition of the Indian Society of Oriental Art (Calcutta, 1933), the India Society exhibition (London, 1934), an exhibition in Ceylon, and finally an oneman show at the Kalman Gallery in London, which last did not repeat his triumph of 1930. On a recent reappraisal of Tagore’s position in modernity and his view of the ‘Orient’ in the light of Edward Said’s Orientalism, Amit Chaudhuri, ‘Two Giant Brothers’, London Review of Books, xxviii/8 (20 April 2006), pp. 27–30. See Uma Dasgupta on Tagore’s pedagogic ideals of integrated life, ‘Santiniketan: The School of a Poet’, in Knowledge, Power and Politics: Educational Institutions in India, ed. M. Hasan (New Delhi, 1998), pp. 258–303. J. A. Palmer, Fifty Major Thinkers on Education (London, 2001), on Tagore’s importance in twentieth-century pedagogy. During his visit to England in 1930, Tagore found time to paint at the home of his devoted friend Leonard Elmhurst in Devon, whose school Dartington Hall was inspired by Tagore’s educational ideals. A. Nandy, Illegitimacy of Nationalism: Rabindranath Tagore and the Politics of Self (New Delhi, 1994). On teaching at the Bauhaus, Moholy-Nagy’s The New Vision (London, 1930), in B. B. Mukhopadhay, Adhunik Shilpasiksha (Kolkata, 1972), pp. 143–4. To Otto Meyer, 7 December 1921, in The Letters and Diaries of Oskar Schlemmer, selected and ed. T. Schlemmer (Middletown, ct, 1972), p. 115. Wick, Teaching at the Bauhaus, pp. 190–220. Uma Dasgupta on the Indian origins of Tagore’s holism, pp. 9–159. The atmosphere was purposely anti-materialist with very simple lifestyle in a ‘commune’, discarding shoes and other ‘luxuries’. There was a sense of creating something Indian that was not dependent on the colonial regime. Harrison and Wood, Art in Theory, p. 338, on Gropius. Also Wick, Teaching at the Bauhaus, pp. 11–14, 30–8, 56–8, 72–7, on parallel concepts. See also N. Tuli, ‘Rabindranath Tagore’s Santiniketan’, The Flamed Mosaic: Indian Contemporary Painting (Ahmedabad, 1997), p. 195; Dasgupta, ‘Santiniketan: The School of a Poet’, on Tagore’s pedagogic ideals of integrated life; Palmer, Fifty Major Thinkers on Education. Tagore, ‘Tapoban’, Rabindra Rachanabali, xi, p. 589. See T. Guha-Thakurta, The Making of a New Indian Art: Artists, Aesthetics and Nationalism in Bengal, c. 1850–1920 (Cambridge, 1992), pp. 308–12, on the importance of rural life in Santiniketan, and also Tuli, ‘Rabindranath Tagore’s Santiniketan’, pp. 195–6. In a letter to Abanindranath, Tagore urges him to release Nandalal, which he said would be beneficial for the artist and the nation: B. B. Mukhopadhyaya, Adhunik Shilpasikhsha (Calcutta, 1974), pp. 139–40. P. Mandal, Bharat Shilpi Nandalal, i (Bolpur, 1982), pp. 484–92 including Tagore’s article on the function of
  • 227. Santiniketan, 1919. 78 See supra, p. 74. 79 N. Bose, ‘Art, Patronage and Institution’, Visvabharati Quarterly, Nandalal Number, xxxiv/1–4 (January 1971), pp. 70–76. B. B. Mukhopadhyaya, Chitrakatha (Kolkata, 1984), p. 159. 80 Mukhopadhyaya, Chitrakatha, p. 185. 81 Ibid., pp. 51–2. 82 N. Basu, ‘Drawing Humans and Animals’, Drishti o Shristi (Kolkata, 1985), p. 161. 83 Basu, ‘Artistic Perception’, in ibid., pp. 38–50. 84 Mukhopadhyaya, Adhunik, pp. 172–3. 85 Ibid., pp. 271–3. 86 Interestingly, he retained the use of geometrical shapes and the blackboard, Mandal, Bharat Shilpi Nandalal, i, pp. 561–76. Mukhopadhyaya, Chitrakatha, pp. 51–2. On Okakura, Abnindranath Tagore and Pan-Asian art, see Mittel, Art and Nationalism, pp. 262–6. 87 Mukhopadhyaya, Chitrakatha, p. 159. N. Basu, ‘Application of Anatomy in Art’, Drishti o Shristi, pp. 21–30; ‘Rhythm’, Drishti o Shristi, pp. 31–4 (mention of Okakura triadic principle). 88 Mukhopadhyaya, Adhunik shilpashikhsha, pp. 53–5. See his student manuals using a wide range of Eastern and Western art techniques and artist’s materials in Basu, Drishti o Shristi, pp. 61–143. 89 The title is Dandi March (Bapuji), 12 April 1930. Linocut, ngma, Acc. No. 4893, the catalogue: Nandalal Bose, 1882–1966: Centenary Exhibition, National Gallery of Modern Art (New Delhi, 1982), p. 184. 90 Letter of 25 January 1932, M. K. Gandhi, Collected Works, xlix (Delhi, 1958–84), p. 37. 91 Interview with the musicologist Dilip Roy on 2 February 1924, Gandhi, Collected Works, xxiii, p. 193. 92 Gandhi, Young India, in Collected Works, xxxiv, p. 319. This was in response to Anton Chekhov’s stories. Tolstoy was one of Gandhi’s inspirations and his favourable response to Gandhi is too well known to bear repeating here. L. Fisher, ‘Tolstoy and Gandhi’, in The Life of Mahatma Gandhi (London, 1982), pp. 123–30. 93 Interview in The Island (14 October 1931) in London, Gandhi, Collected Works, xlvii, pp. 149–50. Letter dated 11 May 1928, Gandhi, Collected Works, xxxvi, p. 305. In 1929 he again rejects the art for art’s sake argument, Collected Works, xl, p. 342. 94 S. Bhattacharya, The Mahatma and the Poet (Delhi, 1997), on the debate between Gandhi and Tagore. 95 N. Basu, ‘The Place of Art in Education’, in Drishti o Shristi, pp. 9–18, originally read at Calcutta University. On his use of crafts as a Gandhian nationalist, see his close associate Prabhatmohan Bandopadhaya, ‘Nandalal: Karusangha o Jatiya Andolan’, Desh Binodan (Nandalal birth centenary number) (1389), pp. 34–47. 96 Mukhopadhyaya, Adhunik Shilpashiksha, pp. 43–53. 97 C. Deb, ‘Shiksha Kshetre Nandalal Basur Chhatrider Bhumika’, Desh Binodan (Nandalal birth centenary number) (1389), p. 152. 98 Mukhopadhyaya, Adhunik Shilpashiksha, p. 56. Interestingly, on his visit to Santiniketan in 1924, Abanindranath, deeply 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 disillusioned with orientalism, urged the cultivation of village crafts. S. Ghosh, ‘Rupkar Nandalal’, Desh Binodan (Nandalal birth centenary number) (1389), pp. 18, 20, 22. G. S. Dutt, Folk Arts and Crafts of Bengal: The Collected Papers, ed. S. Bandyopadhyay (Calcutta, 1990), Folk Arts, xvii–xix. Gandhi, Collected Works, lxii, pp. 299–300. Speech at Khadi and Village Industries Exhibition, Haripura Congress, 10 February 1938, Gandhi, Collected Works, lxvi, p. 358. Mukherjee, Adhunik, p. 84. Gandhi, Collected Works, lxii, pp. 299–300. N. Basu, ‘Bapuji’, Drishti o Shristi, pp. 244–250. This was written circa 1940, and describes his relationship with Gandhi. Mukherjee, Adhunik, p. 84. The sculptor Mhatre also took part in the decoration, M. Guha, ‘Gandhiji o Nandalal’, Desh Binodan (1389), pp. 124–5, translation from Harijan, 2 January 1937. Letter to Nandalal, 31 October 1937; Gandhi, Collected Works, lxvi, p. 282. Letter to Tagore, 6 November 1937; Gandhi, Collected Works, lxvi, p. 289. Basu, ‘Bapuji’, p. 248. K. G. Subramanyan, ‘Nandalal Bose: A Biographical Sketch’, Nandalal Bose (1882–1966): Centenary Exhibition (New Delhi, 1982), p. 25; Sankho Chaudhury, Nandalal Bose Haripura Panels (for the commemoration of the fortieth anniversary of India’s independence and Jawaharlal Nehru centenary – 1987–9) (New Delhi, 1988), pp. 4–5. In an interview with Nimai Chatterjee in 1954 (infra, note 150), Nandalal spoke forcefully against communalism in art. Guha, ‘Gandhiji o Nandalal’, p. 125. N. Basu, ‘Wash’, Drishti o Shristi, p. 143. Mukhopadhyaya, Chitrakatha, p. 265. Speech at Haripura of 10 February 1938; Gandhi, Collected Works, lxvi, p. 359. Mukhopadhyaya, Adhinik Shilpashiksha, p. 86. P. Bandopadhaya, ‘Nandalal: Karusangha o Jatiya Andolan’, Desh Binodan (1389), p. 47. Interestingly, Bose was President of the Haripura Congress session, which marked his conflict with Gandhi, the Mahatma forcing his resignation. L. Gordon, Brothers Against the Raj: A Biography of Indian Nationalists, Sarat and Subhas Chandra Bose (New York, 1990). Although he never wavered in his admiration for Gandhi, Bose’s humiliation at Haripura caused him to withdraw from active participation in Congress sessions. As related by Nandalal, Gandhi demanded why these immoral objects should be spared but listening to his forceful argument he relented (‘Rabibasariya Alochani’, Ananda Bazar Patrika, 20 December 1953). Subramanyan, Nandalal Centenary, 24. For the story of the Santiniketan mural movement, see J. Chakrabarty et al., The Santiniketan Murals (Calcutta, 1995), and the exhibition catalogue, R. Siva Kumar, Santiniketan: The Making of a Contextual Modernism (New Delhi, 1997). 241
  • 228. 119 Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 256, 305–6. 120 K. G. Subramanyan, ‘Nandalal Basur Bhittichitra’, Desh Binodan (1389), p. 130. 121 See Patrick Geddes’s classic work, Life of Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose (London, 1920), p. 243; S. Sengupta, Sansad Bangali Charitabhidhan (Calcutta, 1976), 165–6 for details of his life. 122 G. Bhaumik, ‘Vijnyanacharya Jagadishchandrer Shilpanurag’, Sundaram, iii/2 (1365), pp. 166–72. 123 Mandal, Bharat Shilpi Nandalal, i, p. 644. In 1925 Mukul Dey, another of Abanindranath’s students, had made his obligatory ‘pilgrimage’ to Ajanta and Bagh: My Pilgrimages to Ajanta and Bagh (London, 1925). 124 Ibid., i, pp. 644–5. One of the three at Bagh, Asit Haldar published his experience with an endorsement by Tagore, who reaffirmed the importance of murals to the nation. 125 Subramanyan, Desh Binodan (1389), p. 128. 126 Letter quoted in introduction by Samik Bandyopadhyay to G. Dutt, Folk Arts and Crafts of Bengal, p. xviii. 127 Mandal, Bharat Shilpi Nandalal, i, pp. 450–51. He also read Mrs Merrifield’s standard 1846 translation of Il Libro dell’Arte by Cennino Cennini (c.1370–1440). On Lady Herringham’s extensive writings on tempera including translating Cennini, M. Lago, Christiana Herringham (London, 1996), pp. 36–8, 44–7, 49, 51. 128 Basu, Drishti o Shristi, p. 92. 129 Ibid., p. 14. On Morris, see Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 248–9. 130 Mandal, Bharat Shilpi Nandalal, i, pp. 428–46. 131 Ibid., pp. 428–46, contains transcripts of Nandalal’s own sayings and writings on wall paintings faithfully recorded by the author. Nandalal’s sketches of Narsinglal are extant. 132 N. Basu, Shilpa Charcha, originally published in 1362, see Drishti O Shristi, pp. 92–110. Mandal, Bharat Shilpi Nandalal, ii, p. 446. Nandalal consulted the Sanskrit scholar Haridas Mitra on the text. 133 Mandal, Bharat Shilpi Nandalal, ii, p. 452. See also Basu, Shilpa Charcha. 134 Mukhopadhyaya, ‘Nandalal’, Chitrakatha, p. 264. 135 Subramanyan, ‘Nandalal Basur Bhittichitra’, Desh Binodan (1389), p. 130. 136 Mandal, Bharat Shilpi Nandalal, i, pp. 445, 447. 137 Mukhopadhyaya, ‘Nandalal’, pp. 275–8. 138 T. Gupte, Gaekwad Cenotaphs (Baroda, 1947), p. 156. See also Mukhopadhyaya, ‘Nandalal’, p. 265. 139 He had tried out this theme in the China Bhavan at Santiniketan some years earlier. 140 Mandal, Bharat Shilpi Nandalal, ii, p. 447. Gupte, Kirti Mandir, pp. 156 and passim, on the details of the paintings. 141 Siva Kumar, Santiniketan. 142 See Subramanyan, Benode Behari Mukherjee, exh. cat. (Delhi, c. 1958). 143 On his personal link with Nandalal, see Mukhopadhyaya, Chitrakatha, pp. 266–7. 144 Mukhopadhyaya, ‘Baratiya Murti or Bimurtabad’, in Chitrakatha, pp. 39–52. We have encountered this influential idea a number of times. 145 Siva Kumar, Santiniketan, pp. 50–64. 242 146 G. Kapur, Contemporary Indian Art, Royal Academy exh. cat. (London, 1982), p. 5. 147 Mukhopadhyaya, ‘My Experiments with Murals’, Chitrakatha, pp. 404–5. 148 Film director Satyajit Ray, who was a student of his, made a moving documentary on him, The Inner Eye. 149 D. K. Dev Barman, ‘Shilpacharya Nandlalal Basu’, Desh Binodan (1389), p. 11, his close pupil, speaks of the profound influence of the rural atmosphere in Santiniketan. See also another student, Prabhatmohan Bondopadhyaya, ‘Nandalal: Karusangha o Jatiya Andolan’, Desh Binodan (1389), pp. 34–47, who mentions his using Santals as live models at a late age. 150 Interview with Nimai Chatterjee in Uttam Chaudhuri, ed., Sholati Sakhyatkar (Calcutta, 1985), pp. 71–6. 151 Supra, pp. 30–1. 152 Mukhopadhyaya, ‘Nandalal’, pp. 278–9. The early one dates from 1919 and the later from 1941. 153 R. Siva Kumar, Santiniketan: The Making of a Contextual Modernism (New Delhi, 1997), unpaginated (p. 23). 154 On Ramkinkar, see Mukhopadhyaya, Chitrakatha, p. 179. See also Ram Kinkar, ‘Mastermashay’ and ‘An Interview with Ramkinkar’, Visvabharati Quarterly, Nandalal Number, xxxiv/1–4 (May 1968–April 1969), pp. 77–84. 155 See Somenandranath Bandopadhyaya, Shilpi Ramkinkar: Alapchari (Calcutta, 1994), p. 150. 156 E. Lanteri, Modelling: A Guide for Teachers and Students, 3 vols (London, 1902–11). See Dictionary of Art, xviii, p. 751, for his biography. 157 Siva Kumar, Santiniketan, p. 27 (unpaginated). On Bourdelle (1861–1929), see Dictionary of Art, iv, pp. 568–9. 158 Bose was the first non-European to be elected an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy. See Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 117–18, for his fascinating story and untimely death. 159 S. Gardiner, Epstein: Artist Against the Establishment (New York, 1992), pp. 84, 119, 128–9, 131–2. 160 P. Das, Ramkinkar (Calcutta, 1991), p. 38. His earliest representations of the Santals were outdoor reliefs on the mud building, Shyamali; Siva Kumar, Santiniketan, p. 23. 161 Bandopadhyaya, Shilpi Ramkinkar, pp. 20–23. 162 Kinkar’s sculptures of unidealized nudes and his working from the human figure caused scandals in Santiniketan (Das, Ramkinkar, pp. 140–41). 163 Mukhopadhyaya, ‘Sadhak Shilpi Ramkinkar’, Chitrakatha, p. 337. He drank profusely and lived with a woman without marrying her, both unusual in Hindu society. 164 Bandopadhaya, Shilpi Ramkinkar, p. 38, on the artist’s statement that he belongs to the same milieu as them. 165 Ibid., p. 54. 166 Ibid., p. 54. iii jamini roy and art for the community 1 M. Casey, Tides and Eddies (Harmondsworth, 1969), pp. 182 (first published 1966). R. G. Casey was the penultimate Governor of Bengal (1944–6), married to Maie, the daughter of the surgeon-general of Australia. I met her daughter
  • 229. 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 Mrs Jane MacGowan in Darlinghurst, a suburb of Sydney, New South Wales; she provided me with much material and valuable information on Lady Casey, and I wish to recall her kindness here. I am also grateful to Dr J. C. Eade of Humanities Research Centre, Australian National University, Canberra, for arranging the visit. Casey, Tides and Eddies, p. 183. In Jamini Roy, Seminar Papers in the Context of Indian Folk Sensibility and His Impact on Modern Art, deputy ed. A. Mukhopadhaya (New Delhi, 1992), discusses his role as leader of the folk renaissance. Shanta Devi, ‘Shilpi Srijukta Jamini Ranjan Rayer Pradarshani’, Prabasi, i (Baisakh 1339), pp. 127–31. On the rise of artistic individualism in India, see P. Mitter, Art and Nationalism in Colonial India, 1850–1922: Occidental Orientations (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 79–119, 179–218. In the aftermath of the war, Carl Einstein was seen as a right-wing conservative but recent writers have reappraised Einstein’s social critique of Western modernism. See D. Pan, Primitive Renaissance (London, 2001), as well as C. W. Haxthausen and S. Zeidler’s critical translations and introductions: C. W. Haxthausen, ‘Bloody Serious, Two Texts by Carl Einstein’, October, cv (Summer 2003), pp. 105–24; Carl Einstein, Negro Sculpture, trans. C. W. Haxthausen and S. Ziedler, October, cvii (Winter 2004), pp. 122–38; Carl Einstein, Revolution Smashes Through History and Tradition, tr. C. W. Haxthausen, October, cvii (Winter 2004), pp. 139–45; Carl Einstein, Methodological Aphorisms, trans. C. W. Haxthausen, October, cvii (Winter 2004), pp. 146–50. B. Dey, Jamini Rai (Kolkata, 1384), p. 18. G. Venkatachalam, Contemporary Indian Painters (Bombay, 1927), p. 85. Millet came via his teacher, Jamini Prakash Gangooly, Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 110–13. See supra, p. 30. I was able to examine the pats he owned that were still in his studio in South Calcutta. See Shanta Devi, ‘Shilpi Srijukta Jamini Ranjan Rayer Pradarshani’, on his pat collecting. ‘Art Exhibition in Calcutta – Mr. Jamini Roy - Modern Indian School of Painting’, The Statesman (1 October 1929). A. Bose, Reminiscences of Atul Bose, unpaginated (collection of Sanjit Bose). The Statesman (9 July 1930). Shanta Devi, ‘Shilpi Srijukta Jamini Ranjan Rayer Pradarshani’, p. 25. In fact, the Tagores had pioneered Swadeshi furniture. Here Roy showed images of Mother and Child, which was to become his hallmark. On Nandalal’s response to Kalighat, Drishti o Srishti (Kolkata, 1985), pp. 282–3. Catalogue of the Academy of Fine Arts (Calcutta, 1935), included Suhrawardy’s article. As his friend Atul Bose recalled, the praise paved the way for his success (Kshanika, Jamini Rai Number, ii/ 4 (1378), p. 16.) K. Sarkar, ‘Jamini Rai Prasange’, Baromash (March–April 1979), p. 10, the show coinciding with the mysterious death of his son Jimut. S. Suhrawardy, A Short Note on the Art of Jamini Roy (Calcutta, 1937); Ananda Bazar Patrika, 19 September 1937. ‘Mr. Jamini Roy: Calcutta Exhibition of Paintings’, The Statesman (4 September 1938), p. 6. 19 See Roy’s letters to Bishnu Dey below. The 350 or so letters have been published in different editions. See also his unpublished letters, written in 1942–4, edited by Arun Sen and published in Baromash, iv–v (September–October 1978), pp. 2–18. Jamini Roy, ‘Kajer Bhitar Diyei Jana, Nijekeo Jana’, in Parichay (Saradiya, 1384), pp. 1–8. One of the greatest French novels, Le Grand Meaulnes, by AlainFournier (Henri-Alban Fournier) was published in Paris in 1912. 20 The paintings exist in the K. C. Das mansion in North Calcutta; Ashoke Bhattacharya, ‘The Epic Art of Jamini Roy’, The Statesman (23 November 1987). On decorations for the Congress, infra note 35. 21 R. Von Leyden, ‘Jamini Roy’, in The Art of Jamini Roy, A Centenary Volume, exh. cat., Birla Academy (Calcutta, 1987), pp. 31–9. Datta’s Parichay has been compared with T. S. Eliot’s Criterion in its impact. Roy obituaries: The Statesman (26 April 1972, 5 May 1972). 22 Radio broadcast by the English officer, Jack Hugh, about 1942. 23 B. Dey, Jamini Rai: tanr shilpachinta o shaiplakarma bishaye kayekti dik (Kolkata, 1977), pp. 43, 57. 24 E. M. Milford, ‘A Modern Primitive’, Horizon, x/59 (November 1944), pp. 338–9. Milford visited him with a friend in 1942. I am grateful to Nimai Chatterji for the reference. 25 Casey, Tides and Eddies, p. 184. She organized several shows, including one of Cecil Beaton and another of Rabindranath Tagore. 26 Ibid., and letter dated 29 December 1964 (copy with his son who had translated into English Roy’s letter for Lady Casey). When the Caseys left India, Roy gave a parting gift of his own colour set consisting of little pots decorated in white, and the picture of a cow with sad eyes. The painting is with her daughter. Roy sent Christmas cards every year until 1971, the year before his death. John Irwin was one of the small band of civil servants in India who were radical critics of empire, unlike W. G. Archer, who had also met Roy. Irwin later became a distinguished authority on Indian art. 27 Kshanika, Jamini Rai Sankhya, Yr. 2, no. 4 (1378), p. 18. 28 B. Nichols, Verdict on India (London, 1944), p. 116. The masculinity of formalist art as opposed to effeminate narrative art was a well-aired topos going back to Roger Fry. 29 B. Sanyal, ‘Indian Folk Sensibility and Its Impact on Modern Art’, in Jamini Roy, Seminar Papers in the Context of Indian Folk Sensibility, p. 3. Sanyal, a young artist when he met Roy in Calcutta in 1938, mentions this. 30 This was his friend Sudhin Datta’s article ‘Jamini Roy’ in Longman’s Miscellany (Calcutta, 1943), pp. 122–47, which the publisher Jack Adams was keen to illustrate with his works. But the artist turned down the blocks as unsatisfactory. He was so overwrought that he felt he would die if the book came out. The article appeared without illustrations. 31 Roy’s letters to Dey of 5 December 1944 and 22 September 1944. There were clashes with Kramrisch, see Roy’s letter to Dey of August 1944 and of 8 March 1945. 243
  • 230. 32 Venkatachalam, Contemporary Indian Painters (Bombay, 1927), p. 93. This second edition, which contains his piece on Roy, suggests that he met the artist in about 1944. As late as 9 July 1968 in a letter to Maie Casey he complains of people’s antagonism (copy in son’s possession). Milford, ‘A Modern Primitive’, p. 338. 33 ‘Jamini Roy’, reproduced in The Art of Jamini Roy: A Centenary Volume, exh. cat., Birla Academy (Calcutta, 1987), p. 31. P. C. Chatterji, ‘Jamini Roy: A Profile’, Indian Oxygen House Journal (c. 1965), p. 39, on how Roy was reluctantly persuaded after his refusal to do any radio interviews for his 70th birthday in 1957. 34 Venkatachalam, Contemporary Indian Painters, pp. 85–92. 35 Suhrawardy, A Short Note, p. 1. 36 Von Leyden, All India Radio broadcast, 6 January 1947; Suhrawardy, ‘The Art of Jamini Roy’, Prefaces, pp. 27–35. 37 R. Chanda, ‘Manush Nandalal’, Desh Binodan (1389), pp. 55–6. She mentions that Roy and Nandalal used to meet occasionally as friends and he would tease Roy. See J. C. Bagal, Centenary of the Government College of Art (Calcutta, 1964), p. 40, on the exhibition held on 30 September 1929. 38 B. B. Mukhopadhyaya, Adhunik Shilpashiksha, p. 84. 39 S. Suhrawardy, ‘The Art of Jamini Roy’, pp. 2, 5. A late article, ‘Jamini Roy: New Trends’, Sunday Statesman (3 June 1954), reiterates his tiredness of fighting against odds for just recognition, as well as for the quest for the ultimate simplicity of expression. His friend Austin Coates and others as late as 1972 stressed his reclusive character. 40 Milford, ‘A Modern Primitive’, p. 341. 41 Suhrawardy, Prefaces. Austin Coates mentions his dedication to work and utter concentration, often sitting hours in darkness before dawn broke, thinking before painting, ‘The Peasant Painter’, Imprint (August 1973), p. 46. 42 Suhrawardy, A Short Note, p. 2. 43 Anonymous (Suhrawardy?), ‘Bengali Artist’s Exhibition: Jamini Roy, Modern and Versatile Themes’, Sunday Statesman (12 January 1941). 44 S. Kramrisch, Jamini Roy (Calcutta, 1944), p. 22. 45 Milford, ‘A Modern Primitive’, pp. 338–42. 46 Jamini Roy, exh. cat., Arcade Gallery, London (London, 1945) with an introduction by J. Irwin (London, 1945). 47 I. Conlay, ‘A Hindu Who Paints Christian Subjects’, in Art Section of a London paper in 1946 (from the family collection: the title obliterated). 48 P. Jeannerat, ‘Art in England: ‘India’s Greatest Living Painter’, Daily Mail (25 May 1946). 49 ‘Art and Artists’, Herald Tribune (30 August 1953). 50 Asian Artists in Crystal: Designs by Contemporary Asian Artists Engraved on Steuben Crystal (New York, 1956), p. 47. The show went on to New York. 51 American Reporter, xx/16 (21 May 1971), back page. Mary Margaret Byrne, ‘Jamini Roy Paintings Open Tuesday at Museum’ (unfortunately only the year 1957 is recorded in the collection). Hervé Masson’s piece is reproduced in The Art of Jamini Roy, pp. 40–1. List of artists exhibiting with American Federation of Arts (exhibition programme), Smithsonian Archives of American Art, compiled by W. Bruton and B. D. Aikens (Jamini Roy under annual exhibi- 244 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 tions, pp. 85–42), see www.aaa.si.edu. I was unable to consult the archives as they were closed indefinitely for re-siting in 2006. For alerting me about Peggy Guggenheim’s interest in Roy, I am grateful to Sundaram Tagore of Sundaram Tagore Gallery, New York. See her autobiography, Out of This Century: Confessions of an Art Addict (London, 1979), pp. 351–3, as well as Holland Cotter’s ‘Art in Review; “The Promise of Modernism”: Art in India, 1890–1947’, New York Times (17 December 1999; published online 27 August 2006), in which he mentions that Guggenheim acquired Ray’s painting Woman with a Parrot. B. Dey, ‘Jamini Raier Chitrasadhana (conversation with the artist)’, Jamini Rai, p. 57 and also pp. 22, 101, 115. Letter to Dey of 18 September 1942, on his plans to show folk, child art and his works together. Letter of 6 June 1946. Dey and Irwin, The Art of Jamini Roy, p. 32. S. Nandy, ‘Shilpi Jamini Raier Chitra Sadhana’, Kshanika (1378), ii/4, p. 29. The Amrita Bazar, 1 February 1937, mentions that he had turned to child art. On Klee using his childhood drawings as well as his daughter’s, supra, chapter Two note 41. Von Leyden, ‘Jamini Roy’, in, The March of India (1947), p. 16. Suhrawardy, Prefaces, pp. 126 and 134, originally delivered as Bageswari Lectures. Dey and Irwin, The Art of Jamini Roy, p. 32. He also painted on wood panels. Von Leyden, ‘Jamini Roy’, p. 16. Venkatachalam, Contemporary Indian Painters, p. 86. Jamini Roy, Indian Society of Oriental Art Catalogue (1944), p. 28. Nichols, Verdict on India, pp. 130–31. H. Gangopadhyaya, ‘Jamini Rai’, Amrita, iv/4 (3 Vaisakh 1372), p. 811; Kshanika, ii/4 (1378), pp. 20–21. Letters to Bishnu Dey, 22 July 1942, 9 September 1942, 22 September 1942 and 30 October 1942. F. J. Korom, ‘Inventing Traditions: Folklore and Nationalism as Historical Process in Bengal’, in D. Rightman-Augustin and M. Pourzahovic, Folklore and Historical Process (Zagreb, 1989), pp. 57–83. Dinesh Chandra Sen, History of Bengali Language and Literature (Calcutta, 1911) and Folk Literature of Bengal (Calcutta, 1920). G. S. Dutt, Folk Arts and Crafts of Bengal: The Collected Papers (Calcutta, 1990), introduction by S. Bandyopadhyay, p. xiv. R. Italiaander, ‘Meetings with a Great Master’, in The Art of Jamini Roy (Calcutta, 1987), p. 43. He met the artist around the early 1960s. Coates, ‘The Peasant Painter’, in The Art of Jamini Roy, p. 50, a tribute published after his death in 1972. Tagore, Rabindra Rachanabali, xi, p. 589, see supra, chapter Two, note 4. Roy had underlined the bits that he found stirring. Dey, Jamini Rai, p. 48. In Bengali it was 18 Jyestha 1330. See Kshanika, ii/4 (1378), p. 21. Casey, Tides and Eddies, p. 183. See Einstein’s discussion of the nature of myth in African sculpture, C. W. Haxthausen, ‘Negro Sculpture’ (Neger Plastik), October, cvii (Winter
  • 231. 2004), pp. 130–31. Milford, ‘A Modern Primitive’, p. 341. 70 The Statesman, date obliterated (artist’s collection). Roy’s interest in Christ dates from 1934, according to Irwin in his Arcade Gallery introduction, Jamini Roy (London, 1945). 71 Dey, Jamini Rai, p. 42. The painting is in the National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi. 72 Roy, Kshanika, pp. 12–15. 73 See ‘Kandinsky’ in Pan, Primitive Renaissance, pp. 98–120. 74 J. Rai, ‘Potua Shilpa’ (dictated to Devi Prosad Chattopadhaya), in Dey, Jamini Rai, pp. 87–8. We must realize that this was Roy’s own construction of local identity since he did not have a deep knowledge of the West. 75 Milford, ‘A Modern Primitive’, p. 341. There have been claims of his being a devout Vaishnava. 76 A. K. Dutta, Jamini Roy (New Delhi, 1973), unpaginated. 77 In an article in Museum der Gegenwart, xxix (1930–31), pp. 147–51, ‘Zu meinen Wandbildern für das Museum Folkwang in Essen’, Schlemmer explained his doll-like figure types. I am indebted to C. W. Haxthausen for this passage and its translation. Schlemmer’s ‘dolls’ may have sought to approximate the art of the past as a collective cultural expression: ‘I still wish to say something about my figural type in general and in particular about these paintings [his Folkwang Museum murals], something in response to the charge against their doll-like character. Whenever formal construction, free composition, and not natural verisimilitude, is the primary goal – when, in short, style is the goal – the figural type will assume a doll-like character. For the abstraction of the human form that is at issue here creates an image in a higher sense, it creates man not as a natural being, but as an artificial being, it creates a simile, a symbol of the human form. In all earlier cultures, high cultures, in that of the Egyptians, the early Greeks, in early Indian art, the human form was far removed from a naturalistic image, but was accordingly that much closer to a lapidary symbolic form: to the idol, to the doll. These symbolic forms were formerly nourished and generated out of religions dedicated to Gods or to Nature. We today, who lack the great symbols and ways of seeing of the Ancients, because we live in a time of decadence, of realignment, and one hopes, of renewal, what else can we do at present but be simple, simple in our own mode of representations, open to all that gathers in our conscious and unconscious, in order gradually to give form?’ 78 Milford, ‘A Modern Primitive’, pp. 341–2. 79 Pan, Primitive Renaissance, p. 5. 80 The three vows taken by participants were: I am a Bengali, I love the land of Bengal and I shall serve the land of Bengal, all of them related to the Bengali village culture, Korom, ‘Inventing Traditions’, in D. Rightman-Augustin and M. Pourzahovic, Folklore and Historical Process, p. 74. 81 Dutt, ‘Folk Art and Its Relation to National Culture’, in Folk Arts and Crafts (Calcutta, 1990), p. 9. In the passage he uses the word ‘race’ to mean culture – this was a period when race and culture were used interchangeably. 82 Dey, ‘Srijukta Jamini Raier Rabindrakatha’, Jamini Rai, p. 72. Pan, Primitive Renaissance, p. 5, on the ‘local’ in primitivist thought. Shanta Devi, ‘Shilpi Srijukta Jamini Ranjan 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 Rayer Pradarshani’, p. 26, on Roy’s rejection of Rajastani art as a source for his painting. Dey, Jamini Rai, p. 12. There is evidence of late Marxist thinking in Russia in favour of small decentralized communities. Pan, Primitive Renaissance, p. 5. See C. W. Haxthausen, ‘A Critical Illusion: “Expressionism” in the Writings of Wilhelm Hausenstein’, in The Ideological Crisis of Expressionism, ed. R. Rumold and O. K. Werkmeister (Columbia, sc, 1990), pp. 177–9, where he expands on what he calls his ‘flawed theory’ because of his growing religiosity. Restoring the pre-industrial community was often linked with German nationalist assertions though, in fairness, Hausenstein preferred socio-economic explanation to the ‘essence’ of an age. Pan, Primitive Renaissance, pp. 121–46. On Einstein’s radical views on art and the people, C. W. Haxthausen, ‘Carl Einstein on Primitive Art’, October, cv (Summer 2003), p. 124. But see also his ‘A Critical Illusion’: ‘an anonymous, collective art, integrated with the praxis of life, and in this sense the original concept of expressionism is more in harmony with Peter Bürger’s theory of the avant-garde’, 172. Unlike Walter Benjamin, who accepted the unfortunate passing of myth and ritual in modern societies, Einstein argued that the modern psyche embodied two contradictory aspects: modern and traditional: Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, Illuminations (London, 1982), pp. 226–7. Pan, Primitive Renaissance, p. 5. Ibid., p. 16. Milford, ‘A Modern Primitive’, pp. 338–9. Coates, ‘The Peasant Painter’, in The Art of Jamini Roy, p. 51. See also A. K. Dutta, Jamini Roy, note 76. A. Mitra, ‘Jamini Roy’, in Four Painters (Calcutta, 1965), citing the critic Prithvis Neogy who suggested this was Roy’s belief in Vaisnava religion and the importance of repeating the seed word in that religion. Dey and Irwin, The Art of Jamini Roy, p. 35. Venkatachalam, Contemporary Indian Painters, p. 91. Suhrawardy, A Short Note on the Art of Jamini Roy (Calcutta, 1947), p. 4. Von Leyden, ‘Jamini Roy’, p. 17. A. S. Raman, ‘Jamini Roy: An Interpretation’, Times of India (26 September 1954), p. 7, claims as late as this date that Roy’s discovery of folk art lacks the intellectual basis of the Cubist discovery of African art! See Mitter, Art and Nationalism, chs 1 and 2. Personal communication from his oldest son, Dharmadas Roy, who mentioned to me Roy’s interest in the work. Tolstoy’s What is Art and Essays on Art was translated into English by Aylmer Maude (London, 1930), which would fit into the defining period for Roy. Tolstoy, What is Art and Essays on Art, pp. 270–71. See also E. H. Gombrich on Tolstoy’s primitivism in The Preference for the Primitive: Episodes in the History of Western Taste and Art (London, 2002), pp. 214–15. 245
  • 232. 3. Naturalists in the Age of Modernism 1 P. Mitter, Art and Nationalism in Colonial India, 1850–1922: Occidental Orientations (Cambridge, 1994), traces the rise of academic art in India in the Victorian era and subsequent nationalist resistance to illusionism. See T. J. Clark, Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution (London, 1973), pp. 9–20, where he formulates a complex theory of the social implications of art. He rejects the ‘heroic’ interpretation of the avant-garde as relentless progress towards the art of pure sensation, in favour of multiple viewpoints that accommodate artists like Rodin who are rejected in the light of modernist teleology, and brings out the ambivalence of the whole project of modernity. i the regional expressions of academic naturalism 1 J. C. Bagal, ‘History of the Government College of Art and Craft’, Centenary of the Government College of Art & Craft, Calcutta (Calcutta, 1964), p. 38. 2 See the full story in Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 294–303. 3 On Gangooly’s art given publicity in Bharati, a journal run by the Tagores, ibid., pp. 111–12. 4 Ibid., pp. 114–18. Sashi Hesh apparently emigrated to Canada while Phanindranath Bose settled in Scotland. 5 P. C. Chakravarty, ‘Banglar Bastavbadi Shipladhara o Atul Basu’, Chatushkon, xiv/9 (Paush 1381 [1973]), p. 583. His series of articles in this journal is a valuable assessment by a contemporary but fair-minded academic painter. 6 Chakravarty, ‘Banglar Bastavbadi Shilpa’, Chatushkon, xiv/11 (Phalgun 1381), p. 699. Roy was at the school for a decade (1906–16). 7 The government art schools routinely engaged students to produce artwork to welcome the visiting royalty in this period to demonstrate loyalty to the empire, see infra, pp. 188–90. 8 Second number of the Indian Academy of Art (April 1920). 9 Sukumar Roy and his father ran U. Ray & Son, producing superb reproductions of art. On U. Ray’s innovative halftone process, S. Ghosh, Karigari Kalpana o Bangali Udyog (Calcutta, 1988), p. 122. On Sukumar’s help to the Indian Art Academy, Chakravarty, ‘Banglar Bastavbadi Shilpa’, Chatushkon, xv/1 (Asharh 1382), pp. 275–6. Orientalists were not always uncompromising as proved by the publication even in Rupam, xi (July 1922), pp. 80–81 of Mazumdar’s painting Village Beauty. 10 They praised the orientalist Abdur Rahman Chughtai; Indian Academy of Art, iii (July 1920), p. 51. 11 Reported in Indian Art Academy, 29 March 1921. Jamini Roy’s painting, The Shadow of Death, won a special prize at the art school exhibition. Praying for the Child and Widower were commended at the Bombay Art Society while his Divine Moment was adjudged the best work in Indian style. Another member of the group, Jogen Seal, received the silver medal of the Society for his Tulasi Pradip; Indian Academy of Art, iii (July 1920), pp. 43–5. See also Indian Academy of Art, ii (April 1920). Tilak is reproduced in the 246 latter as a supplement and Tagore in the former. 12 See catalogue of the first exhibition and Chakravarty, Chatushkon, xv/iii (Ashar 1382), p. 278. Among those who took part were painters Jamini Roy, Atul Bose, Hemendranath Mazumdar, Deviprosad Roy Chowdhury, D. Rama Rao, Thakur Singh, A. X. Trindade, and sculptors R. K. Phadke, Hironmoy Roychoudhury, Pramatha Mallik and V. P. Karmarkar. The highest price was demanded by the European F. Weeksler (Rs 3,000), followed by H. Mazumdar (Night, Rs 1,900 and Palli Pran, Rs 1,800) and J. P. Gangooly (Rs 1,000). Minor orientalists from outside Bengal, such as M. Inayatulla and Rameswar Prasad Varma, also took part. 13 The Statesman (22 December 1922). 14 B. Chaudhury, ‘Chitra Pradarshani’, Bharat Barsha, year 10, vol. 2, no. 5 (1329), pp. 725–30. Chaudhuri raises an important feature of portraiture and caricature, namely, even if the subject’s features are changed one may be able to recognize the person; E. H. Gombrich, ‘The Mask and the Face: The Perception of Physiognomic Likeness in Life and in Art’, in Art, Perception and Reality (Baltimore, md, 1972). 15 Chakravarty, Chatushkon, xv/iii (Ashar 1382), p. 283. The obituary is in the Times Literary Supplement (30 May 1924). 16 Quoted in B. B. Ghosh, Chiltrashilipi Hemen Mazumdar (Kolkata, 1993), p. 20, and Desh Binodan (1388), p. 87. The Thirtieth Annual Show of Bombay Art Society opened on 29 March 1920. Smriti (Reminiscence) won a gold medal while his Abhiman (Hurt Feeling) won praise. 17 See for instance, Shilpi, i/3 (Autumn 1929), p. 38, on commissions from Jodhpur and Cooch-Behar. His patrons included the Jam Sahib of Nawanagar, who gave a testimonial that although he had met many artists in Bombay he had not found one so talented. The Maharaja of Mayurbhanj bought a large number of his works, providing him with regular commissions. On the calendar painting for Lalchand and Sons, B. Ghosh, ‘Chitrashilpi’, p. 87. 18 One of the members of his group holds that he had taken another artist, B. Mazumdar, to help him with landscape work. Hemendrarath had kept a diary of his sojourn in Patiala which is now lost. In one letter he mentions that he had so pleased the ruler that he was able to accompany him on tours, and painted portraits of the ladies of the family. The letter dated 18 May 1931 mentions that the orientalist Baroda Ukil was also in Patiala at that time hoping to sell 31 of his works. He left after a disappointing sale. From Hemendrarath’s letters, too, we learn of Mazumdar’s wife’s money worries. In one he asks her to settle all the outstanding debts and reveals his dream of building his own house. I tried to trace the screen through the kind generosity of the present descendant of the Maharaja but my visit to Patiala failed to unearth it, though I found a landscape by B. Mazumdar. 19 See H. Mazumdar, Chhabir Chashma, ed. U. Mazumdar (Calcutta, 1991), pp. 81, 98 and passim. 20 This was published in a catalogue of All India Exhibition (Fine Arts Section), (Delhi, c.1947), p. xiv (courtesy of Mazumdar’s daughter-in-law). I am deeply indebted to Pradyot Roy for introducing me to her.
  • 233. 21 D. P. Mukerji, ‘The Modern Movement’, Shilpi, i/3 (Autumn 1929), pp. 17–19. 22 A.M.T. Acharya, Indian Masters (Calcutta, 1928), unpaginated. On him see, Shilpi, i/1 (July 1929), p. 4. A partisan, Acharya mentions that Abanindranath, ‘the distinguished and chief apostle of this [orientalist] school of painting decidedly refused to extend his support to the Publishers for reasons not unintelligible.’ 23 One such, somewhat corny, poem is ‘The Gift of the Artist’: Demands the client of the artist/ A trivial picture/ Why so dear?/ Paints, oils, worn fabric,/ Weapons – a mere few brushes/ Such high price for what?/ Even more trivial is the subject/ Platted tresses on her bare shoulders/ Delicately Treads the belle, Draped in a wet sari/ She is there everyday/In weather, rainy or dry/I spy her on the steps of the pond/ Thirty years hence/ From the sagging body shall/ Depart the sweet bloom of youth/ The belle of my picture/ Behold her a century hence, Still a maiden. Fair/ Forever in this fashion/ Will she rest by your side, In her wet sari/ Did the artist make much? When in return, he gave/ Eternal youth and beauty? 24 The International Exhibition of Portraits of Great Beauties of the World was held at Long Beach, California in 1952. Mazumdar’s work was the Indian entry, The Statesman (31 May 1952); see B. B. Ghosh, Chitrashilpi Hemen Majumdar (Kolkata, 1993). It was recently offered at an auction in New Delhi (Catalogue of Auction of Paintings and Works of Art by Bowrings Fine Art Auctioneers, Oberoi, New Delhi, 5 November 2001, no. 18). 25 For instance, Land of Love by B. Varma, Mitter, Art and Nationalism, colour pl. xxx. On the three brothers, Ranada, Barada and Sarada Ukil, see supra, p. 51 and infra, p. 224. 26 Ghosh, Chitrashilpi, pp. 38–40. 27 However, in the last years of her life, the artist’s widow confirmed that she sat for him, which finds support in his intimate letters to her. In a letter from Patiala in 1931 he mentions that he had sold paintings for which she had sat. From the evidence, one may conjecture that for the figures, his wife was the model, but the faces were often of different women. The painting, Rose or Thorn? (1936), was supposedly based on the photograph of a fourteen-year-old girl distantly related to him. I am grateful to his daughter-in-law for the information. 28 E. L. Collingham, Imperial Bodies (Cambridge, 2001). 29 See for instance, a recent exhibition at Tate Britain, Exposed: The Victorian Nude, ed. Alison Smith (London, 2001), on Victorian ambivalence towards nudity and erotic subjects. Also P. Gay, ‘“Victorian Sexuality”: Old Texts and New Insights’, American Scholar, xxxxix (1980), pp. 372–8, and The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud, ii, The Tender Passion (Oxford, 1984). For a feminist analysis of Western images of the female body as a contribution to the debate on art and pornography, L. Nead, The Female Nude (London, 1992). 30 Rabindra Rachanabali, xi, p. 580. 31 The Indian Charivari (13 June 1873), inside front cover, carried an advertisement entitled ‘The Gallery of Beauty’, offering ‘exquisite recent Photographs, taken from Life, of 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 the most beautiful Actresses and Celebrities, in costume and otherwise.’ A. A. Gill in ‘Nude Awakening’, Sunday Times Magazine (12 September 2004), pp. 33–9, describes the threat to the ideal nude with the advent of photography. B. Tagore, in A. Acharya and S. Som, Bangla Shilpa Samalochanar Dhara (Calcutta, 1986), p. 293. See also ‘Deyaler Chhabi’, ibid., pp. 212–13; B. Tagore, ‘Nagnatar Saundarja’, Bharati o Balak (1889), pp. 85ff. N. C. Chaudhuri, Autobiography of an Unknown Indian (London, 1951), pp. 453–4. See Pal’s Character Sketches. B. C. Pal, ‘ Religion, Morality and Art’, Narayan, i/2 (1322), pp. 1160ff. N. K. Gupta, Narayan, ii/2 (1323), pp. 681ff. In his memoirs, Nalinikanta Gupta writes with amusement that Chittaranjan was so impressed by the article that he refused to believe that it was not by Aurobindo, see N. Gupta, Smritir Pata (Kolkata, 1370), pp. 138–9. R. K. Mukherjee, ‘Sahitya o Suniti’, Narayan, ii/2 (1323), p. 998. Strangely, even Mukherjee, an ancient historian, was unable to appreciate the erotic art of Hindu temples. H. Mazumdar, Shilpa Neeti (Kolkata, c. 1926), pp. 326–7. It is interesting that the Indian Academy of Art published some of the earliest photographs of nudes based on Indian models: iii (July 1920). Acharya, Indian Masters, unpaginated. Shilpi (July 1929). I am indebted to Sidhartha Ghosh. The joke is ascribed to Sajani Kanta Datta, editor of the satirical journal Shanibarer Chithi in the 1930s. Chakravarty, Chatushkon, xv/4 (Sraban 1382), pp. 615–16. On the politics of the art school in the years 1905–15, Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 279–85, 302–6, 313–14. Shilpi, i/1 (July 1929), p. 5. Mukul Dey received a diploma in mural painting from the Royal College of Art in 1922, where he specialized in etching, for which he is best known (the artist’s letter to Mary Lago dated 3 April 1970). Bagal, ‘History of the Government College of Art and Craft’, pp. 44–50. M. Dey, Amar Katha (Kolkata, 1402), pp. 100–19, where he offers a different version, claiming Gangooly’s hostility to him though making clear his dislike of Brown. Interestingly, neither Dey nor the official report mentions any difference with Bose. Shilpi, i/1 (July 1929), pp. 6–7, 38; Shilpi, i/3 (Autumn 1929), pp. 37–8. Dey himself, however, organized two major shows: Jamini Roy in 1929 and Tagore in 1932. These were official portraits of the reigning monarch King George v and Queen Mary, personally chosen by the king for decorating one of the state drawing rooms in the Viceroy’s House in New Delhi. The leading portraitists Bose of Calcutta and Lalkaka of Bombay were chosen to demonstrate the evenhanded treatment of Bengal and Bombay, the two artistic rivals, by the Raj. Chakravarty, Chatushkon, xiv/12 (Chaitra 1381), pp. 757–60. Though somewhat rambling, these articles offer us another and more objective viewpoint. Chakravarty, Chatushkon, xv/4 (Sraban 1382), pp. 318–19 on enlisting the support of Maharaja Pradyot Kumar Tagore that led to the founding of the society. 247
  • 234. 48 Chakravarty, Chatushkon, xiv/1i (Phalgun 1381), pp. 706–7. 49 Ananda Bazar Patrika, 16 August 1933. The move to have a central body with a national art policy originated early in the twentieth century as part of the objective of the colonial government to use art as indirect propaganda, see infra, p. 195. A central institution was in fact set up after Independence in 1947 by the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Lalit Kala Akademi was to be the coordinating central body for the nation’s art. 50 See Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 300–01. 51 Chakravarty, Chatushkon, xv/4 (Sravan 1382), pp. 319–20. 52 Annual Exhibition, Academy of Fine Arts, 1st year, Calcutta (December 1933– January 1934). Included were J. P. Gangooly, Dhurandhar, S. L. Haldanker, L. N. Taskar, Manchershaw Pithawalla, Deviprosad Roy Chowdhury, Thakur Singh, B.C. Law, Jamini Roy, Atul Bose, the leading orientalists and their pupils. There were also younger unknown artists. 53 Annual Exhibition, Academy of Fine Arts, 2nd year (December 1934–January 1935). Paintings by the Europeans Edwin Landseer, William Orpen, William Etty and Thomas and William Daniell came from various collections in Calcutta. Indian painters were Atul Bose, M. V. Athavale, Jainul Abedin, A. R. Chughtai, M. V. Dhurandhar, J. P. Gangooly, B. C. Law, Hemen Mazumdar (landscape sent from Patiala), Pramatha Mallik, Jamini Roy (a set of three: Krishna Balaram, Gopini, Mother and Child), Thakur Singh, L. N. Tasker and Sarada and Ranada Ukil. The Japanese painter Taikwan’s Kali and Saraswati, done in 1905, were now put up for sale (on him, Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 289–94.) 54 Chakravarty, Chatushkon, xv/4 (Sraban 1382), pp. 319–21. 55 Preface of catalogue of Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings of Atul Bose, (Calcutta, December 1939). 56 S. Datta, ‘Mr Atul Bose’s Exhibition’, a newspaper review dated December 1939 with title obliterated (probably The Statesman) in the artist’s family. 57 Ibid. 58 A. Bose, Verified Perspective (Calcutta, 1944), p. 67. Bose’s inspirations were Joshua Reynolds, Edwin Poynter and other academic artists (thanks to his son Sanjit Bose for the information). 59 K. C. Aryan, 100 Years Survey of Punjab Painting, 1841–1941 (Patiala, 1977), pp. 109–10. 60 A. Naqvi. Image and Identity (Karachi, 1998), pp. 99–133 and figs 26, 35, 36. 61 See Aryan, Punjab Painting for details of painting in the region. On Sobha Singh, see also Wikipedia and Harbans Singh, ed., Encyclopedia of Sikhism (Patiala, 1997); M. Kaur, Sobha Singh Painter of the [sic] Destiny (Amritsar, 1986). 62 Shilpi, i/1 (Summer 1929), p. 41. 63 Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 63–79. 64 Ibid. 65 I am indebted to the important doctoral dissertation of Nalini Bhagwat, ‘Development of Contemporary Art in Western India’, University of Baroda 1983, section on ‘Open Air School’. 66 See The Studio in the 1920s and ’30s: lxxxix/386 (May 1925), 248 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 p. 291, on E. Vignal, on W. Russell Flint, xcii/400 (July 1926), p. 83. Rather than individual artists, a general interest is evident. By this time, the French Impressionists and postImpressionists also featured regularly in the magazine. There is a particularly impressive painting by Satwalekar of the Himalayas in the Sri Bhavani Musueum in the old princely state of Aundh, Maharastra. Transcript of Haldankar obituary (unpublished) by his student, Baburao Sadwelkar, p. 7. See catalogue, M. R. Acharekar, Retrospective Art Exhibition (Bombay, 1973), p. 2. Acharekar, Rupadarsini (Bombay, 1958), p. vii. I met Acharekar through V. R. Amberkar, a close associate of the group in the early 1980s. The Indian Academy of Art, iii (July 1920), p. 50. Also reproduced in A.M.T. Acharya, Indian Masters (Calcutta, 1928), 1. On Talim, ed., Artists Directory, Lalit Kala Akademi (New Delhi, 1962). On the Mhatre episode, Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 102–7. J. Sen, ‘Nabin Bhaskar’, Bharat Barsha, yr 4, vol. 1, no. 1 (1323), pp. 60–63. I had an opportunity to visit the late artist’s studio where most of the later sculptures were spread around the garden. See for reproductions, An Exhibition of His (Karmarkar) Sculptures at the Nehru Centre, Worli (Mumbai, December 1996–January 1997). Interestingly, his studio contained a number of books on drawing and modelling published in England, including F. R. Yerbury’s well-known work, The Human Form and Its Use in Art (London, 1925). See his sculpture, Spring, Indian Academy of Art, iii (July 1920), unpaginated pl. K. Sarkar, Shilpi Saptak (Kolkata, 1977), p. 80. For Bose’s life and career see Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 117–18. Indian Masters, 1928, p. xi. My section on Rao is largely based on the rare monograph on the artist, Damerla Rama Rao: Masterpieces, published in 1969 by Damerla Rama Rao Memorial Art Gallery and School. I am indebted to Madhu Jain for making it available to me. She published the first essay that gave Indiawide publicity to the artist (M. Jain, ‘A Forgotten Treasure’, India Today, 15 November 1990, pp. 66–8). His sudden death may have robbed him of recognition but he left a small band of disciples and admirers. See chapter Four on Solomon. Ravishankar Rawal, ‘My Memories of Rama Rao’, in Damerla Rama Rao, p. 15. Rao’s older contemporary at Bombay art school, who went on to found a nationalist art school in Gujarat under Bengal School’s inspiration, Rawal speaks here of his admiration for the artist. On Rawal, Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 8–9, 125, 330–32. G. Venkatachalam, Contemporary Indian Painters (Bombay, n.d.[1940s]), pp. 95–100. Catalogue of the Academy of Fine Arts Exhibition, 1921–2. Damerla Rama Rao, pp. 4–7, Venkatachalam, Contemporary Indian Painters, pp. 77–8. Damerla Rama Rao, p. 6. Nakula is mentioned by Madhu Jain in ‘A Forgotten Treasure’.
  • 235. 84 Acharya, Indian Masters, i (June 1928), p. xiii. 85 See the revised and enlarged edition of 1951 published by the Government of India, New Delhi, pl. 68. ii from orientalism to a new naturalism: k. venkatappa and deviprosad roy chowdhury 1 This brief account of Venkatappa’s life is based on his diaries preserved in the Karnataka Archives. I am grateful to the Ministry of Education, Karnataka Government, for permission to consult the Venkatappa diaries and to the Venkatappa Museum for permission to document the paintings. I am also grateful to R. Eswar Raju of Chitra Shilpi K. Venkatappa Trust, Chiranjiv Singh, Nanjunda Rao, Munuswami, Y. Subramaniya Raju and Akumal Ramachander for all their help. For a general account on Venkatappa, see V. Sitaramiah, Venkatappa (Delhi, 1968). 2 Mrs D. P. Roy Chowdhury, ‘Life with an Artist’, Swatantra (January 1953–August 1953) [ten articles]. I had the privilege of knowing the artist who was a friend of my parents. Mrs Roy Chowdhury was a cultivated lady from a distinguished family in Calcutta. Her sister was cast by Jean Renoir in The River, based on Rumer Godden’s story and filmed in India. 3 Sitaramiah, Venkatappa, pp. i–ii. Venkatachalam, Contemporary Indian Painters, pp. 36–7. K. Sarkar, Bharater Bhaskar o Chitrashilpi (Kolkata, 1984), p. 151. 4 Though Percy Brown had just joined the institution as Principal, Abanindranath continued to be influential until his resignation in 1915. 5 Sister Nivedita and A. Coomaraswamy, Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists (London, 1918), pls pp. 30, 56, 60, 64, 72, 78, 102; A. Tagore, Notes on Indian Artistic Anatomy (Calcutta, 1914). 6 In 1913, as Venkatappa’s first year at the art school drew to a close, he started keeping a diary in which he noted that he had obtained a photograph of the great musician, Veena Sheshanna. He probably had some instructions on the vina in 1912, but did he know that this great musician would later be his teacher? 7 The offer came from the Director of Public Instruction in Bengal, probably at Brown’s instance. 8 His chief patron, the Maharaja of Mysore, bought two of his works at the Madras Fine Arts Society exhibition (1918). In 1920 he was sent Rs 153.7 by the Indian Society of Oriental Art, subsequent to the annual exhibition and a further Rs 87.8 for another painting. He instructed the society to continue to display his landscape in their showroom in the hope that it would sell. 9 Treasurywalla expressed dissatisfaction with his purchase The Buddha and His Disciples, forcing the artist to make corrections. There followed further correspondence from the collector, offering Rs 100 for one work and returning another, with suggestions for improving the figure of Radha. Venkatappa, who became irritated with this bargaining, refused to accept less than Rs 200. He received a lame reply on 20 February that although the work was possibly worth Rs 500, he could not afford the high price, 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 offering only Rs 130. This was finally accepted. Treasurywalla continued with his importunities, showing interest in other paintings, especially the celebrated Mad After Veena, but he forced the artist to reduce his price. The collector was Amrita Sher-Gil’s friend Karl Khandalavala’s uncle (infra, p. 46. Another patron, the Maharani of Cooch Bihar, wanted Venkatappa to improve her husband’s portrait, which he bluntly refused to do. An exception was James Cousins, the Theosophist and a fervent champion of orientalist art, who never haggled over price. One example of his modern approach is his relief of Sakuntala and Kanva. Like his teacher Abanindranath, he sought to represent the complex mixture of regret and satisfaction on Kanva’s face at the imminent departure of his adopted daughter for her husband’s house. Later on he criticized Nandalal’s illustration of the mythical Garuda in Myths of the Hindus and the Buddhists. The powerful painting showed Garuda with a green body and vermilion feet, which to Venkatappa was unnatural: although art must be informed by idealism, it should not sacrifice verisimilitude. This obsession with accuracy can, for instance, be seen in the episode related to Sister Nivedita’s Myths of the Hindus and the Buddhists. One of Venkatappa’s illustrations was printed in reverse, showing the hero accepting a gift with his left hand, a solecism. The artist took the Ramakrishna Mission, the executors of her will, to court for this and felt vindicated when a token fine of one rupee was imposed on the Mission. Mitter, Art and Nationalism, colour pl. xxv. Diary entry, 5 September 1926. This period was documented by B.G.L. Swami who came to know him well in the 1940s, See the articles in Sudha, 3 parts (30 July 1978, 6 August 1978 and 30 September 1978). Mysore was made famous by the novelist R. K. Narayan as Malgudi. Musically gifted, in his later years he attained proficiency in classical Karnataka music. This too became a solitary exercise, as he often practised late into the night, rarely performing for an audience. The title of the celebrated painting Mad After Veena was an allegory of Venkatappa’s decision to take up music. His guru Abanindranath had expressed concern that Venkatappa’s new interest would lead to the neglect of his art. The artist represents himself as an emaciated ascetic adoring the musical instrument vina, whilst the bust of Abanindranath gazes disapprovingly at him. The work, inspired by Rajput and Mughal miniatures, became renowned because of its complex narrative. Venkatappa sent the picture to Abanindranath for comments. He gave a qualified approval that the technique of the work was excellent, but its theme was not universal enough to appeal to everyone. Diary entry, March and April 1924. His reputation for asceticism was known in Calcutta, as shown by the half-humorous remark of Rabindranath Tagore’s in 1922: ‘You have not yet become a sannyasi?’ Ever a perfectionist, he once told Abanindranath, ‘I am married to art and she is a jealous mistress.’ 249
  • 236. 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 250 Venkatachalam’s ‘K. Venkatappa’, in Contemporary Indian Painters, pp. 35–41, is one of the first detailed analyses of the artist. In the 1940s Swamy, the author of the articles on Venkatappa, in Sudha, supra note 14, who was keen to meet this ‘strange’ man he had heard so much about, took a letter of introduction to the artist’s house. When he knocked on the door, the person who opened it told him that Venkatappa was out and was generally unavailable. He took this man to be the servant and only later did he learn that Venkatappa himself had opened the door. A few years later, a chance meeting and their common interest in plants did bring them together, a friendship that lasted until the artist’s death. Obituary, Ananda Bazar Patrika (16 October 1975). Mainichi (Japan) (25 August 1954), called him India’s greatest sculptor. Nichols, Verdict on India, p. 130. Mrs Roy Chowdhury, ‘Life with an Artist’, Swatantra (June 1953), p. 17. Venkatachalam, Contemporary Indian Painters, pp. 48–9. Excerpt from Langer’s To Yokohama and Back, in German Democratic Review, xv (September 1974), p. 57. K. Biswas, Devi Prosad Roy Chowdhury (Delhi, 1973), unpaginated. Boeiss has been mentioned by various Indian authors as an Italian but with no further information. His name does not seem Italian but I have not been able to trace him. S. Kramrisch, ‘A Great Indian Sculptor’, The Englishman (24 December 1926). The Hindu (20 January 1936). Talk at the Rotary Club, ‘The Impact of the West’, The Hindu (17 January 1936) and Madras Mail (17 January 1936). See, even earlier, Forward (14 November 1928). Review of art exhibition of the Madras School of Art, Prabasi, xxxix/12 (Chaitra 1342), pp. 875–7. See his short story, ‘Genius’, reprint from Shanibarer Chithi (Kartik 1366). Mrs Roy Chowdhury, ‘Life with an Artist’, p. 23. Revolutionary terrorists such as M. N. Roy had already left India to join the International Communist movement to spread revolution worldwide. Meanwhile British radicals were trying to send trade unionists to India to organize the labourers without success until the mid-1920s. On a good overview of the rise of left movements in India, see Sumit Sarkar, Modern India, 1885–1947 (London, 1989), chap. v (1922–7), chap. vi (1928–9, 1935–7), chap. vii (1942–5). P.R.R. Rao, ‘Devi Prasad Roy Choudhury: “A Portrait”’, in Choudhury and His Art (Madras, 1943), p. 9. Ibid., p. 11. This was my own impression of him. Ibid., p. 13. Lanteri, E. Modelling: A Guide for Teachers and Students, 3 vols (London, 1902–11). Supra, p. 95. On Fanindranath Bose’s meeting with Rodin, Mitter, Art and Nationalism, p. 117. D. Roy Chowdhury, ‘Directions in Sculpture’, All India Radio broadcast for Southeast Asia and Far East, 24 January 1951. Typically, he admired Picasso, I think because of his phenomenal skill, which made modernism less sus- pect. See Deviprosad’s criticism of Tagore’s painting as frighteningly modern (Presidential address, Prabasi Banga Sahitya Sammelan, 12th Session, Town Hall, Calcutta, 10 Paush 1341). 36 Rao, ‘Devi Prasad Roy Choudhury: “A Portrait”’, p. 1. Individual sculptures in the Travancore Temple Entry group express the extremes of degradation. 37 Ibid. See also the front page report on his death in Ananda Bazar Patrika. 38 Roy Chowdhury, ‘Directions in Sculpture’. 4. Contested Nationalism: The New Delhi and India House Murals 1 R. G. Irving, Indian Summer: Lutyens, Baker and Imperial Delhi (New Haven, ct, 1981), pp. 91, 101, 104. 2 Quoted in Mary Lutyens, Edwin Lutyens by His Daughter (London, 1980), pp. 104, 116 and 114. 3 T. R. Metcalf, An Imperial Vision: Indian Architecture and the British Raj (London and Boston, ma, 1989), esp. pp. 55–104. 4 C. Hussey, The Life of Sir Edwin Lutyens (London, 1953), p. 245. On the view of Indians being capable only of ingenious but intellectually lower forms of art, i.e. decoration, see P. Mitter, Art and Nationalism in Colonial India, 1850–1922: Occidental Orientations (Cambridge, 1994), chap. 2, esp. p. 52. 5 H. Baker, Architecture and Personalities (London, 1944), pp. 67–8. 6 Irving, Indian Summer, p. 105. Baker, Architecture and Personalities, pp. 216–22. The Times (3 October 1912). 7 Irving, Indian Summer, pp. 106–7. Report on Modern Indian Architecture by Government of India, India Society, London, 1913 (iol (India Office Library)). Hussey, Life of Sir Edwin Lutyens, p. 245. 8 Irving, Indian Summer, p. 108. Samarendra Gupta, Vice Principal of the Lahore art school, was one of Abanindranath’s pupils. 9 Irving, Indian Summer, pp. 108 and 194. B. S. Cohn, ‘Representing Authority in Victorian India’, in E. Hobsbawm and T. Ranger, The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge, 1984), pp. 165–210, on Raj recycling of Mughal rituals of empire. 10 M. Lutyens, Edwin Lutyens by His Daughter, p. 126. 11 Hussey, Life of Sir Edwin Lutyens, pp. 347–8, on Lutyens’s 1916 and 1922 Memoranda to the government. 12 J. Ruskin, Seven Lamps of Architecture (London, 1855), p. xii. 13 H. Smith, ‘Decorative Painting in the Domestic Interior in England and Wales, c. 1850–1890’, London University dissertation, pp. 84, 91, 107, 144. 14 B. Petrie, Puvis de Chavannes (Aldershot, 1997). J. Mucha et al., Alphonse Mucha (London, 1974). See also brochure on the Municipal Hall, Prague (n.d.). 15 D. Craven, Art and Revolution in Latin America (New Haven, ct, 2002). The Indian communists seem to have known their works in the 1940s. 16 On Abanindranath’s mural, Kaca O Devajani, see Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 298–300. During the second half of the
  • 237. 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 nineteenth century, attempts were made by the Romantics, especially Gothic Revivalists, to re-establish murals as architectural decoration in homes (see Smith, ‘Decorative Painting in the Domestic Interior in England and Wales’). On Cennini, see Smith, ‘Decorative Painting in the Domestic Interior in England and Wales’, p. 289. Tempera method with egg yolk as a binding agent was studied in Cennini’s text by Herringham, who along with Joseph Southall (see supra, p. 68), was a leading figure in English tempera revival. She studied tempera work at Ajanta: M. Lago, Christiana Herringham and the Edwardian Art Scene (London, 1996), the definitive biography of a key figure in the late Victorian and Edwardian art world. See Mitter, Art and Nationalism, chap. 9. On Rawal, see Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 8–9, 125, 330. Diamond Jubilee of BAS (unpaginated) on the prize. From 1916 onwards, Raval’s pupils also showed nationalist works at bas. M. V. Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham (Bombay, 1940), pp. 70–71. See Mitter, Art and Nationalism, p. 61. On Solomon, The Times (22 December 1965). On his panel fresco for the Royal Academy, ‘The Masque of Cupid’, The Studio, xxv (1902), p. 38. Toiles marouflées had been sanctified by Puvis de Chavanne himself in his portrayal of Sainte Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris, in the Panthéon. Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham, pp. 71–2. W.E.G. Solomon, The Bombay Revival of Indian Art (Bombay, 1924), pp. 68ff. The outgoing Principal Cecil Burns’ Confidential Memo to the Department of Education, 1918, ‘Hogarth is unfit to work as Principal but as there is no other person available, I am compelled to recommend him . . . He is absolutely unfit to impart higher Art Education’ (quoted in Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham, p. 66). Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham, pp. 71–3. Solomon, Bombay Revival of Indian Art, pp. 73ff. and 85. J. Charmley, Lord Lloyd and the Decline of the British Empire (London, 1987), on the career of George Lloyd, a junior member of the banking family. Solomon, Bombay Revival of Indian Art, pp. 68ff. He mentions that public interest in the school was kindled by the efforts of Marmaduke Pickhall, editor of the Bombay Chronicle, founded by the early Congress leader, Phirozeshah Mehta. Kanhaiyalal Vakil, art critic of the paper, became a valuable Solomon ally. W.E.G. Solomon, Mural Painting of the Bombay School (Bombay, 1930), p. 19. Solomon, Bombay Revival of Indian Art, p. 73. Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham, p. 71. Burns was a student of the academic painter Hubert Herkomer but following previous precedents he did not encourage fine art tradition in Bombay, anon., Story of Sir J. J. School of Art, 1857–1957 (Bombay, 1957), p. 89. In Dhurandhar’s memoir, an incident does indicate the occasional use of undraped models: we came to know that the model was having her monthly period and as she had to sit without clothes, she refused to come back but Cable Sahib (a teacher) made her stand half naked there (Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham, p. 60). 28 Solomon, Bombay Revival of Indian Art, p. 64. Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham, pp. 74, 76ff. See Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 90–92. 29 Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham, p. 74. This mural has been preserved at the school. The sum offered was Rs 5000 (Story of Sir J. J. School, p. 91). 30 Solomon, Bombay Revival of Indian Art, pp. 67, 75. On Alphons Mucha, his son J. Mucha et al., Mucha (London, 1971). Indian seasons are six in number. 31 Solomon, Mural Paintings, p. 23. 32 On Birley, who painted the portrait of the King, Times of India (27 February 1935). 33 V. S. Metta, ‘Revival of Mural Decoration in India’, Apollo, vi (July–December 1927), pp. 24–6. 34 Times of India (25 March 1904). 35 Times of India (8 March 1907). 36 Solomon, Mural Paintings, pp. 59–60. 37 Solomon, Mural Paintings, pp. 83ff. Solomon was keen to preserve the ‘flat’ quality of Indian art and yet inject naturalism into it, an impossible task among art teachers as we know from earlier debates (Mitter, Art and Nationalism, p. 43), Solomon’s letter to Dhurandhar, 29 April 1922 (Diary, Appendix). 38 Solomon, Mural Paintings, p. 5. 39 W.E.G. Solomon, Jottings at Ajanta (Bombay, 1923); The Women of Ajanta (Bombay, 1923); The Charm of Indian Art (Bombay, 1926); Essays on Mughal Art (Bombay, 1932) and introductions to the collections of the Prince of Wales Museum, Bombay. 40 Solomon, Mural Paintings, pp. 19–20. 41 Rupam, viii (October 1921). 42 K. Vakil, ‘Humours of Havellism’, Times of India (8 August 1931), cited during India House murals controversy. But see his From Havellism to Vital Art (Bombay, n.d.). His brush with Havell must have begun in the 1920s. On his attack on oriental art, Bombay Chronicle (18 May 1930). 43 L. Fischer, The Life of Mahatma Gandhi (London, 1951), p. 247. 44 Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham, p. 33. As we have seen with Percy Brown in Calcutta, the heads of art schools recruited students to produce welcoming art works for every visit of the Prince of Wales. 45 Solomon, Bombay Revival of Indian Art, pp. 75ff. Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham, p. 76. 46 Solomon, Bombay Revival of Indian Art, p. 14 (pylons). 47 Solomon’s letter to Dhurandhar is in the Appendix of his memoir. The Leader, xvii (21 November 1921, 19 March 1922). For Chapekar’s deposition before his execution, see E. Kedourie, Nationalism in Asia and Africa (London, 1970). On the riots during the Prince’s visit, J. Brown, Modern India: the Origins of an Indian Democracy (Oxford, 1985), p. 217. 48 Solomon, Bombay Revival of Indian Art, p. 76. Sarasvati is the Hindu goddess of learning. 49 Solomon, Bombay Revival of Indian Art, p. 78. 50 On Lloyd’s opposition to the 1935 act, P. A. Spear, A History of India, ii (Harmondsworth, 1965), p. 203. 251
  • 238. 51 Solomon, Bombay Revival of Indian Art, p. 77. On Lloyd’s comment about Indians, Piers Brendan, Sunday Observer (13 December 1987), p. 22. He was one of the founders of the British Council. 52 Talk at the Bombay Students Brotherhood, Story of Sir J. J. School of Art, 1857–1957, p. 93. 53 On the India Society’s role in the appreciation of Indian art and culture in Britain, Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 311–13. 54 Rothenstein to Tagore, 6 April 1923, in M. Lago, Imperfect Encounter (Cambridge, ma, 1972), p. 307. 55 On Fine Arts Committee, see British Empire Exhibition Descriptive Catalogue of Modern Indian Paintings and Sculptures, Calcutta, Bombay, Lahore (Bombay, 1924). I am grateful to the Chughtai Museum for permission to use this rare catalogue printed by the Times of India. 56 Solomon, Bombay Revival of Indian Art, chap. 3 on the Indian Room. See also pp. 112ff, and Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham, pp. 78, 80. 57 Solomon, Bombay Revival of Indian Art, chap. 3. On Mhatre, Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 102–6. 58 Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham, p. 81. 59 Solomon, Bombay Revival of Indian Art, p. 60, and chaps 4 and 5. 60 British Empire Exhibition Catalogue. 61 Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham, p. 80. 62 These two paintings were sold at Sotheby’s along with one of Asit Haldar’s shown at Wembley. 63 Brief biography compiled by Mukul Dey himself (supplied by Mary Lago). On Bose-Dey enemity, infra, p. 140. 64 V. B. Metta, ‘Modern Art at Wembley: Bengal’, Rupam, xxi (January 1925), pp. 14–15. 65 L. Heath, ‘Modern Art at Wembley: Punjab’, Rupam, xxi (January 1925), p. 14. Also ‘Modern Bengal Painting at Wembley’ Art Notes, Rupam, xxiv (October 1925), p. 109. 66 The Studio, lxxxix (January–June 1925), p. 138. 67 Ibid., p. 145. 68 Rothenstein to Tagore, in Lago, Imperfect Encounter, p. 307. 69 Indian Art and Letters, i/1 (May 1925), p. 26. Born in India, a prime actor in establishing British supremacy in Central Asia, Francis Younghusband (1863–1942) was also in search of spiritual enlightenment in Tibet; see Benedict Allen, The Faber Book of Exploration (London, 2003). Younghusband’s The Heart of Nature was published in 1921. J. J. Clarke, Oriental Enlightenment (London, 1997), p. 139, uses Younghusband to argue the nature of Western hegemony in that it admired those it dominated, the case also of the Lutyens family. 70 Havell’s letter of 29 August 1925, Indian Art and Letters, i/2 (November 1925), p. 106. Havell: ‘Indian Art at Wembley’, Rupam, xxi (January 1925), p. 12. 71 Indian Art and Letters, i/1 (May 1925), p. 20. On the way to England, Solomon spoke on his school at the Musée Guimet in Paris. Lord Ronaldshay had been a fervent champion of oriental art during his period as the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal (Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 317, 377). 72 Conference on Indian Art held at the British Empire Exhibition on Monday, 2 June 1924 (iol), p. 50. 252 73 Conference on Indian Art, p. 3. Havell’s books had helped establish the aesthetic importance of Indian art. 74 Conference on Indian Art, pp. 1–14. The exhibition’s Indian commissioner was Dewan Bahadur Vijayaraghavacharya. 75 Conference on Indian Art, p. 19. 76 Conference on Indian Art, p. 19. 77 E. H. Gombrich’s famous criticism of the innocent eye and his concept of schema and correction, Art and Illusion (London, 1954) put paid to this view. 78 Rupam, xix–xx (July–December 1924), pp. 130 and 124–30. Conference on Indian Art, p. 10. 79 Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham, p. 73. See supra, p. 160, on Damerla Rama Rao’s participation in the exercise. 80 P. Brown, ‘The Mural Paintings at New Delhi’, Indian State Railways Magazine, iv/ 5 (February 1931), p. 399. 81 Lago, Imperfect Encounter, p. 300. 82 Hussey, Life of Sir Edwin Lutyens, p. 497. 83 Irving, Indian Summer, p. 296. Baker had a fine collection of primitive art. 84 Baker, Architecture and Personalities, p. 68. 85 The Times, 3 October 1912. Baker, Architecture and Personalities, p. 222. On Baker’s views on decoration, see Baker, Architecture and Personalities, chap. 10. Gilbert Scott’s Architecture of Humanism is quoted on the marriage of the arts: ‘Architecture controls and disciplines the beauty of painting, sculpture, and the minor arts.’ 86 Solomon, Bombay Revival of Indian Art, p. 81. 87 Ibid., p. 81. 88 Conference on Indian Art, p. 10. 89 Bombay Chronicle (13 December 1924); New India (7 January 1925); Times of India (6 January 1925); The Englishman (5 January 1925); The Hindu (17 January 1925). 90 Mentioned in Indian Art and Letters, i/1 (May 1925), 3. Indian Daily Mail (9 January 1925). 91 Council of State Debates, Wednesday, 28 January 1925, Official Report of the Debates, iv (New Delhi, 1925), pp. 73–5. 92 Council of State Debates, pp. 76–8. 93 Council of State Debates, pp. 79–80. 94 Legislative Assembly Debates, 2nd Session, 2nd Legislative, 16 February–3 March 1925, v, pt ii (New Delhi, 1925), p. 2033. Irving, Indian Summer, pp. 347–8. 95 Legislative Assembly Debates, pp. 2033–4. 96 Story of Sir J. J., p. 99. On Ahivasi, Artists Directory, Lalit Kala Akademi (New Delhi, 1962). 97 Bombay Chronicle (20 March 1925). 98 Encourage Indian Art, The Prize of Delhi Scheme (Prize of Delhi Committee Pamphlet) (Bombay, 1925). 99 Encourage Indian Art, pp. 3–5. O. C. Gangoly, ‘Prize of Delhi Scheme and Official Patronage of Indian Art’, Rupam, xxvi (April 1926), pp. 68–71, complained of the nationalist agitators jumping on the art bandwagon whereas actual revival was achieved by Havell and the orientalists earlier in the century. 100 Vakil to India Society (iol); Times of India (2 April 1925); Bombay Daily Mail (4 April 1925); Bengalee (4 April 1925).
  • 239. 101 Bombay Chronicle (4 April 1925). 102 Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham, p. 84. Solomon’s letter no. 735 of 12 November, Report on Prize of Delhi Scheme, 1925. 103 E. B. Havell, Indian Sculpture and Painting (London, 1928), p. 103. 104 Indian Art and Letters, i/2 (November 1925), p. 106. 105 Havell, Indian Sculpture and Painting, p. 102. Mitter, Art and Nationalism, p. 279 and passim for Havell’s definition of nature. 106 Havell’s letter of 5 July 1929 in Roopa Lekha, i/3 (1929); K.Vakil, in Roopa Lekha, i/4 (1929), pp. 32ff. 107 E. B. Havell, ‘Indian Architecture’, Roopa Lekha, i/5 (1930), pp. 16–18. 108 Vakil, ‘Art Notes’, Roopa Lekha, i/6 (1930), pp. i–vi. 109 E. B. Havell, ‘Modern Indian Architecture’, Roopa Lekha, 6 and 7 (1930–31), pp. 1ff. 110 Rupam, xxiv (October 1925), p. 59. 111 K. Vakil, ’Art World, Some Prominent Figures’, Bombay Chronicle (30 June 1926). 112 Vakil was probably thinking here of the well-known art lover and collector, Rai Krishanadasa. An admirer of Abanindranath, he started the famous Bharat Kala Bhavan collection of traditional and modern Indian art at Benaras Hindu University. 113 On O. C. Gangoly’s talk at the Bharat Kala Bhavan, Bombay Chronicle (18 May 1930). On Gaganendranath, see supra, pp. 15–27. 114 K. Vakil, ‘Art Notes’, Roopa Lekha, i/4 (1929), p. 33, on Gangoly lecture; ‘Art Notes’, Roopa Lekha i/1 (1929), p. 44, on founding of Rasa Mandal. 115 Solomon, Mural Paintings, pp. 27–8. Marshall was Director of the Archaeological Survey of India. 116 Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham, p. 98. 117 Brown, ‘Mural Paintings at New Delhi’, pp. 395–6. Solomon, Mural Paintings, p. 32. 118 Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham, p. 103. 119 Solomon, Mural Paintings, chaps iii and iv. 120 Brown, ‘Mural Paintings at New Delhi’, pp. 392–3. Brown provides us with the most balanced and informative account of these murals. 121 Ibid., pp. 395–6. 122 Solomon, Mural Paintings, p. 40. 123 Solomon, Mural Paintings, p. 19. 124 Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham, pp. 81–2. Story of Sir J. J. School of Art, 94. 125 Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 99–100. He was also known as Fyzee Fyzee-Rahamin. 126 Attiya Begam (and) Fyzee Fyzee-Rahamin, Music of India (London, 1925), where she relates the romantic story of their love and the discovery of ancient Indian music in 1913, her singing and him illustrating the ragamala. 127 H. Furst, ‘Mr Fyzee Fyzee-Rahamin’s Paintings’, Apollo, ii (July–December 1925), pp. 91–4. The show was held in August 1925. E. H. Gombrich, ‘Kokoschka in His Times’ refers to Furst (unpublished lecture, 2 July 1986). 128 Although not explicitly stated, the two works at the Tate must have come from the same exhibition held in 1925, see 129 130 131 132 133 134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146 147 148 149 M. Chamot et al., Tate Gallery Catalogues: The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, i (a–l) (London, 1964), pp. 199–200. The Sassoons, originally from Baghdad, had extensive family and trade connections with Bombay. See Apollo, ii (July–December 1925), p. 97. On his paintings at the Tate, see Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 330–1. The Hindu (8 December 1934) [on Sheshanna]; Madras Mail (10 December 1934) [on Arlington Gallery]. Furst, ‘Mr Fyzee Fyzee-Rahamin’s Paintings’, pp. 91–4. Times of India (19 July 1926) refers to article of 19 June by Fyzee-Rahamin. Lalkaka won the competition to paint royal portraits at Windsor with Atul Bose in 1929. Seodia chose Western subjects for his New Delhi murals, see infra, p. 206. H. Furst,’Mr Fyzee Fyzee-Rahamin’s Decorations at Delhi’, Apollo, x (July 1929), pp. 13–14. Ibid., pp. 11–13. K. Vakil: ‘Art Notes’, Roopa Lekha, i/5 (1930), pp. iiiff. Irving, Indian Summer, p. 287. Baker, Architecture and Personalities, p. 74. Confidential letter of T. S. Shilton to G. Wiles of bas, 25 May 1931, on Baker’s misgivings (iol). Baker, Architecture and Personalities, p. 172. Ibid., p. 74. Ibid., pp. 131–5. Confidential letter of Alan Green of India House, London, to Wiles, 7 May 1931, and demi-official letter of T. S. Shilton, Secretary, Department of Industries and Labour, to Wiles for publication, dated 23 May 1931, Doc. No 1311 on the date of announcement of the competition and other details (iol). See also B. Ukil, ‘Art Notes’, Roopa Lekha, i/4 (1929), pp. 35ff. Lago, Imperfect Encounter, p. 173. S. Fyzee-Rahamin to William Rothenstein, 6 March 1928 (1148, by kind permission of the Houghton Library, Harvard University). Rothenstein to S. Fyzee-Rahamin, 5 April 1928 (1148 [1679] by kind permission of the Houghton Library, Harvard University). Document No. 1311 (India Office Library) on the date of the announcement of the competition and other details (iol Eur f 147/74). On the government balancing act, Green’s letter (note supra, 140). On Choudhury, K. Sarkar, Bharater Bhaskar, pp. 218ff. See also Roopa Lekha, i/4 (1929), pp. 36–7. Rothenstein felt cornered enough to say that the choice was entirely fortuitous. Rothenstein, Since Fifty, p. 173. D. K. Deb Barman, ‘Londone India Houser Deyal Chitra’, Prabasi, xxxi/7 (Kartik 1339 [1932]), pp. 90–92. Ibid., p. 92. The Times (30 March 1930). Deb Barman, ‘Londone India Houser Deyal Chitra’, pp. 93–7. I had an opportunity to meet Mr Dinkel through his son, who was a friend of mine, when he vividly reminisced about his time with the Bengali students and his Italian journey with them. Deb Barman, ‘Londone India Houser Deyal Chitra’, pp. 94–5. Anonymous, ‘Indian Mural Painting, The Work of Four Indian Artists at the New India House’, The Studio 253
  • 240. (March 1932), p. 148. 150 Rothenstein, Since Fifty, p. 174. 151 Rothenstein, Since Fifty, pp. 174–5. Letters between Lord Willingdon and Rothenstein on the artists working at India House. Lord Willingdon’s handwritten note to Rothenstein, 21 March 1932, followed by a long protest letter by Rothenstein at the termination of the Indian House murals. (Rothenstein to Willingdon, 6 December 1933, wr–rt 1148 [1697]), and Willingdon’s formal response (Willingdon to Rothenstein, 29 December 1933, 1148 [1623]). I am grateful to the Houghton Library, Harvard University, for permission to quote the letters. Deb Barman, ‘Londone India Houser Deyal Chitra’, p. 97. 152 Deb Barman. Smritipote (Santiniketan), 1991. 153 Baker to Rothenstein, Lago, Imperfect Encounter, p. 340. This is not entirely true as the dome, for instance, is very colourful with the gold lending a certain lustre. 154 One assumes that arrangements must have taken at least half a year and the fact is that the controversy went on until 1931. 155 Times of India (6 April 1931). 156 Roopa Lekha, i/5 (1930), p. viii on the portraits. 157 Times of India (7 April 1931, 10 April 1931). 158 Times of India (12 April 1930). See also Note on the Exhibition of Work by Students of the Bombay School of Art, India House (Bombay, 8 October 1930), organized by Chatterjee. 159 Times of India (24 April 1931). 160 Times of India (6 May 1931). 161 Green to Wiles (see infra note 140). 162 Wiles to Younghusband, 8 May 1931 (iol). As a member of the India Society, Wiles sent cuttings from the Times of India to appraise the Society of the developments. He then had lunch with the editor of the Times of India in order to find out what his grievance was. 163 Times of India (22 May 1931). 164 Confidential letter of Alan Green of India House London to G. Wiles of bas, 7 May 1931 (iol Eur f 147/47). Though written in exasperation at the attack on the government, it reflects the general feeling that egg tempera was a more genuine form of fresco. 165 T. S. Shilton to Wiles, 25 May 1931. He wrote again on 12 June 1931, congratulating Wiles on his letter to the Times of India, Demi Official 1311 (99).[AQ: ??] 166 Younghusband to Wiles, 29 May 1931 (iol Eur f 147/74). Times of India (29 May 1931). 167 Times of India (4 June 1931). 168 Times of India (7 June 1931). 169 Sethna to Wiles, 8 June 1931 (iol). 170 Wiles to Younghusband, 13 July 1931 (iol). 171 Rothenstein to Tagore, Lago, Imperfect Encounter, p. 339. 172 Roopa Lekha, ii/9 (1932), pp. 28–30. 173 Roopa Lekha, ii/9 (1932), pp. 31–4. 174 Roopa Lekha, ii/9 (1932), pp. 35–8. 175 Solomon, Bombay Revival of Indian Art, p. 48. 176 See Alan Green’s letter of 7 May 1931. 177 See for instance, Interior view of the Oratory of St John, Co-Cathedral of St John, Valletta, C. Puglisi, Caravaggio 254 (London, 1998), p. 150. 178 See Brown, ‘Mural Paintings at New Delhi’, pp. 392–3, on criticism of the murals. 179 Times of India (27 December 1930). 180 Story of Sir J. J. School of Art, pp. 91, 98. Solomon involved his pupils with ambitious local projects, such as the murals at the Batliwalla Theatre and Jayakar’s bungalow. 181 Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham, p. 83. In 1905 Havell had also tried to found a fine arts department at the Calcutta University, but this had failed owing to opposition from within the university and the government. 182 Report of Public Instruction in Bombay, nos 33–34 (Bombay, 1928), pp. 76–7. Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham, pp. 93–6. Roopa Lekha, i/2 (1929), pp. 43–4. Dhurandhar had approached Jayakar on Solomon’s behalf. 183 G. A. Thomas, Report of the Reorganisation Committee Bombay (Bombay, 1933); Roopa Lekha, i/2 (1929), pp. 43–4. Thomas, Report of the Reorganisation Committee, Resolution No. 8300 (11 July 1932), pp. 154–7. 184 Reports of Public Instruction in Bombay, Nos 33–4, 76–7. Times of India (30 March 1933) (Bombay Art Society). 185 Solomon on his return to London exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1938: Béatrice Créspon-Halotier, with introductory essay by Olivier Meslay, Les peintres britanniques dans les salons parisiens des origins à 1939 (Dijon, 2002), p. 216. 186 J. M. Brown, Gandhi’s Rise to Power, 1915–22 (Cambridge, 1972). 187 Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham, p. 72. 188 J. M. Brown, Gandhi and Civil Disobedience: The Mahatma in Indian Politics, 1928–34 (Cambridge, 1977). 189 Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham, p. 109. 190 Ibid. On the 1935 Act, see J. M. Brown, Modern India (Oxford, 1985), pp. 274ff. 191 Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham, pp. 109–10 (photograph in the book shows several students wearing the white Gandhi cap, a symbol of defiance). The paintings on nationalist themes are preserved in the art school archives. 192 Note on the Exhibition (Bombay, 1930), pp. 5, 6–8. 193 Morning Post (iol Eur m f 147/105)? Times of India (2 October 1930). 194 Wilson’s letter of thanks, 28 March 1931, Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham, p. 108. A catalogue of the exhibition was published by the Times of India as ‘Note on the Exhibition of Work by Students of the Bombay School of Art’, India House, 8 October 1930. Handwritten letter to Dhurandhar by Sir Leslie Wilson dated 28 March 1931, ‘it was, of course, a great honour that Her Majesty, the Queen should have desired the picture, and I was very proud to be able to present it to her, but I was, at the same time, not unnaturally, sorry to part with it, and am glad indeed to think that the copy will soon be hanging on the wall’ (Dhurandhar, Kalamandirantil Ekechallish Varsham, p. 157). 195 Barman, Smritipate (Santiniketan), p. 96. 196 The Hindu (8 December 1934) [on the Queen]. On Ranada Ukil who decorated India House, Morning Post (19 January 1932). On Sarada Ukil’s exhibition at India House, The Times (19 January 1932). Another brother, Barada Ukil, ran
  • 241. 197 198 199 200 201 202 203 the lavishly produced Roopa Lekha and had started a class for oriental art in New Delhi. See on his relationship with Sher-Gil (supra, p. 51). He was prominently reported in the newspapers during the hanging of paintings at the Burlington Gallery. American Arts News (20 June 1932). For instance, in the News Chronicle (London) in June, and in The Yorkshire Post (14 July 1932, 14 July 1933). News Chronicle (June 1933). The Evening Standard (31 January 1934). The Manchester Guardian (6 April 1934). Vakil’s lecture appeared in the Times of India (7 July 1933). A souvenir of the Bombay contribution to the Burlington exhibition, Modern Art in Western India, 1934, contained Solomon’s lectures given in London before the exhibition. Solomon’s lecture, ‘Indian Art and the Bombay Movement’, English Review (November 1934). Also Madras Mail, 1 December 1934. Times of India, 3 December 1934. Indian Art and Letters, n.s., viii/2 (December 1934), p. 100. Even the Rangoon Gazette (27 November 1934) announced the opening (Indian Art and Letters, n.s., viii/2, December 1934, pp. 87ff.) Zetland’s speech on 14 November 1930 to Round Table Conference participants, Indian Art and Letters, n.s., iv/2 (1930), reported in The Times (15 November 1930). On Zetland, Mitter, Art and Nationalism, pp. 317, 377. bbc broadcast of 18 December, by John de la Valette, Indian Art and Letters, n.s., viii/2 (December 1934). Manchester Guardian, quoted in Chatterjee (see infra note 203). The India Society’s Exhibition of Modern Indian art at the New Burlington Galleries, 10–22 December 1934. The first generation of orientalists included Surendranath Ganguly, who had died young, and Venkatappa, now a naturalist landscape painter. Academic artists, Hemendranath Mazumdar, Atul Bose, Thakur Singh, as well as the veterans, Pestonji Bomanji, Manchershaw Pithawalla and A. X. Trindade were part of the show but not Abalal Rahiman, Archibald Muller or Dhurandhar, although Dhurandhar’s students Ahivasi and Nagar