Dr Nirmalya Kumar lives between Mumbai and London, teaches marketing at the London Business School, and is on the board of directors at a top MNC in India. But we're not talking business with him. We're talking art. To be more specific, an enviable collection of priceless works by early modernist artist Jamini Roy (1887-1972).
Kumar, in fact, is one of the largest collectors of Roy in the world. Not surprising then that the Museum of Cultures in Lugano, Switzerland, asked to showcase his collection in an exhibition this month, titled Jamini Roy. From Tradition to Modernity. The Kumar Collection.
Roy's work is credited with redefining Bengali folk paintings. Characterised by solid colours (he used them uniformly, and not in varying shades), his images lay emphasis on lines, shapely eyes and folk motifs.
Fifteen years ago, when Dr Kumar caught a glimpse of one of Roy's artworks (Seated Lady) for the first time, he says he fell in love. "After Jamini, it was impossible to buy anyone else. It became a passion," he says. Roy's works are modern and Indian, all at the same time, and that appealed to Dr Kumar's sensibilities.
From L to R: Untitled: Three Women, Untitled: Santhal Girl (Flower).
The collector also admires the artist for celebrating freedom of expression: "In pre-Independence India, modern Indian art was stuck between painting Indian subjects in a western style, and the old-fashioned Bengal revival style. Roy, however, was fighting for cultural freedom from British influence," he says.
Over the years, as Dr Kumar's collection expanded, his London apartment has come to house close to 68 works by Roy. His south Mumbai apartment also has a few precious ones - around a dozen, and includes the significant Mother And Child. And if you're a fan of Roy as well, you can walk in to Dr Kumar's house and see the rare collection; all you need is a prior appointment.
Dr Kumar says he allows this because he wants to make art lovers aware of Roy's contribution to modern Indian art, and to rectify misconceptions that Indian art is solely classical.
Ask him why critics find Roy's artworks beautiful but, at times, simplistic, and he says, "There is a place for aesthetically pleasing art, provided it features original ideas and influences art history. Jamini clearly achieves this, otherwise the British Museum wouldn't have him in its permanent collection."
In terms of appealing to a universal audience, Dr Kumar believes Roy was a trailblazer. "Many of his paintings managed to find their way overseas through foreign visitors. With his Christ series, he was the first Indian artist who attracted the western audiences with images that weren't Indian. He led the way for the likes of Anish Kapoor."
Know the artist
Jamini Roy (1887-1972) studied at the Government College of Art & Craft, Kolkata. Influenced by the British academic system, his initial works were Post-Impressionist landscapes. From the 1920s, his style steered towards Bengali folk art. He combined the style of Kalighat paintings (minimal artworks of deities and people) and the tribal art of Bengal (enclosed within a framework). This marked a new beginning in the history of Indian modern art. In 1955, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan.
To see the works at Dr Kumar's south Mumbai apartment, email him at email@example.com for a prior appointment.