Master strokes: Modernists and the evolution of modern Indian art

  • Namita Kohli, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jan 30, 2016 18:29 IST
Works of M F Husain, Sonam Qadri, Souza and others on display in Delhi’s Kumar Gallery. (Saumya Khandelwal/HT Photo)

If the poem must be written for “poem’s sake”, and if the “obstinate oils of poetry and truth” must not mix, as American literary critic Edgar Allan Poe argues in his essay, ‘The Poetic Principle’, then surely one must be granted the privilege of enjoying — pardon the cliche — art for art’s sake too. The thought strikes me as I walk around Kumar Gallery, looking at the formidable collection of modern art by some of the form’s pioneers such as MF Husain, FN Souza, Krishen Khanna, KS Kulkarni and Sohan Qadri.

Chakki, oil on canvas, 1950, M F Husain

Draupadee, conte on paper, Ganesh Pyne

Head, oil on canvas, 1966, F.N Souza

Last Sermon, oil on canvas, Krishen Khanna, 1996.

Jamini RoyMan with Hukka, Tempera on cotton, 41" x 22"National Treasure

Relics Of The Empire, Oil on canvas, 1989, MF Husain

To the market, oil on canvas,1961, NS Bendre.

In its 60th year, the city’s oldest gallery is exhibiting 45 works of art, including the abstract and the figurative, the impasto and the tempera, that offer a visual narrative of a few epochal moments in the evolution of modern art in post-independent India, as well as in the oeuvre of its “blue-chip” artists. A small room dedicated to “rare” works by Husain, for instance, provides a glimpse into his work during the 1950s and 1960s; another room dedicated to Souza acquaints one with his works from the 1960s. “These works can help us trace the artist’s evolution. For example, Krishen Khanna, whose works are full of colour mostly, also did Fisher Girl in 1958, which is in black and white,” says Sunit Kumar, director, Kumar Gallery. Works such as these are being shown after a gap of several years — Fisher Girl for instance, is on display after 60 years.

The collection is replete with history, from a 1938 work by Ramkinkar Baij, to handwritten comments by the artists. In one of his works, Husain, who thought of himself as “India’s Picasso”, addresses gallery founder Virendra Kumar as the “Kahnweiler [gallery owner in Paris who presented Picasso’s work] of Indian art”. The strength of the collection, however, lies in the works of the “unsung” masters such as Qadri, whose impastos are a rare sight, or a B Prabha, whose work has been undervalued. “If the price of Husain’s work in 1959 was `3,000, it is about `5 crores today. The same cannot be said of some of his contemporaries. Artists such as B Prabha have not gotten their due,” says Kumar.

If this collection piques one’s interest in the works of modern masters, similar pleasures are to be had at Kolkata-based CIMA gallery’s show of the works of Lalu Prasad Shaw and Ganesh Pyne, where Shaw’s rural sensibilities are juxtaposed with Pyne’s urban angst. It’s the season to enjoy art, even if it seems, in moments perhaps, for its own sake only.


What: Celebration

When: 1pm-5pm; Till February 5

Where: 56, Sunder Nagar

What: Ganesh Pyne & Lalu Prasad Shaw; Two Faces of Bengal Modernism

When: February 1-6

Where: Visual Arts Gallery, IHC

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