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Swiss artist Alice Boner and her India connections

An ambassador of Indian culture

art and culture Updated: Sep 17, 2016 07:20 IST
HT Correspondent
Alice Boner

Alice Boner in Varanasi, Mahmoorganj, India, 1935(Photos courtesy: Rietberg Museum)

Swiss artist Alice Boner’s (1889-1981)fascination for dance brought her to India in the mid-Thirties. Here, she struck life-long friendships with dancer Uday Shankar, Rabindranath Tagore, musician Ali Akbar Alauddin Khan, and art historian Stella Kramrich. Boner was a woman of many parts. She completed her training as a painter and sculptor in Munich, Brussels and Basel. An artist, a scholar, a collector and a photographer, her engagement with India are part of an ongoing exhibition.

In search of a more natural life, she migrated to India to fully immerse herself in the Indian way of life in 1935.

Read: The many facets of artist Bhupen Khakhar

The exhibition ‘Alice in Switzerland - A visionary artist and scholar across two continents’ puts the spotlight on the Swiss artist and Padma Bhushan awardee Alice Boner (1889 - 1981) as a cultural ambassador.

Crowd gathered after the murder of Mahatma Gandhi, Varanasi, India, 30th January 1948 (Rietberg Museum)

Boner was a generous friend and a patron of artists. Her own work as a sculptor and photographer, however, remained in the background. (She made detailed sketches of the large relief sculptures in of the temples of Ellora and Mahabalipuram). It is this gap that the exhibition is trying to fill in. The exhibition draws on Boner’s photographs and personal documents, most of them kept and preserved in the Museum Rietberg in Zurich.

Alice Boner, Uday and Ravi Shankar with an elephant, Nazrathpur, India, 1930 (Rietberg Museum)
Uday [Shankar] in Ascona, Switzerland, 1929 (Rietberg Museum)

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Boner made Varanasi her home. For her, it was about being a bridge between the East and the West. Her close friend Alfred Wuerfel had once said: “If it is true that culture is a vehicle of international understanding and those promoting it are its ambassadors, then Alice Boner, indeed, deserves to be called an Ambassador of Indian culture!”

‘Alice from Switzerland: A Visionary Artist and Scholar Across Two Continents’ , National Museum, Janpath, till October 30