Lady in Repose by Bhanu Athaiya, circa 1950. “This painting is not the work of an acolyte of male masters. It does not offer itself up for the delectation of the male gaze. It is the work of an artist whose sensibility would be described as feminist today,” art critic Ranjit Hoskote writes in the catalogue for the auction.(Photos courtesy Prinseps)
Lady in Repose by Bhanu Athaiya, circa 1950. “This painting is not the work of an acolyte of male masters. It does not offer itself up for the delectation of the male gaze. It is the work of an artist whose sensibility would be described as feminist today,” art critic Ranjit Hoskote writes in the catalogue for the auction.(Photos courtesy Prinseps)

Suspense, drama, auction! Another side to the artistry of Bhanu Athaiya

Athaiya is best known for winning an Oscar for costume design for the film Gandhi. On December 2, an auction will showcase her paintings from the 1940s and ‘50s.
By Paramita Ghosh | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON NOV 29, 2020 03:02 PM IST

Bhanu Athaiya is a “Progressive long lost to view; she is indeed, the only woman Progressive,” art critic Ranjit Hoskote writes in the catalogue for an upcoming auction.

Athaiya, who died in October, aged 91, is best known for being the first individual Indian to receive an Oscar, which the costume designer won for her work on Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982). But she could have had a career as a very different kind of artist.

“After her death, we visited her home,” says Inderjit Chatterjee, founder and curator at Prinseps, the Mumbai-based auction house conducting an online auction of 29 of her art works, on December 2. “On the walls were striking canvases and watercolours, including the oil-on-canvas Prayers, that she had displayed at an exhibition in 1953, alongside works by members of the Progressive Artists Group.”

MF Husain, SH Raza and FN Souza were founders and leading lights of this art movement. Athaiya, who had moved from Kolhapur to Mumbai to study at the JJ school of Art at 19, joined the group briefly, on invitation. At 24, she would leave the fine arts for a career in the Hindi film industry.

It was the “practical choice”, she writes, in scattered personal notes that have also been handed over to Prinseps. The upcoming auction features paintings, sketches and cutworks from her peak period, the 1940s and early ’50s. Here is a look at the highlights.

Prayer, oil on canvas, circa 1950

A nun kneels before an altar, “her body stylised into a quasi-Cubist arrangement of angles and curves, yet with the texture and drape of fabric, the pulse of breath, the living human subject is made palpable to us,” Hoskote writes in the catalogue. Athaiya’s autobiographical notes suggests this painting may have drawn on memories from her days as a student at JJ, when she lived at a hostel run by a Catholic religious order. “Nobody saw it as something drawn from personal experience but insisted that I had done a copy of some foreign work,” she says in her notes.

Lady in Repose, circa 1950

A female nude reclines, sensuous and unselfconscious, her back to the viewer. The cross marks on the canvas suggest she is seen through mosquito netting. The model, Hoskote indicates, could have been a fellow student at Athaiya’s hostel. “The brushwork creates a curtain of shooting light. This painting is not the work of an acolyte of male masters. It does not offer itself up for the delectation of the male gaze,” he adds in his note. “It is the work of an artist whose sensibility would be described as feminist today.”

Gandhi, cutwork, 1938-39

In her autobiographical book, The Art of Costume Design (2010), Athaiya writes of how her father, painter and filmmaker Annasaheb Rajopadhye, noticed her interest in art and got her a private art tutor when she was eight. The Gandhi collage is a work of early experimentation with paper.

Coming to Bombay, sketch, 1948

This painting was a game-changer for the budding artist, prompting her family to suggest she head to Bombay to be trained professionally. “At the high school annual competition,” she writes in one of her notes, “I won three awards for my paintings on a flower study, a glass painting, and a sketch of a young girl with a deer, the latter inspired by a Grecian-style sculpture.”

Ranga Mahotsava, watercolour on paper, 1950

The use of colour and the recreation of landscape here recall artist Baburao Painter, also from Kolhapur and one of Athaiya’s early influences. Two years into her training at JJ, with its focus on Western styles with Indian subjects, this one was in keeping with the style of the time, says Suhas Bahulkar, an art historian who is editing an encyclopaedia on the visual art of Maharashtra. “Bombay Orientalism became endemic to much of the art being produced in western India between the 1920s and 1940s,” Hoskote writes.

Village Women, watercolour on paper, 1950

The rounded figures of Athaiya’s women were representative of women figures as painted by artists like Pran Nath Mago and Satish Gujral during the ’40s and ’50s, says senior artist Ashok Bhowmick. “The angular woman form came in with Jehangir Sabavala in the same period,” he adds.

Temple Study, circa 1950

By the time Athaiya joined the JJ School of Art, there was an emphasis on draughtsmanship, including the drawing of nudes. Students were taken to Ajanta and Khajuraho to do temple sketches. This sketch by Athaiya were likely done on site.

Fashion spread from Eve’s Weekly, circa 1950

In her early years as a costume designer, Athaiya also created fashion spreads in the women’s magazine Eve’s Weekly, to indicate what was in vogue to women readers. Those amazing sketches introduced a variety of trends to the post-Independence Indian woman, former model Meher Castelino says in the catalogue. Bhanu offered up daring combos of her own — subtle chiffons paired with backless mirror-work blouses; a floor-length coat worn over a sari. It was on the choli that Athaiya lavished most of her creativity, Castelino says.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close
Google Doodle celebrates International Women's Day(Google)
Google Doodle celebrates International Women's Day(Google)

International Women's Day: Google Doodle celebrates firsts in women’s history

By Nishtha Grover, Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 08, 2021 08:14 AM IST
  • Google Doodle, for this year's International Women's Day, is honouring women who broke down the barriers and changed the course of history. It is also celebrating the trailblazers of present and future.
Close
The library which was set up in the last week of February by the 18 Rashtriya Rifles of the Army has become an instant hit among the students of Ranipura, Chittisigpura, Kejrival and Devipora villages, officials said. (Representational Image) (Unsplash)
The library which was set up in the last week of February by the 18 Rashtriya Rifles of the Army has become an instant hit among the students of Ranipura, Chittisigpura, Kejrival and Devipora villages, officials said. (Representational Image) (Unsplash)

Army converts bus stand to 'street library' for JK children

PTI, Anantnag
PUBLISHED ON MAR 07, 2021 07:15 PM IST
In a novel initiative, the Army has converted a dilapidated bus stand in a village in South Kashmir into a 'street library' to help students of neighbouring areas to prepare for competitive exams and higher studies.
Close
Women police personnel with all women PCR van at Rajpath in New Delhi. (Photo:Ravi Choudhary/HT)
Women police personnel with all women PCR van at Rajpath in New Delhi. (Photo:Ravi Choudhary/HT)

Women cops taking over the city this Women’s Day

By Ruchika Garg, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON MAR 07, 2021 01:28 PM IST
Maximum possible women personnel are deployed in the city to celebrate the women’s day. This is to enhance the visibility of women cops in the Capital.
Close
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, (R) her Los Angeles home she shared with her ex-husband.(Instagram)
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, (R) her Los Angeles home she shared with her ex-husband.(Instagram)

Inside Meghan Markle's old $1.7m marital home before she married Prince Harry

By Alfea Jamal, Hindustan Times, Delhi
PUBLISHED ON MAR 07, 2021 01:26 PM IST
Currently, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex reside in a $14 million estate in the secluded neighbourhood of Montecito, which is home to other celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, Tom Cruise and Ellen DeGeneres.
Close
Sydney's Mayor Clover Moore, bottom right, marches in the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney, Saturday, March 6, 2021. The annual event has been forced into a sport stadium due to Covid-19 restrictions.(AP)
Sydney's Mayor Clover Moore, bottom right, marches in the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney, Saturday, March 6, 2021. The annual event has been forced into a sport stadium due to Covid-19 restrictions.(AP)

Sydney's LGBTQI Mardi Gras goes ahead, with Covid restrictions

AP, Sydney
PUBLISHED ON MAR 07, 2021 12:49 PM IST
Sydney’s annual iconic Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras went ahead on Saturday, only in a different format due to coronavirus restrictions.
Close
The global population is ageing, and so are their eyes. In fact, the number of people with vision impairment and blindness is expected to more than double over the next 30 years.(Unsplash)
The global population is ageing, and so are their eyes. In fact, the number of people with vision impairment and blindness is expected to more than double over the next 30 years.(Unsplash)

Study shows that mortality is associated with vision impairment

ANI, Washington [us]
PUBLISHED ON MAR 07, 2021 12:30 PM IST
Researchers recently during a meta-analysis found that blindness and impairment of vision are closely associated with increased mortality risk. This has prompted a need to address global eye health disparities.
Close
Stories in Hindu epics help us envision a better India, he said. (Representational Image) (PTI)
Stories in Hindu epics help us envision a better India, he said. (Representational Image) (PTI)

Yogi Adityanath launches Global Encyclopedia of Ramayana

PTI, Lucknow
PUBLISHED ON MAR 07, 2021 10:31 AM IST
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on Saturday launched the Global Encyclopedia of the Ramayana and said that this epic and the Mahabharata give the best life lessons.
Close
Sridevi in a scene from English Vinglish(Screengrab)
Sridevi in a scene from English Vinglish(Screengrab)

Women's Day 2021: Celebrate spirit of womanhood with these Bollywood films

ANI, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 06, 2021 07:49 PM IST
From English Vinglish to Thappad, here is a list of movies that are not just a full-package of entertainment but will also leave you with an aftertaste of inspiration and some encouragement to believe in yourself.
Close
Italian Baroque artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini's rare art to go on sale in France(Twitter/Walks)
Italian Baroque artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini's rare art to go on sale in France(Twitter/Walks)

Italian Baroque artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini's rare art to go on sale in France

Reuters
UPDATED ON MAR 06, 2021 07:46 PM IST
After being discovered six months ago in Compiegne, Italian Baroque artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini's rare drawing 'Academie d'Homme' to go on sale in France on March 20
Close
New Delhi art exhibition features 40 masterpieces by 20 Indian greats(Twitter/artzestdxb)
New Delhi art exhibition features 40 masterpieces by 20 Indian greats(Twitter/artzestdxb)

New Delhi art exhibition features 40 masterpieces by 20 Indian greats

PTI
UPDATED ON MAR 06, 2021 07:26 PM IST
New Delhi's two-month long art exhibition features artworks by eminent artists such as FN Souza, Ram Kumar, Sakti Burman, K Laxma Goud, Lalu Prasad Shaw, Thota Vaikuntam, Manu Parekh, Seema Kohli, Neeraj Goswami, Manoj Dutta and more
Close
Artisans from Bhilwara, Chittorgarh, Dungarpur, Pratapgarh, Rajsamand and Udaipur attended the programme.(Pixabay)
Artisans from Bhilwara, Chittorgarh, Dungarpur, Pratapgarh, Rajsamand and Udaipur attended the programme.(Pixabay)

Artisans from various districts in Rajasthan attend event to learn about GI tags

PTI, Udaipur
PUBLISHED ON MAR 06, 2021 06:37 PM IST
Over a hundred artisans from six districts of Rajasthan on Friday attended a one-day programme in Udaipur organised for sensitisation about the advantages of geographical indication.
Close
Featuring influencers, creators and industry experts, the event will have panel discussions on topics like careers, celebrating sisterhood, adulting, entrepreneurship, women education, body positivity, fashion, self-awareness, global issues and more.(Pixabay)
Featuring influencers, creators and industry experts, the event will have panel discussions on topics like careers, celebrating sisterhood, adulting, entrepreneurship, women education, body positivity, fashion, self-awareness, global issues and more.(Pixabay)

Online festival to empower young women, celebrate womanhood

PTI, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON MAR 06, 2021 06:21 PM IST
'It's a girl thing', a global festival that empowers young women to break stereotypes and express themselves, will host a three-day virtual finale summit in the International Women's Week starting Saturday.
Close
Japan Buddhist temples survive Covid-19 lockdown with online funerals, Zen apps(Photo by Lisanto and Markus Winkler on Unsplash)
Japan Buddhist temples survive Covid-19 lockdown with online funerals, Zen apps(Photo by Lisanto and Markus Winkler on Unsplash)

Japan Buddhist temples survive Covid-19 lockdown with online funerals, Zen apps

Bloomberg
UPDATED ON MAR 06, 2021 06:12 PM IST
Zen meditation apps, memorial services held online including match-making services keep Japan's Buddhist temples afloat amid Covid-19 lockdown
Close
Less than half of movie theaters are open nationwide, but reopenings are quickening. Theaters in many other areas reopened last summer around the release of Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” but that attempted comeback fizzled.(Unsplash)
Less than half of movie theaters are open nationwide, but reopenings are quickening. Theaters in many other areas reopened last summer around the release of Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” but that attempted comeback fizzled.(Unsplash)

New York cinemas reopen, brightening outlook for theaters

AP, New York
PUBLISHED ON MAR 06, 2021 03:31 PM IST
After growing cobwebs for nearly a year, movie theaters in New York City reopen Friday, returning film titles to Manhattan marquees that had for the last 12 months instead read messages like “Wear a mask” and “We’ll be back soon.”
Close
Sarod exponent Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, historian-author Rana Safvi, photographer Ram Rahman and model Dinesh Mohan share their experiences of getting vaccinated.
Sarod exponent Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, historian-author Rana Safvi, photographer Ram Rahman and model Dinesh Mohan share their experiences of getting vaccinated.

Delhi’s Covid tales: 60+ Give a shot to life, say better safe!

By Henna Rakheja, Naina Arora and Digvijay, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON MAR 06, 2021 01:47 PM IST
As the Covid-19 vaccine becomes available to people aged above 60, and those above 45 with comorbidities, quite a few Delhi-NCR based popular personalities come forward to inspire others.
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP