Ganesh Pyne: The painter who blended fantasy with play of light and dark

Published on Mar 02, 2021 05:42 PM IST

Renowned artist Ganesh Pyne developed an individual style of poetic surrealism, around Bengali folklore and mythology.

Ganesh Pyne's works reflected the tumultuous period of anger and despair in Bengal. Illustration: Mohit Suneja
Ganesh Pyne's works reflected the tumultuous period of anger and despair in Bengal. Illustration: Mohit Suneja
By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Born in 1937 in Kolkata, West Bengal, Pyne grew up listening to his grandmother’s folktales and reading fantastic stories from children’s book, which helped create the vocabulary of his future art.

Also during his childhood years, he was an avid reader of Mouchak, a children’s magazine published in Bengali. He came across a printed drawing by Abanindranath Tagore, founder of the Bengal school art movement that left such a deep impact on the youngster that he took to reading voraciously and spending hours drawing with chalk on a black slate to hone his artistic skills.

However, other events that left much greater impact on him occurred in 1946. First, his father passed away early that year and his family was caught up in the Calcutta riots which preceded the partition of India. In the wake of the strife, the boy’s family had to be escorted to a safe zone at the Calcutta Medical College. The experience, which took place when he was just nine years old, had a lasting impact on Pyne’s life and work. He later enrolled at the Government College of Art and Craft, an institution that went on to be closely associated with Bengal School of Art and graduated in 1959.


Pyne began his career in the early 1950s by making illustrations for books and sketches for animation films at Mandar Mullick’s studio in Kolkata. When he fell short of money to buy colours, the budding artist began to make small drawings in pen and ink.

Working as an animator, he benefited from exposure to Walt Disney’s cartoons. Being a cinema enthusiast, he also drew inspiration from European masters of black-and-white cinema such as Ingmar Bergman, Andrzej Wajda and Federico Fellini, to name just a few.


Exhibitions that displayed collections of Pyne’s works were held across India, Paris, London, Washington and Germany.

The first solo exhibition of his works was held at The Village Gallery in Delhi after he had turned 50, and the Centre of International Modern Art, Kolkata organised his first major exhibition in 1998.

During the 1980s, his works had fetched one of the highest prices among Indian artists and had already established his name among the leading Bengal school artists like Bikash Bhattacharjee, Jogen Chowdhury and Somnath Hore and influenced a generation of painters.

Pyne was once described by the journalist and film-maker Pritish Nandy as a man who ‘radiated a mysterious quality’. He was an intensely private artist who rarely gave interviews, which meant that clues to his personality were often sought for in his paintings charged with the supernatural. He passed away on March 12, 2013 in Kolkata aged 76 after a heart attack and is survived by his wife and son.

Awards & recognition

Described as an artist’s artist, a philosopher’s philosopher and master fantasist of them all, Ganesh Pyne was conferred with several awards and accolades for his works.

Ganesh Pyne had received the esteemed Raja Ravi Varma award instituted by the Kerala Government and, in the year 2011, received the lifetime achievement award by the Indian Chamber of Commerce.

The great artist’s life was the subject of a 1998 documentary film directed by Buddhadeb Dasgupta titled A Painter of Eloquent Silence: Ganesh Pyne which was awarded the National Film Award for the Best Arts Film.

Interesting Facts

  1. Ganesh Pyne was very much active in the robust ‘adda’ culture of his culturally rich native city, Kolkata. He participated in Paris Biennale in 1969 and contemporary Indian Painting in West Germany in 1970.
  2. The 70s witnessed his most important and productive periods. It was a time when he began working with water colours. His art reflected the tumultuous period of anger and despair in Bengal.
  3. During the 1970s, the Illustrated Weekly of India published an article in which then leading artist MF Husain, asked to rank India’s best painters, identified Pyne, then in his 30s, as the one.
  4. By the time the art boom arrived in India during the 1980s, Ganesh Pyne began to mostly keep to himself, fazed by the wave of commercialism that knocked at the doors of art and creativity. His art made mark in India.
  5. In his later years, Pyne produced a series of works that drew from the Mahabharata but focused on the peripheral characters of that epic such as Eklavya and Amba and these were exhibited in Kolkata in 2010.

Sources : Wikipedia,

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