Akbar Padamsee, one of pioneers in Modern Indian painting, dies at 91
In 1954, the debut show of a young Indian artist was shut down within a day of its opening. The artist was Akbar Padamsee and Bombay Police charged him with obscenity for two paintings, which is how the magistrate ended up presiding over a case that involved a police inspector insisting only babies touch breasts and Padamsee presenting classical Indian sculpture as proof to the contrary. So began the career of one of Indian art’s most fiercest and versatile legends.
Born in 1928 in Mumbai, Padamsee passed away after prolonged illness on Monday evening. He was 91. A contemporary of the legendary Progressive masters, including FN Souza, VS Gaitonde, MF Husain, Padamsee worked with a variety of mediums including oil painting, photography, sculpture, prints and film. “His legacy spans more than the art he produced,” said art and cultural critic Ranjit Hoskote, who described Padamsee as his mentor. “He was a myriad-minded man. His pioneering spirit allowed him to experiment with a wide range of media,” Hoskote said. “He had a profound practical sense. He was engaged with how one makes one’s way through life, preoccupied with an artist’s relation to the museum, culture, reading, and discussion.”
Educated at Sir JJ School of Art, Padamsee lived and worked in Europe and the United Kingdom before returning to Mumbai. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2010. While his contemporaries became collectors’ favourites in the mid-2000s, Padamsee became the most expensive Indian artist in 2019 when one of his works was auctioned for ₹11.70 crore. Blunt, opinionated and erudite, Padamsee was a wonderful storyteller in addition to being one of the most respected artists of his time. “Apart from Krishen Khanna, he’s the last of a generation of artists who believe that art could transform consciousness. His legacy is his expansive artistic practice,” said Hoskote.