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Mumbaiwale: One painter, two shows. But who’s MV Dhurandhar?

MV Dhurandhar’s 100-year-old work isn’t hanging in just two galleries. It’s in homes, books, postcards, calendars, ads and Buckingham Palace. Get to know him better

mumbai Updated: Sep 15, 2018 00:51 IST
Rachel Lopez
Rachel Lopez
Hindustan Times
Mumbaiwale,Mumbai,Painter
No Mumbai artist produced more work in the first half of the 20th century than Mahadeo Vishwanath Dhurandhar.(Bhau Daji Lad Museum)

You’ve probably already seen MV Dhurandhar’s art, even if you’ve never heard of him. The artist, who lived between 1867 and 1944, is the subject of two exhibitions currently on view in Mumbai, at the National Gallery Of Modern Art and the Bhau Daji Lad museum. What makes him so special?

He was a busy man

No Mumbai artist produced more work in the first half of the 20th century than Mahadeo Vishwanath Dhurandhar. The exhibitions cover portraits, landscapes, posters, book covers, book illustrations, sketches, craft-oriented work, designs for trophies, calendars and advertisements. By the time he died, aged 77, he’d completed more than 5,000 paintings and 50,000 illustrations and filled 85 sketchbooks. Himanshu Kadam, who co-curated MV Dhurandhar: The Artist as Chronicler, with Tasneem Zakaria Mehta, at Byculla’s Bhau Daji Lad museum, says he didn’t just draw across platforms, “he was one of the pioneers of commercial art in India”.

By the time he died, aged 77, he’d completed more than 5,000 paintings and 50,000 illustrations and filled 85 sketchbooks. (National Gallery Of Modern Art )

He was destined for art

Dhurandhar was born near Kalbadevi, spent his youth in Kolhapur and returned in 1890 to study at Sir JJ School Of Art – a good move from the start. Two years in, his charcoal drawing, Household Work, of two Maharashtrian women chatting in the kitchen as they chopped potatoes and cleaned rice, won him a prize at the prestigious Bombay Art Society’s exhibition. By 1895, in his final year, his mythological oil painting, ‘Have You Come, Lakshmi?’ won the Society’s gold medal, the first for an Indian. At a time when solo shows were unheard of, Dhurandhar had several – wowing critics and locals.

Dhurandhar joined the school as teacher the next year, becoming headmaster in 1910, its first Indian principal in 1924 and its first Indian director in 1930. As principal, the post came with an additional job – curator of what is now the Bhau Daji Lad Museum.

He’s not like Ravi Varma

Sure here are women, mythological figures, gods, folktales and modern renderings of classical themes. Figures get European-style perspective, skin shading, soft fabric folds and expressions. But “Dhurandhar’s great strength what that he also painted scenes from everyday and domestic life,” says Kadam. There are wedding scenes from Dhurandhar’s Pathare Prabhu community, city folk, festival celebrations, rural women, new and old occupations. The NGMA show, The Romantic Realist, features more than 200 works – potters, worshippers, dancers, fisherwomen, pram-pushing ayahs, dog-walkers and shoe shiners.

His works are intimate but still objective

There’s very little glamourising of poverty, rituals or the female form. Dhurandhar’s style is less romantic outsider, and more realistic documenter. But his works are no less beautiful. “He saw people as people, not types,” Kadam says. “An artist looking at his own people.” And yet, East and West blend. One series of illustrations at the BDL shows a man having an affair with his maid. The moral stand is on view but so are the details from a modest Maharashtrian home. In an NGMA painting of a wedding, women wear nine-yard saris with European blouses but go barefoot (only a child has boots on). Another sketch depicts his first wife in the hours after her death as he waited at her side in 1898. Where crowds are depicted, each person has a different face.

Dhurandhar’s style is less romantic outsider, and more realistic documenter. (National Gallery Of Modern Art )

There’s a street named after him

Chitrakar Dhurandhar Road cuts through Chuim Village and SV Road towards Khar station. His villa, Amba Sadan, stood here until the 1990s. He had a studio in Byculla. Theatre legend Bal Gandharva, dropped in often.

He’s everywhere

At the NGMA show opening speech, curator Suhas Bahulkar remarked that he was inundated with calls from people who owned Dhurandhar’s works and wished to display them. Works hang at the JJ School, Buckingham Palace and royal homes across India. His murals cover the law-members’ room at Delhi’s Imperial Secretariat. The BDL’s clay models have been inspired by his paintings. The museum show’s introductory note says that his works were overshadowed by Bengal’s swadeshi style and the Bombay Progressives. It seems we’re rediscovering him only now.

Catch the shows here

MV Dhurandhar - The Romantic Realist. NGMA, Colaba. Until October 13. Closed on Mondays.

MV Dhurandhar: The Artist as Chronicler. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Byculla. Until October 1. Closed on Wednesdays.

First Published: Sep 15, 2018 00:47 IST