Photos: Bhanu Athaiya— the artist on canvas before cinema

UPDATED ON NOV 28, 2020 06:01 PM IST
Bhanu Athaiya made this watercolour on paper in 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.” (Courtesy Prinseps.com)
Gandhi, cutwork, 1938-39. In her autobiographical book, The Art of Costume Design (2010), Bhanu Athaiya writes of how her father 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. (Courtesy Prinseps.com)
This watercolour, Untitled (Grapes), on paper, was made between 1943- 44 before Bhanu Athaiya joined the JJ School of Art in Bombay (now Mumbai). Athaiya’s inspiration began from home. This sketch shows she was already aware of European portraiture-- hardly surprising as her father would being home from his travels in Mumbai, catalogues and books on European painters. (Courtesy Prinseps.com)
This sketch circa 1950 from her student years at the JJ School of Art attests to its pedagogical amplitude: the copying of faces from busts and photographs. This was made with red graphite on paper. (Courtesy Prinseps.com)
In her early years as a costume designer in the mid-1950s, Bhanu Athaiya also created fashion spreads as a look-book to give women ideas of how to stay in style for the women’s magazine Eve’s Weekly. Those remarkable sketches introduced a variety of trends to the post-Independence Indian woman. It was the choli more than the sari that she lavished most of her creativity on. (Courtesy Prinseps.com)
Lady in Repose, circa 1950. A female figure reclines, sensuous and unselfconscious, her back to the viewer. The model, critic Ranjit 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.” (Courtesy Prinseps.com)
The use of colour and the recreation of landscape in this watercolour made circa 1950, recall artist Baburao Painter from Kolhapur, Bhanu Athaiya’s home-town, and one of her early influences. “Bombay Orientalism became endemic to much of the art being produced in western India between the 1920s and 1940s,” says Ranjit Hoskote. (Courtesy Prinseps.com)
Bhanu Athaiya’s autobiographical notes suggest that this painting, of a nun kneeling before an altar (circa 1950) may have drawn on memories from her days as a student at the JJ School of Art in Mumbai, when she lived at a hostel run by a Catholic religious order. This oil-on-canvas, Prayers, she had displayed at an exhibition in 1953, alongside works by members of the Progressive Artists Group. (Courtesy Prinseps.com)

Bhanu Athaiya made this watercolour on paper in 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.” (Courtesy Prinseps.com)

Gandhi, cutwork, 1938-39. In her autobiographical book, The Art of Costume Design (2010), Bhanu Athaiya writes of how her father 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. (Courtesy Prinseps.com)

This watercolour, Untitled (Grapes), on paper, was made between 1943- 44 before Bhanu Athaiya joined the JJ School of Art in Bombay (now Mumbai). Athaiya’s inspiration began from home. This sketch shows she was already aware of European portraiture-- hardly surprising as her father would being home from his travels in Mumbai, catalogues and books on European painters. (Courtesy Prinseps.com)

This sketch circa 1950 from her student years at the JJ School of Art attests to its pedagogical amplitude: the copying of faces from busts and photographs. This was made with red graphite on paper. (Courtesy Prinseps.com)

In her early years as a costume designer in the mid-1950s, Bhanu Athaiya also created fashion spreads as a look-book to give women ideas of how to stay in style for the women’s magazine Eve’s Weekly. Those remarkable sketches introduced a variety of trends to the post-Independence Indian woman. It was the choli more than the sari that she lavished most of her creativity on. (Courtesy Prinseps.com)

Lady in Repose, circa 1950. A female figure reclines, sensuous and unselfconscious, her back to the viewer. The model, critic Ranjit 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.” (Courtesy Prinseps.com)

The use of colour and the recreation of landscape in this watercolour made circa 1950, recall artist Baburao Painter from Kolhapur, Bhanu Athaiya’s home-town, and one of her early influences. “Bombay Orientalism became endemic to much of the art being produced in western India between the 1920s and 1940s,” says Ranjit Hoskote. (Courtesy Prinseps.com)

Bhanu Athaiya’s autobiographical notes suggest that this painting, of a nun kneeling before an altar (circa 1950) may have drawn on memories from her days as a student at the JJ School of Art in Mumbai, when she lived at a hostel run by a Catholic religious order. This oil-on-canvas, Prayers, she had displayed at an exhibition in 1953, alongside works by members of the Progressive Artists Group. (Courtesy Prinseps.com)

About The Gallery

Bhanu 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.

[OTHER GALLERIES]

SHARE
Story Saved