A canvas steeped in colours of history and modernism

At the fag end of the 19th century, when the British were still holding on to India as the ‘brightest jewel in their colonial crown,’ a rebellious movement in Indian art began.

Taking offence to the British branding Indian primitive arts as ‘dead’ and promoting Western art schools in the country, Indian revolutionary artists like Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore and Ram Kinker Baij began to promote Indian art aesthetics once again.

Out came a whole generation of painters, and artwork, who vigorously portrayed rural India, chapters from the Indian freedom movement and most importantly Hindu deities.

This important genre of art came to be known as ‘Indian Modernism’ and went on at least till the mid-20th century.

Now, a prominent gallery, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), is showcasing key pieces from this period in an exhibition titled ‘An Unfinished Portrait’.

The gallery has mounted its entire collection from this time span, featuring no less than 16 artists and 250 artworks. It displays a contextual history of Modernism in India, with its ideological beginnings at Shantiniketan in Kolkata with the likes of Nandalal Bose, Ganesh Pyne and Somnath Hore; FN Souza and MF Husain of the Progressive Artists’ Group (Bombay); and Jeram Patel, Himmat Shah and Arpita Singh from Baroda and Delhi.

The presentation includes works of ‘Indian Modernist’ photographers too, such as Madan Mahatta, Richard Bartholomew and Ida Kar.

It is a most insightful and engaging retrospective worth a detailed study by enthusiasts of history and art in the city.

Roobina Karode, director, KNMA and the curator of ‘An Unfinished Portrait’ says, “This exhibition marks a new trajectory for us in terms of the roles and challenges that we take on ourselves as a museum.

Bringing on one platform India’s most acclaimed practitioners of the modernism art movement – from painters and sculptures at one end of the spectrum to photographers at the other – it is a spectacular attempt of passion and our ability to experiment with different modes.”

The exhibition includes some truly iconic works representative of the times and techniques of art employed in that age. Cases in point would be Nandalal Bose’s Ajanta-inspired paintings and murals.

He was a part of a pan-Asian association that sought to revive classical Indian culture in art.’


Then there are Binod Behari Mukherjee’s works which display his understanding of environmental and architectural nuances.

Also notable are Krishna Reddy’s various intaglio prints and sculptures.

Juxtaposed with these are photographs by lensmen who documented the history of the time. Between 1950 and 1980, at the height of Nehruvian modernism, Madan Mahatta captured and recorded the development of New Delhi.

Look out for snaps of the India International Centre, Asian Games Village and the Shri Ram Centre as they stood isolated on Safdar Hashmi Marg.

Richard Bartholomew, having personal friendships with various ‘Modernist’ artists, photographed them at their homes and studios.

Ida Kar, a Russian-born photographer was known for her portraits of artists and writers of European Modernism.

Check out this exhibition at the KNMA Gallery, Sector 126, Noida, on view till
September 30.

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