Whilst the research is done on any civilisation and their progress and prosperity is to be evaluated, it is their crafts & art, which are studied first. It has been proved time and again that the creative activities flourish in the affluent period of civilisations. Mere affluence breeds arrogance and corrupts human faculties. At this juncture, cultural and aesthetic values play a vital role in providing significant impetus to social dynamism. Economic liberalisation initiated in the early 90s has given fillip and stability to wavering Indian economy. This has been reflected in the growth of a cyber world, GSM technology, satellite television and opened international avenues for India in many fields.
Since the early 1990s, the art world has seen major infrastructural changes. Art Galleries had come up in large numbers though restricted to only major cities. The arrival of international art institutions, private museums, auction houses, art fairs, and biennales helped India’s fledgeling art market to gain some ground, as it stands today. As per the expert sources, the peak Indian art market saw in 2007 in terms of turnover (Rs 2000 Crore) is yet to be surpassed even in 2016. However, trends suggest that 2017 will be a better year than 2016.
Largely, much disoriented art field till the 1980s-90s today seems to be in the control of itself. Designing of International standard art galleries, private museums, art fairs and biennales started in India resulted in travelling international exhibitions and artists to India and place India on the global art circuit.
Modern Indian art has been going through slow but steady growth and gradual evolution in India. Unlike Europe, artists in India have break neither any significant canons of academism nor any traditional rules. India has not seen renaissance like western world after the early classical period in India, which we saw before 200 BC. Though, Indian modern artists have realised complete freedom in their expression, using abstraction, minimising forms in trying to reduce elements in an endeavour to say most with the help of least. Artist’s individual thinking process and complex mental psyche have gained importance rather than overt visual images resulting in the description of artworks purely on philosophical ground. This practice made the artist explore and experiments with the profoundness of human psychology employing hitherto unknown forms of expressions.
Therefore, painting today is not confined to the physical depiction only but is considered as a vent for the inner vision of the artist and therefore viewer no longer can be placed in front of painting but inside it.
Art in India till late 19th century was deeply influenced by British Academic style brought by British painters who came to India through East India Company. They are the first who introduced the oil painting technique and realistic style of painting to Indians. In Maharashtra, the first art institution, which gave the training of western style of painting, came into being in 1790 under the Peshwa Sawai Madhavrao with the help of some British painters in Shaniwar Wada at Pune. However, the experiment was short-lived and was followed by long silence; then Maratha rulers were busy in warfare and could not spare time for art patronage. However, individual minor art practices were going on and some art objects, which show exquisite artisanship and design, are preserved in the museums at Sangli, Aundh and Pune, which include metal lamps, nutcracker, betel leave boxes, incense burner and other decorative items.
The first break after 1790 came in the form of establishment of Sir J.J. School of Art in 1857 at Bombay, now Mumbai and the training of western realistic style in painting and sculpture were imparted to students. Then formation of Bombay Art Society in 1888 and Art Society of India in 1918 played a significant role in making Bombay a cultural hub of India.
The Indian students trained in Sir J.J.School of Art, Bombay under the guidance of British teachers absorb the new style of British Academy and became well known for classical rendering with minute details and flawless proportions. These include M.F. Pithawala, S.D. Satwadekar, Abalal Rahman, M.V. Dhurandhar, Taskar, Agaskar, A.X. Trindad among others. G.K. Mhatre’s sculpture ‘To the Temple’ of this period showed idealised images with graceful and dignified postures.
In 1918 to 1930, perhaps influenced by Principal Cecil Burns, watercolourist like M.K. Parandekar, S.L.Haldankar & others dominated the Bombay’s art scene. The same trend was seen in the works of Baburao Painter at Kolhapur and Jambhalikar at Sangli. These painters used picturesque landscape for the background of their figurative paintings bringing lyrical quality to it. S.L Haldankar’s students carried the trend of watercolour further. These include his son Gajanan Haldankar, M.H. Achrekar and others.
Meanwhile, the revivalist movement started in Bengal had its repercussions on Bombay school as well. Added to this Principal Gladstone Soloman in 1918 introduced the Indian art class in the Sir. J. J. School of art and painters like Jagannath Ahiwasi, G.H. Nagarkar, Chimulkar and Dhopeshwarkar became well known for their paintings in Indian style. Jaganath Ahiwasi’s painting ‘Message’ became famous for its Indian style execution. In addition, in spite of several changes in the existing art styles, Indian traditional style paintings continued for a long period. Painters working in this style of later generation are A.A. Almelkar, Vajubhai Bhagat and others.
In 1934, Painters trained at Indore under Deolalikar dominated the Bombay’s art world. They painted in opaque watercolour with bold brush strokes creating a powerful contrast of light and shade. Figures in these paintings were separated by tonal contrast & not by a mere outline. Painters in this period include N.S. Bendre & G. M. Salgaonkar. Walter Langhammer’s impressionistic paintings of this period too strike the same note.
Around 1940, the ‘Young Turks’ group under the leadership of P.T. Reddy showed the signs of rebellion against the realistic trend of past. Other painters in this group were A.A. majid, Bhople, Baptista and M.Y. Kulkarni. However, the group did not survive for long.
Post Independence Era:
In the post-Independence period, most important groups were ‘Progressive Artist Group’ (PAG) and ‘Bombay Group’ (BG). PAG was formed in 1947 by then young painters and was a sort of revolt against the establishment of the art world. The Members of PAG were today’s great India master artists Late M.F. Husain, Late S.H. Raza, Late F. N. Souza, Late K.H. Ara, Late Sadanand Bakre and Late H.A. Gade.
They broke away from the earlier realistic trend and started off with new techniques and handled subjects – which were considered taboo then even in high society – such as ‘prostitutes’, beggars, gamblers, female nudes. In reaction to this type of painting Police even raided the studio of F.N. Souza in search of nude paintings, which were considered obscene. After this raid in 1949, Souza left India for New York. Their bold paintings attracted the people and inspired the young generation. The group disintegrated after Souza went to New York, Raza to Paris and Bakre went to London and settled there.
The Bombay group started with the inspiration taken from Ajanta and Indian miniature paintings. It was founded by remaining members of PAG under the leadership of K.K. Hebbar. Other members who joined the group were S.B. Palsikar, S.D. Chavda, D.G.Kulkarni, Vasudeo Gaitonde, Mohan Samant and Baburao Sadwelkar. Like progressive artist group, they had not come together in reaction to any art establishment or style but tried to synthesise the Indian and western art elements and gradually progressed towards abstraction and simplified forms.
After the 1960s:
In the Bombay after sixties, there were no particular art trends seen and artists were busy in search of themselves. However, some influences of individual artists were seen in the works of fellow contemporaries; whereas abstraction dominated the campus of Sir J.J. School of Art since the 1960s till mid-1990s. The availability of new materials with the host of non-conventional material has brought the variety of techniques in painting and sculpture. In the sculpture, Piloo Pochkanwala represented the trend of the modern period.
The renowned painter in addition to M.F. Husain, Akbar Padamsee, K.K. Hebbar, Tyeb Mehta, Jehangir Sabavala, Krishen Khanna, Prabhakar Barwe who came to limelight post 70s-80s were B Prabha, Lalitha Lajmi, Prabhakar Kolte, Sudhir Patwardhan, Prafulla Dahanukar, Gieve Patel, Altaf, Laxman Shreshtha and others. All these showed distinctive styles ranging from figurative, non-figurative, surrealistic, cubist, Tantra and various combinations, which form the spectrum of art in Mumbai. Vivan Sundaram has introduced New Art (installation) to the Mumbai’s art world and got loads of young followers who experimented with it.
Artist of later generations post 80s-90s like Atul Dodiya, Sunil Gawde, Nalini Malani, Vilas Shinde, Ravi Mandlik, Sujata Bajaj, represented the trend of modern art through their figurative, non-figurative idiom. Many of them later experimented with different mediums and techniques.
Many young artists were fascinated then by American 60s and experimented with it; pop art was being practised at and photo realism had come back in the paintings from late eighties/early nineties and some are quite mesmerised with it. Atul Dodiya, Jitish Kallat, Bose Krishnamachari, Sudarshan Shetty, Anju Dodiya, Baiju Parthan, Reena Saini Kallat, Justin Ponmany, Riyas Komu, T V Santhosh are some of the artists dominating the art scene in Mumbai post-mid-90s till today. Autobiographical paintings were also a trend in Mumbai’s art world and artists such as Anju Dodiya, Late Hema Upadhyay experimented with it. (This article, originally written in 2004 is re-written here for the blog; the reference material used to write it includes Bombay Art Society’s catalogues, BAS centenary yearbook, few essays articles in the old group show catalogues etc)