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Updated: October 21, 2011 12:21 IST

Tracing India's history through art

Vijetha S. N.
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Raja Ravi Varma. Photo: Special Arrangement
The Hindu
Raja Ravi Varma. Photo: Special Arrangement

For over two centuries art in India has been evolving, with its many manifestations capturing the imagination of art lovers everywhere. This process will be represented by the works of over 75 artists at the Delhi Art Gallery's sixth edition of ‘Manifestations'.

Featuring stalwarts of the 20th Century like Raja Ravi Varma, M. V. Dhurandhar, M. F. Pithawalla J. P. Ganguly and Gopal Deuskar, the exhibition traces the journey of Indian art beginning with the earliest work in the collection, a painting by Thomas Daniell created some time in the 1700s. He was one among a group of European artists who had taken to travelling through India painting landscapes from everyday life. His painting helped introduce Indian art to a new medium and style.

A painting of Kali by an unknown Bengali artist, dated somewhere around the 1860s, represents the synthesis of the already-evolved Western and Indian styles of art and content.

The next major change came when artists decided to focus on inherently Indian values. The collection includes treasures from Bengal like the works of artists Nandalal Bose, Radha Charan Bagchi, Khagen Roy, Kshitindranath Majumdar and B. N. Arya.

Modernists like M. F. Husain, Somnath Hore, Chittaprosad, Ram Kumar, Prokash Karmakar, K. S. Kulkarni, V. S. Panicker and Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh have also been featured in the collection.

The most recent work is a 2005 ink on paper by Sohan Qadri. It represents the artist's own interpretation of art, one that is free of geographical restrictions.

The exhibition is accompanied by a book that in addition to having an art scholar discussing each painting at length, also has interesting titbits and quotes about the story behind every painting. For instance, it tells us how Raja Ravi Varma's portrait of Raja Bhagwan Das, jeweller to the Nizam of Hyderabad, was painted by the artist while waiting for his appointment with the Nizam.Here the late celebrated writer Rabindranath Tagore is quoted as saying, “I spent the entire morning looking at Raja Ravi Varma's pictures. I must confess I find them really attractive. After all, these pictures prove how dear our own stories, our own images and expressions are to us”.

In M. F. Husain's painting of Mahatma Gandhi, he has left the face blank, and without spectacles, but has chosen to use the Mahatma's trademark loincloth and stick to represent the spirit of the man. “I was alone when I set out for my destination; others joined me and it became a caravan,” is Husain's favourite Urdu couplet, according to the book.

Apart from the Indian artists, well-known foreign artists like Muhammad Abdur Rahman Chughtai from Pakistan (1897- 1975) and George Keyt (1901- 1993) from Sri Lanka have also been featured.

The Delhi Art Gallery will also screen films on some of the featured artists from its archives, as part of the exhibition which will be inaugurated this Saturday. The exhibition is on till December 3.

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