A far corner of Devrukh in the Konkan region of Maharashtra has become home to precious paintings of the Bombay School of Art. What’s more remarkable is how these works of art from the British era — now valued at Rs.4 crore — got retrieved and exhibited in the newly inaugurated fine arts museum.
Valuable works of Pestonji Bomanji, Lal Bahadur Dhurandhar, Abalal Rahiman and Baburao Painter depicting life during the British era would have been lost to fungus and apathy.
Today, they adorn the sprawling Lakshmibai Pitre Kalasangrahalaya thanks to a struggle, at whose forefront was 88-year-old resident Vasant Pitre.
The seed for the museum was sown more than six decades ago. In order that the work of talented artists from the Konkan, Sindhudurg, Raigad, Ratnagiri belt be preserved, art teacher Yashwant Mule, artist V.S. Gurjar and art connoisseur Arun Athaley started collecting the paintings. But the dream was not to be fulfilled anytime during their lifetime. The paintings were donated to the Devrukh Shikshan Prasarak Mandal (DSPM) Trust.
“The paintings had gathered dust and were in a shambles. Around six years ago, a member of the committee illegally sold them. The process to retrieve them was lengthy and tedious,” said Shrinivas Virkar, council member of the Trust.
It was then that Mr. Pitre, chairman of the Trust, got down to the job. “I decided that the paintings had to be brought to our care again. I tried to coax the buyers into believing in our cause. Once the paintings came back, we decided that it was time to revive them and give them the place they deserve,” he said. From spending from his pocket, to raising donations, the new venture became an obsession. The museum is named after his mother.
Work on the museum began about five years ago. Architect Arvind Sardal designed the building which stands on 6,000 sq.ft. of land. Mumbai-based curator Mrudula Mane was roped in. Under the guidance of museologist Sadashiv Gorakshkar, the restoration began. It was decided that the ground floor would be devoted to the Bombay School of Art painters. The second made space for contemporary artists.
Every painting offers a a slice of history. Now you see a beautiful landscape of Kolhapur of the time, painted by Mr. Rahiman. Now you marvel at the earliest painting in the museum — a realistic portrait by Bomanji. Numerous, detailed human figures come alive in a small painting called “Devasthan” in the trademark style of L.N. Taskar.
“All the paintings on the ground floor have a strong western influence. It was just the beginning of realism in the country, where painters were moving away from depicting mythology. Their brush strokes, the use of water colour were borrowed from the West. But the core subject remained Indian,” said Ms. Mane.