Celebrating World Art Day: Exploring the Masterpieces of Iconic Indian Modernists

Art promotes creativity, innovation, and cultural diversity worldwide, fostering dialogue and knowledge sharing. Supporting artistic freedom promotes these qualities, advancing towards a free and peaceful world. World Art Day, observed annually on 15th April, strengthens the bond between art and society, promoting awareness of artistic diversity and artists’ role in sustainable development. It also underscores the importance of arts education, which can facilitate inclusive and equitable learning.

As we celebrate World Art Day, we turn our spotlight to the vibrant tapestry of modern Indian art and the luminary artists who have shaped its course. Works by these artists serve as windows into India’s rich history, complex identities, and evolving societal narratives. Through mediums ranging from canvas to sculpture, these visionaries capture the essence of their times, challenging norms and provoking thought. On this special day, let us revel in the kaleidoscope of colours, ideas, and emotions woven by these iconic figures, reminding us of art’s universal language and enduring power to inspire, unite, and transform.

Raja Ravi Varma: 
One of the greatest painters in the annals of Indian art history, Raja Ravi Varma’s oeuvre stands as prime examples of the amalgamation of European academic art with an inherently Indian sensibility and iconography. Notably, he pioneered the accessibility of his paintings through affordable lithographs, broadening his reach and influence across the public sphere. This initiative democratised fine arts, shaping the artistic tastes of common folk. His depictions of Hindu deities and scenes from Indian epic poetry and Puranas garnered widespread acclaim. Hailing from the erstwhile Parappanad royal family in Malappuram district, Varma had close ties to the royal lineage of Travancore, in present-day Kerala. Later in life, two of his granddaughters were adopted into the Travancore royal family, consolidating his familial connection with its lineage, extending to the present Maharajas.

Arjun And Subhadra by Raja Ravi Varma, 1890, Oil on canvas

Jamini Roy:
Jamini Roy, an Indian painter renowned for his fusion of traditional Indian and Western artistic styles, is celebrated for his intricate and distinctive creations. Born on April 11, 1887, in Beliatore, India, he commenced his artistic journey under the tutelage of Abanindranath Tagore at the Government College of Art in Kolkata at the age of 16. Here, he honed his skills in academic drawing and painting within the Western tradition. However, it was his embrace of the simplistic forms, vibrant hues, and unpretentious materials favoured by Bengali folk artists that defined his later style. Roy’s career flourished, culminating in the prestigious Padma Bhushan award bestowed upon him by the Government of India in 1954, recognising his significant contributions to the arts. Today, Roy’s masterpieces grace esteemed collections such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida, and the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi.

Untitled by Jamini Roy, 1960, Tempera on weaved cane

Amrita Sher-Gil:
Renowned as ‘one of the greatest avant-garde women artists of the early 20th century’ and a ‘pioneer in modern Indian art,’ Amrita Sher-Gil propelled Indian art onto the global stage single-handedly. Asserting famously, “I can only paint in India. Europe belongs to Picasso, Matisse, Braque. India belongs only to me,” the artistic luminary crafted an extensive body of work. Despite her untimely demise in 1941, her legacy endures, with her pieces commanding attention in auctions and exhibitions worldwide. Born on this day in Hungary in 1913, Sher-Gil displayed an early penchant for drawing. At sixteen, she enrolled at the prestigious Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts in Paris, where she painted numerous portraits and figure studies, often featuring her friends as subjects. Sher-Gil’s repertoire also includes a multitude of self-portraits, capturing her in various moods, from joyous to sombre. Her profound influence extended to subsequent artists, notably the Progressive Artists’ Group, and her depiction of women inspired many female modernists in India. Recognised as National Art Treasures, Sher-Gil’s oeuvre remains highly significant.

Untitled by Amrita Sher-Gil, 1920, Watercolor on Paper

M F Husain: 
Even in his youth, M F Husain harboured a deep admiration for horses, sparked by the majestic tazias of Muharram processions. He frequently sketched equine forms in chalk or coal on his school’s walls and notebooks. Later in life, Husain journeyed to China, where he studied the horse pottery of the Song dynasty and met artist Qi Baishi, whose minimalist yet dynamic horse depictions served as a wellspring of inspiration. He also drew influence from European artists Franz Marc and Marino Marini, as well as legendary figures of ancient Greek civilization such as the Trojan horse and Bucephalus. For Husain, the horse symbolised both grace and freedom, a motif he sought to capture powerfully in his art. He once remarked. 

Equus by M F Husain, 1979, Oil on Canvas

F N Souza: 
Francis Newton Souza was born in Goa, India, in 1924, emerging as one of India’s most influential Modern painters. Throughout his illustrious six-decade career, Souza delved into various genres and styles, but it’s perhaps his robust figurative approach, his line drawings, and his series of ‘black paintings’ crafted in London during the 1950s and ’60s that garnered him the most renown. He’s also esteemed for his recurrent exploration of themes and motifs, including Catholicism, the female nude, and the contrast between good and evil. Yet, what binds his oeuvre together is a visceral, evocative sensuality, at times turbulent, at times erotic. Indeed, Souza was a co-founder of the Progressive Artists’ Group (PAG) in Mumbai in 1947, coinciding with India’s independence, and he concurrently aligned himself with India’s Communist Party.

Untitled (Head) by F N Souza, 1965, Oil on Canvas

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