Jamini Roy, Modern Indian Master

Jamini Roy, Handmaiden

Considered by many to be one of the most important Indian artists of the 20th century, Jamini Roy, along with the Tagores and the artists of The Bengal School, was responsible in part for bridging the gap between traditional 19th century Indian painting, and 20th century modernism.

The aesthetic of Jamini Roy’s work was strongly influenced by Kalighat paintings, the subjects of which were usually religious, mythological and folkloric in design, although also often featured scenes from everyday live in Calcutta.  These colourful pictures were produced by patuas, village artists, in the Bengal region in the 19th and early 20th centuries and were essentially souvenirs, purchased by pilgrims to the Kali temple.

Kalighat painting, © Victoria and Albert Museum


The influence of the subjects and techniques of the Kalighat patuas on the work of Jamini Roy is clear to see, especially when once compares the images shown here.  The bold use of natural pigments contained within the sweeping outlines of the women are strikingly similar.  The work by Jamini Roy however displays the subject in an entirely ‘modern’ way; the flatness of the depiction creating a strong two-dimensional image that lends the figure an almost graphic quality.

Jamini Roy, Recumbent Cat

Numerous books and essays have been written about Jamini Roy’s influences and techniques, so rather than dilute further we will focus on just one style in his oeuvre, that of figures and animals depicted in monochrome.

Using this technique Jamini Roy could distil the subject down to a few vital lines, whilst simultaneously attempting to impart volume and structure using his characteristic sweeping lines.  These lamp-black works perfectly display the skill of the artist as the density of the colour wash decreases as you move down the painting.  The requirement for perfection with each brush-stroke could almost be compared to calligraphy, such is the precision required to create the effect.

The monochrome example depicted here shows a cat, de-contextualised and devoid of emotion.  Its wide eyes stare intensely at the viewer, presenting one with an image unrecognisable from Kalighat paintings, yet still displaying strong links to the artist’s cultural heritage.

For further discussion of Jamini Roy’s works see: Sona Datta, Urban Patua, The Art of Jamini Roy, Mumbai, 2010.

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Season’s Greetings!

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Abdur Rahman Chughtai, 1897-1975

Abdur Rahman Chughtai is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential Pakistani artists of the 20th century.  Chughtai’s goal was to establish an indigenous style of art depicting traditional scenes from Islamic history and folklore, one completely separate from Western influences.  This outlook was similar to that of the Bengal School in Calcutta, operated by the Tagore family.

Abdur Rahman Chughtai, The Carpet Sellers

Whilst Chughtai predominantly worked with watercolors he was also a gifted print-maker who honed his etching skills at the London School of Photo Engraving during the mid 1930s.  His detailed etchings featured similar subjects to his watercolours, were printed in small editions and were rarely numbered.

The etching depicted here illustrates the artist’s extraordinary skill as a draughtsman.  The work depicts a carpet seller entering a town, the intricacy of which is reminiscent of the prints of Aubrey Beardsley, whose dense linear designs had become fashionable in both Europe and India at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The elaborate detailing of the carpet is the main focus of the scene, however on closer inspection more features are visible such as the crowd gathered beneath an archway, a mother and child next to a brazier and a figure in Western dress.  The scene is set against the backdrop of a town, it’s buildings creating geometric patterns which disappear into the distance.

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Lance Ribeiro, Rare and Strange Landscapes

Lancelot Ribeiro was born in Goa in 1933 and came to England in 1950, following in the footsteps of his half-brother Francis Newton Souza, who had arrived in London a year earlier. In London Souza pursued a career in the arts whilst Ribeiro studied accountancy, painting and drawing in his spare time.  Towards the end of the 1950s and after extensive travel within Europe Ribeiro returned to Bombay and took up painting professionally.  Whilst in India Ribeiro held numerous exhibitions and his work received plaudits from the local artistic community.

In 1962 Ribeiro returned to London and exhibited extensively, doing much for the reputation of Indian artists working in Britain.  It is interesting to note that much of Souza’s and Ribeiro’s work from the 50s and 60s was similar in style and subject.  Similarities which can be observed when one compares Ribeiro’s Townscape at Night with Souza’s Red Landscape (a work by F.N. Souza in Saffronart’s December online auction).

Lance Ribeiro, Untitled

‘His heavily lined portraits and especially the townscapes are sombre and disturbing, their dark backgrounds and crazy involved lines of the buildings are like a nightmare vision of the modern city.’  Barbara Wright, The Art Review, November 1964.

During the 1970s Ribeiro experimented with new technology surrounding the use of synthetic based paints.  His extensive use of PVA based materials of varying plasticities and with a much shorter drying time than oil paints allowed him to produce exciting new effects and finishes.  Whilst not as well known as his brother, Ribeiro’s efforts greatly hastened the widespread use of acrylic paints by artists and contributed to the rich landscape of expatriate Indian artists working in London.

Lance Ribeiro passed away on the 25th December 2010 leaving behind an extensive archive of works.  A retrospective show is planned for 2012, details of which will be published here.

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Sadequain, Pakistan’s Picasso

Sadequain, Composition against Cactai

Sadequain is widely regarded as one of the most important Pakistani artists of the 20th century whose oeuvre includes works on canvas and paper, calligraphy, poetry as well as gigantic murals, such as those at the Lahore museum, The State Bank in Karachi, and a gigantic 200ft long work in the power-house at the Mangla dam.

Arguably one of the most important periods in the artist’s life was the time he spent in Paris on the invitation of the International Association of Plastic Arts from December 1960 until early 1967.  Whilst in France Sadequain completed a great many works that were left behind when he travelled to Pakistan with his father in ’67, a trip from which, for reasons unknown, he never returned.  Whilst in Paris Sadequain gained numerous accolades and in 1964 was compared directly to Picasso by Le Monde et La Vie.

Sadequain’s work of the 1960s was often laden with symbolism and can be categorised into various different series, the Cactus series being one of the most important in the development of the artists career due to its influence on his later work.  Whilst in Paris Sadequain extensively explored the Cactus series, depicting the subject using a variety of media and with varying symbolic intentions.  He was fascinated by the plants ability to thrive in hostile environments and often combined depictions of sharp cactai with those of human figures, a contradiction which in his words “symbolised the triumph of life over environment”.

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Kutch silverware

Perhaps the most instantly recognisable regional style of Indian silverwork is that produced in Kutch (Gujarat), in the late 19th/early 20th century.  With its deep, tightly scrolled foliate motifs it was also the style most favoured by the silversmith’s clientele.

Designs were produced through a laborious process whereby the vessel or flat item was filled with molten wax and resin which when it hardened helped absorb the shock of the silversmith’s hammers and punches.  Using a series of blunt edged tools the designs were painstakingly hammered into the surface of the object after which the wax was removed by heating.  This was often repeated numerous times to achieve the desired effect.  (Three vessels in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London show this process in all its stages).

The most renowned of the sixty or so silversmith families in Kutch at the end of the 19th century was Oomersi Mawji, court silversmith to the rulers of Kutch (Maharao) whose inventive designs inspired many of his contemporaries and who can be said to have almost single-handedly stoked the desire for Kutch silverware both within and outside of India.

Thanks in part to O.M. Kutch silver gained immense popularity in the second half of the 19th century.  The tenacious marketing of Kutch silver by the Rao’s ensured that it was featured in exhibitions such as the Great Exhibition of 1851 at the Crystal Palace and such was its popularity it was even retailed at Liberty & Co. in London.

One reason for it’s widespread appeal may have been that the deep crisp lines and lack of obvious ethnic specificity appealed to the market more than other regional styles such as Swami silver produced in Madras.

The piece illustrated above, although unmarked, is a fine example of late 19th century Kutch silverware.  This large tray (54 oz) is decorated with a blank oval surrounded by intricate floral scroll-work that in turn is surrounded by a band of pierced fretwork.      (For more information on Kutch silverware see Wynyard RT Wilkinson, Indian Silver 1858–1947, London, 1999).

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Happy Diwali from CM Fine Arts!

We would like to wish those of you celebrating the festival a very happy Diwali 2011.

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