Art Criticism

Published in Nirukta Journal of Art History and Aesthetics, 2004, pp. 95-109.

The response in Gujarat to the Revivalism of Fine Arts that has been ushered in Bengal during the early decades of twentieth century and along with the art awareness among the people in general, has never been considered as a significant regional phenomenon. This cultural phenomenon is the contribution of essentially Gujarati initiative and creative abilities. We in Gujarat have been reticent in elaborating on Renaissance in Gujarat of which art awareness had been a belated but inevitable episode. In this age of modernism, we are debating this notion vis-à-vis the other notions of Revivalism. Renaissance, and our times, in terms of narrowness of vision and inhibitions in consequence of renewed respect for tradition, openness to western influence as a counteraction, and compulsive motivation for innovations as well as synthesis. Renaissance in Gujarat and the feature of its seeping in the society materialized through the vehicle of literature, through Gujarati poets, writers and wielders of the pen, most of whom were predecessors of Gandhiji.

In the context of the development of literature, historically there is no phase of ‘revivalism,’ but directly the ‘renaissance’ had paved the way towards modernity. Gujarat and in particularly the towns of Surat and Ahmedabad (and to some extent Baroda and Bhavnagar) responded to western influence, rationalism, social change and questioning of religious rigidities, grasping of democratic process, industrial progress, and so forth. This is very vividly reflected in the Gujarati literary genres of poetry, novel and short story. On the other hand the visual arts had to begin from the beginning i.e. from the rediscovery of the tradition, namely ‘revivalism.’ But also it could happen only when large sections of the society through extensive educational ventures by Gujaratis developed sensitivity for culture.

Gujarat, as part of the old Bombay Presidency, was in contact with cultural and socio-political developments taking place in Mumbai and Poona, spearheaded by Maharashtrian and Parsi intellectuals. Surat was the first city to receive the impact initiated by writers like Narmad (Narmadashankar Dave, 1833-1186). He had received education at Mumbai’s Elphinstone School and college and had been a member of Buddhivardhak Sabha (1851), which had groomed from English literature into Gujarati poetry and among other works wrote Hindu-ni-padati (Decline of Hindus), a long social-reformist but allegorical poem in rola metre. Other contemporaries from Surat were Mahipat Nilkanth (1829-1891) who was also a social reformer as reflected in the first social novel. Sasu Vahu ni Ladai, Nandshankar Mehta, (1835-1905), the writer of first historical novel, Karan Ghelo (1866); Navalram Pandya (1836-1883) who established literary criticism in Gujarat. The latter’s poem: ‘The English rule, the natives stand suppressed’, has been noted by Mahatma Gandhi in his autobiography, was popular among youth even in his young days. Another pioneer of Gujarati literature was Wadhwan born Dalpatram (1820-1898) who in his allegory Hunner Khan ni Chadai (1851), commented on the disappearance of Indian crafts due to onslaught of foreign goods. The first Parsi writer in Gujarati was from Baroda, Jahangir Talyarkhan (1846-1923) serving as Police Commissioner in Gaekwad Government. As a founder member of Prarthana Samaj (1875) Bholanath Sarabhai (1827-1886) brought in the influence of Ram Mohan Ray initiated Brahmo Samaj of Bengal. The social and literary movements were further strengthened and perpetuated into the four-part great novel Saraswatichandra (1887-1901). His contemporaries in poetry were the Prince of Lathi, Sursinjhi Takhtasinjhi Gohel (Kalapi, 1874-1900) and Nanalal Kavi (son of Dalapatram, 1877-1946).

Ravishankar Raval (1892-1977)

The new era in visual arts in Gujarat can be associated with the return of Ravishankar Raval from his several years of art training and exposure to larger world of the arts Mumbai (1910-1919) before deciding to make Ahmedabad as his Karmabhumi. I would like to adopt the phrase from his autobiography, when he aspired ‘The land of art wilderness to get transformed as a flower garden.’ Bhavnagar born Ravishankar Raval matured into a versatile journalist who was as much a creative painter, a teacher of art, illustrator for books and magazines, organizer of the successful and informative magazine for general readers, KUMAR, which covered politics, science, culture, art, personalities, and importantly was richly illustrated with photos, drawings and paintings. He made this magazine as a vehicle of his crusade. Photojournalist as we know today is one who travels and records events through photographic medium, but before the invention of portable camera and celluloid film, Ravishankar Raval worked as a mobile painter journalist, who was assigned to witness events and make drawings on spot of personalities and actions. Subsequently he also wielded the pen and used language dexterously. The early assignments in Mumbai by Haji Mohammad Allarakhiya set the course of his life. Ravibhai became life-long recorder of persons and events, both in his sketchbooks as well as writings. His life represents the change from photographer - portrait painter to individualist Indian style creative painter and cultural entrepreneur, parallel to the phenomenon of capitalist entrepreneur. Fortunately his entire autobiography has at last been published in 1998 under the title Gujarat man Kala Na Pagran, (Ushering of Art in Gujarat). His reminiscences as now comprehensively compiled are actually how he remembered incidents of his life from childhood to adulthood to old age. In the process he had interacted with collaborators in joint activities. Similarly are recorded ordinary people with whom he had interacted as neighbours or as technical and administrative colleagues carrying out ventures such as his life-long journalistic dream of KUMAR magazine, prominent among whom was Bachubhai Ravat. It can be observed that Ravibhai was influenced by Gandhi’s simple and episodic style whose autobiography started appearing in short pieces in the monthly instalments of Navjivan beginning from around 1920. Gandhiji in turn had been familiar with Rabindranath Tagore’s Jibansmriti, Bengalu 1911, English translation 1917, written in the structure of episode and character-sketch descriptions. Ravishankar Raval had completed Khand I (i.e. Part I) by 1930 for which he received the Ranjitram prize. Gujarat man kala nap AGRAN, is more than just the record of development of art (especially Painting) in Gujarat. It described the times through which Ravibhai had lived, virtually from childhood. It is in its own way a systematic coverage deserving to virtually from childhood. It is in its own way a systematic coverage deserving to be recognized as an appropriate example ofwhatiscalled“Subaltern history,” an eye witness account of how the person “passed through” it or “by” it like the “wanderer” on a street, the French call flaneur. In this respect it is a unique record left by an Indian painter even more purposeful than the three sets of personal reminiscences of the more famous Bengali painter Abanindranath Tagore, one of them titled Jorasankor Dhare. Ravibhai records the pioneering days of early years if the twentieth century when painters realized the range of professional avenues such as portrait painting from photographs as well as ‘live posing,’ paintings of stage sets and scenes, painting od sets for newly introduced cinema industry, book illustration, printing technology and block-making, and above all the controversy between European art training and Indian traditional art heritage.

In his autobiography we have the first person account of meeting Ranjitram Mehta in Mumabi in 1915 and in his manner Ravibhai described the further stages of Renaissance in Gujarat. Ranjitram (1882-1917) had been giving series of lectures under the heading Gujarat ni Asmita, pride in Gujarati human achievements. He was the founder of Gujarati Sahitya Sabha in Ahmedabad, which organized literary conference since 1905. He was an essayist, student of history and folklore of Gujarat. Consciousness of social issues and nationalism had already seized the minds of Gujarati people but hence forth through regional pride, it was the turn of self-esteem for renewed confidence for moving ahead. Kanaiyalal Munshi had been encouraged by Ranjitram in his initial years when he began his historical novels such as Gujarat no Nath, written under the pseudonym, Ghanashyam. Ravishankar Raval often brings up the cultural milestones of Bhavanagar during his youth including how he met Ranjitram along with Nanabhai Bhatt, one of the founders of the enlightened educational institute ‘Dakshinamurti’ (1910). During the last year of his art training at Mumbai and hoping to make his living there, Ravibhai remembers how he was fortunate to have been introduced to Haji Mohammad Allarakhiya by Ranjitram. Haji Mohammad was an enlightened writer and journalist, at that time enthusiastically planning to publish an illustrated art and literary magazine in Gujarati, Vismi Sadi. The first of its kind, from its first issue of 1916 onward, it published illustrations commissioned from Ravishankar Raval for Nanalal Kavi’s poems and Kannaiyalal Minshi’s serialized episodes of Gujarat no Nath. From his personal library Haji Mohammad had encouraged Ravibhai to acquaint himself with the significance of Indian art through the recently published books of E.B. Havell and Ananda Coomaraswamy, besides articles by Sister Nivedita.

As a schoolboy in Bhavnagar he had been attending drawing classes of Bhagavanlal Master who has studied at Mumabai’s Sir J.J. School of Art. Through his acquaintance with Narotam Bavaji, Ravibhai saw for the first time how portraits are painted on photographic prints on bromide paper. Another interesting experience of school days was meeting with Devmaharaj in Bhavnagar, who had gone to Baroda to study kathakirtan in the Harikirtan Shala established by Maharaja Sayajirao. This was during 1880s when Raja Ravi Varma, the painter from Kerala, was the guest of the Maharaj, Ravishankar Raval had been thrilled to hear Devmaharaj’s account of how he had watched Raja Ravi Varma at work painting portraits and mythological pictures in oil medium. The Bhavnagar youth picked up some techniques from Raja Ravi Varma’s method, such as use of light and shade as well as perspective. This is the only record we have of a Gujarati painter having learnt naturalistic elements from Raja Ravi Varma. What also impressed Ravishankar Raval about Devmaharaj was the fact that he did continuous sketches of people in a sketchbook he always carried with him. Ravibhai also described the Ravi Varma influenced painting Hind-Devi by Ahmedabad painter Maganlal Sharma, who had adopted the imagery of Abanindranath Tagore’s Bharat Mata, but sued his own idea of extended flowing sari-palloo to complete the map of India. Interestingly after completion of his art training in Mumbai; Ravishankar Raval had copied Ravi Varma’s painting from Bhavnagar Maharaja’s collection as means of making an earning.

It was the industrial and Handicrafts exhibition, which had been organized by the Swadesh Premi Mandal in Bhavnagar, which inspired Ravishankar Raval to make up his mind to go for a career in art. After Matriculation as well as passing the drawing Grade II examination he spent a year in an Ahmedabad college when in 1910 he obtained admission in the J.J. School of Art, Mumbai. Remembering his more than eight years spent in Mumbai he has described his art training and other enriching experiences. The British principal Cecil Burns, was strictly following the European system of naturalistic art, who did not treat the Indian teachers on equal footing. Besides Ravibhai observed that Burns lacked the imaginative quality necessary for an artist. In spite of Griffiths, an earlier principal himself leading the project of copying Ajanta paintings during 1890s, which had included staff members like Pestonji Bomanji and senior student M.V. Dhurandhar, there was hardly any impact on the art school curriculum. Meanwhile another perceptive British principal of the far away Art School at Calcutta, E.B. Havell had initiated the whole-hearted response, resulting in the Revival Movement. Ravibhai had spoken about his teacher Dhurandhar how he had been initially influenced by Raja Ravi Varma but had mastered proper European style and had painted subjects from Maharashtrian history.

He fondly remembers his classmates, S. Fernendiz and in particular Rama Rao, who also shared interest in Indian art elements. This brings us to the crowning episode of his stay in Mumbai and growth as a painter when at age of 25 in 1917; he was selected for the prestigious Gold Medal of the Bombay Art Society. On his award winning painting Bilva-mangal, the Times of India carried the comment, “…that of all the pictures exhibited by Indian painters in the exhibition, this work is the one more fully imbued with the spirit of Indian Art and the traditional and decorative point of view with which the art of the past has always regarded mature.” My comparative documentation shows that Ravishankar Raval should be recognized as one of the first painters in the then Bombay Presidency (geographically in the western India) to respond to the Revivalism in painting begun in Bengal, but by his own evolution. This coincides with the plans of the newly appointed principal of J.J. School of Art, Gladstone Solomon, to offer advanced level course in Indian Art under the heading “Mural Decoration” for which he obtained permission of the Colonial authorities in 1919. Ravibhai had met Solomon when he took over as principal in 1918 and had delivered lectures on theteachingof‘MuralDecoration’ projects and the official conferring of Diploma (G.D. Art).

In 1913 Ravibhai studied at the Fine Arts Department at Baroda’s Kalabhavan for about a year.

By 1925 Baroda had the opportunity of the short-lived presence of a Bengal School painter directly trained under Abanindranath. From another source I have located the information that the eminent art historian and a senior officer of India Civil Service, N.C. Mehta, at the Annual Oriental conference held about a year earlier at Baroda had delivered a lecture on the recent movement of art revival in Calcutta under the leadership of Abanindranath and the works of other Bengali artists. Impressed by this presentation Maharaja Sayajirao decided to engage a suitable teacher in the Art Department of Kalabhavan for teaching the new Indian style. For this purpose the young Bengali painter, Pramod Kumar Chattopadhyay was selected who was at that time teaching in Macchalipattam (Andhra).

Soon After Ravibhai decided finally to serve Gujarat rather than slog in Mumbai and moved to Ahmedabad in 1919, many hectic events had taken place in that city as well as in his life. Not only did Mahatma Gandhi announce his Non co-operation Movement in a Congress session of 1920, ushering a more strident phase of Independence struggle, he took over its leadership making Ahmedabad as the hub of his activities. He set up the Sabarmati Ashram in 1915, the year of Gopal Krishnan Gokhale’s death, and began publications of Young India and the Gujarati Navjivan. A Congress session had been held in Ahmedabad in 1902 when Sheth Ambalal Sarabhai emerged as a leader. The Swadeshi Movement, which began in Bengal in 1905, also called Banga-Bhanga, had also affected Gujarat. Ravishankar Raval remembered how he was shivering when he was brought in the presence of Mahatma Gandhi to make an on the spot sketch while he carried on with his work for publication in Vismi Sadi along with Nanalal Kavi’s poem in celebration of Gandhiji’s fiftieth birthday in 1919.

At the literary conference of 1920 when Gujarati writers had felicitated the great poet, Rabindranath Tagore, Ravishankar Raval heard his Bengali Poetic recitations as well as lecture held at the host Ambalal Sarabhai’s house. Ravibhai had established close relations with literary figures of the time when Gujarat Sahitya Sabha decided to have Art Exhibtion along with literary conferences. First such art exhibition was held in 1915 at Surat in which Ravibhai had received a prize. In 1920 he travelled to Bengal to have the first-hand experience of Bengal school, meeting Abanindranath, Gaganendranath as well as Nandalal Bose at Calcutta and the new art institution at Santiniketan. The news of untimely death of Haji Mohammed Allarakhiya in 1921, his mentor during his years in Mumbai, was a great personal shock. Ravibhai planned publication of his Smriti Granth (Commemorative volume) and made his life’s ambition to carry on Haji’s work for Gujarati literature by endeavouring to bring out KUMAR magazine, first issue of which was published in 1924. Ravibhai spent a year as art teacher in Ambalal Sarabhai’s school though he had also started his own art teaching classes from 1919, (Kala Mandir), but finally made up his mind to function independently. Keeping in view that art teaching in Shantiniketan began with Nandalal Bose at its helm since 1920, it is a pleasant surprise that the developments of arts in Ahmedabad are also historically parallel in time beginning with the return and settling there of Ravishankar Raval from Mumbai. Transfer of Baroda Kalabhavan’s Mahulikar to teach art courses at the newly established nationalist university, Gujarat Vidhyapith in 1920, is also significant.

Among his many faceted activities Ravibhai consistently did painting through nineteen thirties and forties. One of his first sets of paintings was based on Kalapi’s poems. In which he repeated his prize winning painting, ‘Bilva Mangal,’ and at least one of them is based on Todi Ragini of the Rajput school. His ‘Rajkunvari Rupande’ us based on a composition of Pahari painting, combining figures with landscape landscape setting. The aesthetically satisfactory combination of Indian naturalism of Ajanta and Mughal painting with European naturalism is best seen in the painting ‘Kailashma Ratri’, in the treatment of landscape and in the manner soft shading and subtle highlights are used for modelling of the human figure. In the Shilpa texts this final or top most stage for completing a painting is called elkhyakarma. In the romance of Shiva-Parvati, Ravibhai attempts to evoke the shringararasa so effectively represented in Sanskrit poetry if Kalidasa. Influence of Indian miniature paintings is also evident in the painting entitled ‘Hemchandra Suri,’ medieval period Jaina Acharya. Simultaneously in the painting ‘Yama-Nachiketa,’ Ravibhai retains the influence of the pioneer of Puranic subjects, Raja Ravi Varma. But in this depiction of ‘Munjal’ based on Kannaiyalal Munshi’s conjuring up of this character, Ravibhai gives us a good specimen of Mughal/Rajput portraiture as an alternative to portraits painted over photographic enlargements. His ‘Parashuram’ at first look appears a western three-dimensional bare-bodied male, but no close observation we realize the subtle absorption of seated male figures from Ajanta murals. It has to be acknowledged that the themes closer to his heart were those, which enhanced Gujarat ni Asmita, namely the depiction of the Bhakti poets in appropriate actions and setting, such as Mirabai, Narasinh Mehta, Premanand and Akho.

Kanu Desai (1907-1980)

Kanu Desai had offered himself as a young volunteer at the time of Congress Session of 1920. Having lost interest in further studies after his Matriculation he came to Ravishankar Raval’s house one fine day in 1922 for guidance in art and became life a son of the family. Concurrently he was studying art at the Gujarat Vidhyapith. On his own he had copying pictures of English actors and actresses from cinema posters. Now under Ravibhai’s instruction he began making sketches from life. In 1925 financial arrangements were made to send Kanu Desai to Santiniketan where he experienced the ethos of Bengal school first hand from Nandalal Bose. He returned after three years to teach at Gujarat Vidhyapith. He was assigned to join the Dandi March of Mahatma Gandhi (1930) when he made drawings of specific events. The portfolio of plates was published by Kumar Kayalaya. He also began a style of silhouette or shadow paintings executed entirely in black and white. Looking back at these paintings many of them executed in 1930s, they appear to be his most significant works. Silhouette quality is a feature in wood cut/lino cut prints also, but Kanu Desai’s silhouette paintings are distinct and do not have the graphic character. He was fond of cinema, which was in black and white at that time and up to about 1928 was its ‘silent’era.Cinematographersoftenused poetic and expressive silhouette compositions (i.e. profile view against light) either during ‘sun sets’ or resulting due to the ‘moon-light’ effects. I hold the opinion that Kanu Desai’s silhouette paintings were influenced by cinema, both for their realism and sheer beauty. He never deviated from beautiful contours, graceful poses, placed in idyllic scenes in the format of decorative flatness. Notice ‘Sayam Sangit’ (Evening Music) and ‘Pratibimb’ (Reflection), the latter shows dexterously the reflection in the village pond of a boy riding on a cow followed by his mother. Ravishankar Raval had also designed silhouette paintings but he introduced the effects of jalis of Indo-Islamic architecture as they appear against light. Such effects are not used by Kanu Desai

Kanu Desai did not show interest in the kind of upper or top-layer finishing like his mentor Ravibhai or his contemporary Somalal Shah. Thus Kanu Desai’s stark linearity of style evokes comparison with the paintings of that acknowledged contemporary master of line, Abdul Rehman Chugtai, However one feels something wanting in Kanu Desai’s paintings in terms of figure grouping, appropriate space structure and colour sense. Though his intension was to popularize art but the result was propagating a fixed repetitive type of work always delineated in curvilinear undulating lines, at times appearing too mannered.

Somalal Shah

Kapadvanj born Somalal Shah came to Ahmedabad in 1924 for his college education when he also started attending Ravishankar Raval’s art classes. Responding to Mahatma Gandhi’s call to all Indians, Somalal decided to boycott college studies, which is when Ravibhai advised him to join J.J. School of art, Mumbai (1925-26). Though he had undergone the syllabus of naturalistic art, he felt attracted to wash style of the Bengal School and therefore left Mumbai. At this juncture Ravibhai recommended him to be the pupil of Promod Kumar Chatterji in Baroda, under whom he could study only for a year. As mentioned earlier, the latter left Baroda in 1927. Obsessed with the urge to study at Santiniketan, Somalal reached Calcutta but instead decided to join the school run by Indian Society of Oriental Art and worked under the guidance of Kshitindranath Mazumdar who was very satisfied with them. Although Somalal hoped to seek career opportunities in Mumbai, Ravibhai advised him to take up art teacher’s job in the idealistic educational organization ‘Dakshinamurti’ at Bhavnagar, to fulfil the dream of Nanabhai Bhatt to offer young people of Saurashtra the opportunities of exposure to Fine Arts.

It can be generalized that ‘nationalism’ in politics had inspired Indian artists to follow our traditional art but Gandhiji’s influence can be attributed to the changing attitudes from themes of mythology and history to portray common man and rural life especially familiar from the local society. Such a phenomenon had been observed in the development of Gujarati literature since the Gandhi yuga, one of the major examples cited are ‘short stories’ of Dhoomketu (Gaurishankar Joshi, 1892-1965) written since about 1920. Similar changes are clearly observable in the paintings of Somalal Shah, which make him distinct from his initiator, Ravibhai. The following remarks on Dhoomketu’s ‘short stories’ also apply to Somalal Shah’s paintings, ‘Dhoomketu was the first writer to point out the beauty and poetry of rural life and the courage, nobility, strength of character, integrity and fads of its folk.’ Even if Somalal was interested in the so-called wash style in Bengal School in his earlier phase, he built up the forms by several coatings of watercolour. He never used the method of final stage of finishing in clear and careful detail, but applied rather spontaneously some sharp touches here and there. In the paintings of a flock of cattle represented from oblique top view, the animals appear quite three-dimensional. Through this form-building method he depicted shepherd, shepherdesses, rural activities, farmer family, girl bathing, labourers, potters, fields, with weather effects. Such works do not appear that they have been conspicuously derived from Indian miniature paintings.

He has used the foreshortened three-quarter back-view so effectively in his depiction of the ‘Ode Couple’ (now in the Baroda Museum). Along with their child they move driving their donkeys at the end of a hard day’s labour. These hereditary labourers are professional earthmovers, here depicted rather romantically, in picturesque detail, in spite of their poverty and hard life. Somalal had created a new sensibility through the synthesis between tradition and naturalism as in the well-known ‘Vasant ane Pankhar,’ in which a young girl as spring has been contrasted with autumn as old woman. Somalal was fond of drawing animals and birds based on observation and not looking zoological illustrations.

Rasiklal Parikh (1910-1982)

Rasiklal Parikh became a pupil of Ravishankar Raval at the age of 16. Later he went to Madras to study under D.P. Roy Chawdhury, who had received training in the Bengal school style as a painter but he was also a sculptor. During the early 1930s Rasikbhai rounded off his training as student of Indian art under Jagannath Ahiwasi at Bombay’s J.J. School of Art. Rasikbhai had first hand experience of one aspect of Nandalal Bose’s style when in 1937 he was part of the team assisting the Bengali artist for the decorational work at the Haripura Congress session. Thus, the kind of pictorial language with which we have become familiar through his paintings and their colour reproductions, was already acquired by Rasikbhai through his training received under several gurus.

Rasikbhai did not deviate from this acquired language. Perhaps it can be further observed that he did not take up historical themes and characters as has been done by Ravishankar Raval. Rasikbhai has done a series of episodes from life of Buddha, which had also been painted by Abanindranath Tagore. But his persistent subjects are from the rural with an attitude of ‘romanticism,’ such as a young mother with her child sitting on a cot in front of their hut, which has been titled as ‘Poor’s Paradise.’ Another painting with a farmer couple is titled as ‘Sukhi Kutumb,’ happy family. Yet another farmer family preparing a meal is titled ‘Mid-day Rest,’ and still another depicts an agriculture festival. All the necessary details of environment and costume are clearly delineated. Of course the cream of this kind of happy attitude on the part of the painter, is the paintings titled ‘Fresh Harvest,’ which also pleases the ‘eye’ of the onlooker. Although, it is a good example of beautiful youthful imagery of a peasant girl, such paintings over-look the hardships of raw life faced by rural communities. The middle class setting in the painting, ‘Child Artist,’ is unmistakable which is a universal theme of mother’s fascination whileobservingthediagrammaticcreative expression of her little child as drawn on the floor.

Like his other contemporaries, Rasiklal Parikh had his adequate training in naturalistic skills (sometimes called ‘academic’), which served as the base for the compositional drawings. The colour was filled in opaque tones (sometimes called ‘tempera’) unlike the Bengal school painters who applied colour in thin transparent washes, but also gave ‘baths’ to each layer of colour, each time after allowing some gap for it to dry. But Rasikbhai’s approach to ‘finish’ with lines, details and touches of highlights, was the same as in the Bengal school style. Ajanta stylization in the drawing of the limbs as well as the scanty drapery is the hall mark of the painting ‘Nartaki,’ which is a theme placed in some kind if imaginary utopian world, although the influenced of Nandalal Bose’s well known painting of the same theme cannot be ruled out.

The Ajanta like stylization has also guided some of the sculptures Rasikbhai has executed representing mother and child in several combinations, with linear rhythms and graceful curves. His guides in sculptures were D.P. Ray Chowdhury during his student days at madras and the Bombay based sculptor Vinayak Karmakar, with whom he worked for some time at Gondal in 1934. Both of them had followed the naturalistic mode. Therefore, Ajanta like stylization in his sculptures was Rasikbhai’s own choice.

Chhaganlal Jadav (1903-1987)

Belonging to the under privileged class Chhaganlal spent his early life in poverty. He had completed his schooling by attending night classes at the Gujarat Vidhyapith where he began his career as art teacher. He was attracted by silhouette paintings of Kanu Desai and started painting at the age of 26. He had joined Ravishankar Raval’s classes in 1928. In 1930 when Vidhyapith was closed, Chhaganlal had volunteered to go to jail. Later he went to Indore and Lucknow for widening his horizons in art. At Indore he became a close friend of N.S. Bendre and developed interest in landscape in the western style watercolour technique but applying them in opaque consistency, the hallmark of the Indore school. He also went to Lucknow to take lessons from the Bengal School painter Asit Kumar Haldar. Perhaps he accompanied Bendre to Kashmir (serving in Tourism Department at that time) and painted landscapes in similar style, which were exhibited along with Bendre’s landscapes at the Silver Jubilee Exhibition of Bombay Art Society in Mumbai in 1939. Because of his humble origins, his sympathies with people of poor communities have a genuineness as in the painting of the farmer family which he titled ‘Upasaka (worshippers) of the Sky and Earth,’ implying how they live close to nature. But this is more so in the rugged realism of the painting depicting a Fisherwoman and her children at the door of their house alongside the fishing net. It is possible that it was with such accomplishments that he moved towards the linear ‘Indian’ style as early as 1939 in the painting titled ‘Ornaments of Saubhagya,’ in which the focus is the old craftsman, also exhibited in Mumbai. He travelled to Himalayas ushering a new phase in his handling of landscapes. At that time observes claimed that he was influenced by Vincent Van Gogh. But what we notice in the conspicuous textured surfaces especially for the foliage of the trees. Traveling in Himalayas had been spiritually uplifting experience and this change made him an Aurobindo follower. With deep faith in the Mother of Pondicherry Ashram, he claimed he was receiving messages even at early morning when he would get up and start painting under the spiritual command. The painting entitled ‘Jai’ depicts a figure in spiritual joy surrounded by an atmosphere of glowing yellow light. The remarkable stylization leading towards abstraction of the 1950s is the outcome of his frame of mind. It can be surmised that he went to his earlier linear figure types juxtaposed against stylized trees carried out under the influence of Kanu Desai’s silhouettes and Asit Haldar’s paintings. One peculiar feature in these remarkably stylized ‘revivalistic’ paintings was that they already appeared more dynamic and powerful with agitated movement in contrast to static lyrical qualities of his contemporaries. Subsequently, out of these highly personalized paintings he evolved free curvilinear forms in overlapping and maze-like configurations. From naturalistic approach he turned to more individualistic but vaguely symbolic interests. Thus he became relatively experimental as he grew older to keep pace with changes in art.

Chandra Trivedi (1922-1994)

Chandra Trivedi was the second-generation pupil of Ravishankar Raval having joined the Gujarat Kala Sangha Chitrasala in around 1937 when Rasiklal Parikh and Kanu Desai had already joined as teachers. It can be observed at the outset that Chandra discovered his forte for what may be called art as applied to book designing and printing. This is an avenue which Ravibhai himself had indulged in during the early years of his career. Chandra’s outward face was that of a newspaper caricaturist, having adopted the pseudonym of Rayji. For four decades his cartoons had been appearing in regular columns of daily newspapers such as Gujarat Samachar and Sandesh. He made a name at national level for his satirical cartoons on political events as well as caricaturing the personalities of the day. He extensively designed the book covers for story books illustrating them with episodes, drawing delicate female characters to contrast them with virile looking masculine counter parts, thus making the literary publications much more lively. He also specialized in illustrating children’s book when it was a new concept in Gujarat. For the weekly children’s magazine ‘Jhagmag’ he illustrated what are known as strip cartoons, i.e. , stories in illustrated strips for which he created the favourite characters of Umphuyat and Shekhar. ‘Samrat Ashok’ is one of the best - illustrated series in the strip format. Undoable he had been a prolific book illustrator of his generation.

As a painter he preferred a simplified stylization of the ‘Indian style’ with bold lines and dramatic compositions. In spite of mythological topics the presentation appears as a reflection of tribal life, as in the attempt of demoness Holika to burn Prahlad amidst the flames.

Mangalsinhji of Lathi (1915-1985)

A prince in his own carefreeness decided to be a painter rather than be like a soldier, perhaps a trait inherited from his famous grandfather, the poet Kalapi. During the nineteenth thirties Vinayak Pandya had been invited to Lathi to carry out some murals in the palace. Mangalsinhji with much fascination watched the artist handling oil medium but also using the influences from the style of Ajanta paintings. By 1935 he came close to Ravishankar Raval and his circles at Ahmedabad when he was introduced to naturalistic techniques. Herounded offhisown arttraining in London as student of William Rothenstein and Frank Brangwyn between 1936 to 1939, but had to return to India when the Second World War broke out. Mangalsinhji felt that he must go back to his tradition and roots. He discovered his forte to be mural paintings, executing several in his own palace during 1940s. He looked at with fresh interest at the simplicity of the murals in the local ‘Salati style.’ But significantly instead of responding of the Gujarati regional revivalist phenomenon he responded to the new phase of pan-Indian ‘Revivalism’ when Jamini Roy by around 1930 initiated the approach of rather abstracted simplified folk language. In his critical note for the exhibition sponsored by Ebrahim Alkazi during 1980s, at Delhi, he had observed that one of Mangalsinhji’s sources was folk variety of Paithan painting of Maharashtra’s Chitrakathi tradition. Mangalsinhji’s stylization is based on personal understanding of the schema in traditional Indian painting; therefore it does not appear mechanical. His solid training in European Naturalism is the reason for sophisticated and strong drawing, innovative compositions, complexity of arrangements and settings. Because of these reasons his work is different from the work of the other traditional painters being discussed below. Mangalsinhji was also interested in classical Indian music and had painted a series of Ragmala paintings during 1940s.

Khodidas Parmar (1930- )

Khodidas Parmar and Vasudev Smart can be said to represent the third generation of the artists pre-occupied with the Indian traditional art. Both had their training during the late 1940s under artists committed to persistence of the tradition. Bhavnagar born Khodidas had received his training from Somalal Shah (1948-1951), but in comparison with his teacher’s style he preferred the simpler folk style of Saurashtra, which he has followed rather schematically. The decoration of walls on the village as well as embroidery skilfully practiced by women have forms; correspondingly the emphasis on colour is minimized. Based in Bhavnagar and confirmed to the small town, Khodidas is more than a painter. He is a folklorist having devoted his life to all aspects of folk culture of his region.

Folk art movement in Gujarat, that is interest in and influence of rural painting from villages, should be viewed as an extension of folk-lore studies in the country in general as well as through the impact of Gandhiji on literary persons, one of the first Hindi literature, Prem Chand (around 1920) and in Gujarati literature, Zaverchand Meghani (around 1930).

Vasudev Smart

Surat born Vasudev Smart had studies in Mumbai’s J.J. School under Jagannath Ahiwasi linking with the Mumbai phenomenon of revivalism in Western India. He followed his guru to Varanasi where he worked till his retirement at the Women’s College of B.H.U. He evolved a simplified language out of the various schools of Indian traditional painting. He avoided tonal gradations and confined to outline finishing. He grasped the approach to space, the grouping, the story telling as well as the purity of individual colour and the character of colour relationships. Among his most elaborate paintings is ‘Puspavatika.’ At Varanasi he had the benefit of scholars of Indian miniature paintings such as Rai Krishna Das. Interested in decorative elements Vasudev had compiled in neat outline nearly 1000 Indian motifs from archaeological monuments requiring much exploration and hard work. Besides so much familiarity with wide range of Indian arts, he was also well versed in Sanskrit Kavyas.

Since the post-Independence era modern movements have taken strong roots and have flourished in some of the centres in the country. It can be opined that these two above-mentioned artists confined to their towns have insulated themselves to new winds of change. In fact they represent the vast areas of the country, which have remained unaffected by the changing international and national attitudes. Their art activity is a parallel under-current naively felt to be either intuitive or traditional Indian. The decorative quality usually leads to loss of personal expression.


Sitting in Baroda, Dr. Herman Goetz, an émigré from Nazi Germany, had been observing these development s as the Director of Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery (1939-1953). Nothing that predominantly practiced by Gujarati artists mostly in Gujarat, he gave these pictorial developments the nomenclature of ‘Neo-Gujarat style’ in an article written around 1950. Realizing the historical importance of this trend he had selected a set of paintings of some of the Gujarati artists for the Baroda Museum (Here mention should be made of two additional Mumbai based Gujarati artists, late Bijubhai Bhagat and Ahmedabad born late Abdul Rahim Almelkar). Perhaps Goetz had in mind that Western India had developed a regional style of traditional painting in earlier centuries but there has been a glaring discontinuity unlike in Rajasthan, where the tradition has somehow survived.

To round off the story of respond to Indian tradition in Western India, it has served as a take-off point towards modern art in the post-independence era at Mumbai with the next generation of Jaggannath Ahiwasi’s pupils, namely S.B. Palsikar, Gaitonde and Laxman Pai during the early 1950s. During the late 1950s at Baroda’s Faculty of Fine Arts direct link is represented by Vinay Trivedi who had been a pupil of Somalal Shah at Bhavnagar. But it was Shanty Dave, Jyoti Bhatt and Ratan Parimoo, who progressed towards modern movements through the handling of the ‘traditional’ elements in those years.

Sign In Close
Only Critical Collective subscribers can access this page.
If you are already a subscriber, then please log in.
 Forgot Password?
Subscribe now
Sign In Close
Only Critical Collective subscribers can access this page.
If you are already a subscriber, then please log in.
 Forgot Password?
Subscribe now

The Photography Timeline is currently under construction.

Our apologies for the inconvenience.