Context and the Continuum

As we prepare for the exhibitions of Gobardhan Ash and Rathin Maitra, we have realised that the context and continuum of the modernist movement around the 1940s are somehow forgotten. We strive to bring them to light with the hope of more research and discussions. (Refer here) This write-up focuses on Calcutta and Bombay. 

Leftism (linked to anti-fascism/WWII) and the desire to move away from Bengal School seem to be significant drivers of modernism in the 40s, as it relates both to the Calcutta Group and the Bombay Progressives.

1922: Atul Bose makes the impromptu portrait of Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee and obtains a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy.

February 1930 - Calcutta University Institute, First Annual Exhibit. Featuring Gobardhan Ash, Sailoz Mookherjea, Sunayani Devi, and others.

1933: Creation of the  Art Rebel Centre co-founded by Gobardhan Ash and mentored by Atul Bose. Pran Nath Mago mentions that the Progressive Groups’ ( he refers to both the Calcutta Group and the Progressive Artists' Group under this moniker) were formed essentially to counter the art of Bengal School. Though this was done much earlier by the Rebel Artists who in 1933 had countered Mukul Dey’s stewardship and style of teaching at the Govt School of Art (the older name of Govt. College of Art). The acclaimed art critic Sovom Som calls Gobardhan an early modern, and Ebrahim Alkazi mentions that he (Ash) wielded considerable influence in the forties (Refer Art Heritage 1983-84, E. Alkazi & Sovom Som on Gobardhan Ash)

1933: The founding year of the Academy of Fine Arts. Gobardhan Ash was a founding exhibitor along with his mentor Atul Bose. The exhibition included Gobardhan Ash, Atul Bose, Nandalal Bose, MV Dhurandhar, Ambica Dhurandhar, JP Gangooly, GS Haldankar, Jamini Roy, Devi Prasad Roychowdhury, Thakur Singh and many others. 

Standing from left: Abani Sen, Gobardhan Ash, Bimal Dey, Jahar Sen, Ardhendu Chatterjee, Haridhan Dutta.

Sitting from left: S.N. Dey, Atul Bose, Amiya Basu at AFA’s First Annual Exhibition, Kolkata -1933.

1934: Second Annual Exhibition of the Academy of Fine Arts (Refer to exhibition catalogue in link)

1936: Annual Exhibition of the Academy of Fine Arts (Refer to exhibition catalogue in link)

1940 - The Modern Art Society - a group of artists, writers, and poets including Atul Bose, Sailoz Mookherjea, Hemen Majumdar, Gobardhan Ash, etc. (Refer to the catalogue in the link). 

 Rathin Maitra joins the Modern Art Society as their Joint Secretary created along with B. Tagore. Details are unclear. 

1940: Jamini Roy invited Rathin Maitra to his exhibition of paintings at 1-2 B Ananda Chatterjee Lane, Bagbazar, Calcutta, Wednesday, 10th January 1940 at 5:30 p.m. Exhibition was open from 11th to 15th (Thursday to Monday) from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Maitra was profoundly inspired by Jamini Roy.  

1941 - Solo Exhibition of Jamini Roy in Bombay ( Reference: The Calcutta Group - Its Aims and Achievements by Prodosh Das Gupta )

1943 - The Bengal Famine: A man-made famine and a blot on colonialism. The sufferings and the corpses were documented by many- Chittoprosad, Zainul Abedin, Atul Bose, Rathin Maitra, Somnath Hore, Gobardhan, and many others - an event difficult to ignore. Rathin Maitra alongside Nirode Mazumdar and Subho Tagore, brought out a new magazine called ‘Atikrama’ under their joint editorship. 

Leftism and Anti-Fascist Writers: There were many institutions; certainly the Communist Party of India was a central institution with many affiliated organisations. The names were so reused that it is difficult to distinguish between the Progressive Writers Group and the Progressive Writers and Artists Group. Were the so-called anti-fascist writers a loose term or was there a formal group - it is difficult to be exact on this piece of history. Some central figures included Rudy Von Leyden, a German Jewish immigrant, and a writer who had made India his home in the mid-1930s and also became an art critic for the Times of India. Mulk Raj Anand - a member of the Communist Party of India and the founder of MARG. Jyotirindra Maitra (Rathin Maitra’s brother) was a prominent leftist writer alongside Bishnu Dey, Buddhadeb Bose, and others. Rudy Von Leyden himself came from a family of artists and had their own exhibition in Bombay - titled aptly “The Leydens”. 

In this image: Jamini Roy (standing second from left), Gobardhan Ash (indistinct standing behind Roy), Atul Bose (standing third from top right), Rathin Maitra (sitting first from left) and Ramendranath Chakravorty (seated centre second row)

Gobardhan Ash is documented to have won a silver medal in 1945 from the Progressive Writers and Artists Association, Calcutta.

It was in the milieu of Leftism, Famine, and possibly (against) the continued dominance of Bengal School that the Calcutta Group was created in 1943. They had two exhibitions in Bombay in 1944 under the auspices of the Anti-Fascist Writers Group and again in 1945 under IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association). We have to rely on the document by Shanu Lahiri (Shanu Lahiri’s, “Smritir Collage”) - who says that Rathin Maitra and Shubho Tagore were likely the central figures in the formation of the Calcutta Group. Rathin Maitra also created the Group's logo.

1944: March 17th - 18th; First Exhibition of the Calcutta Group: Exhibition of Sculptures and Paintings by the Calcutta Group at 5, S.R. Das Road, under the auspices of the Services Arts Club, Chowringhee, Kolkata. The then Governor's wife Mrs.Casey inaugurated the exhibition. (Amrita Bazaar Patrika, 27th March 1944)

Late 1944: Calcutta Group sent a large exhibition to Bombay encouraged by local appreciation. (Lalit Kala Contemporary, Volume 31, April 1981) 

March 29, 1945: Another Exhibition by Calcutta Group in Bombay. (Lalit Kala Contemporary, Volume 31, April 1981); (The Times of India; Mar 30, 1945; Rudy Von Leyden: The Times of India, pg. 8); (Bombay Sentinel, March 28, 1945). Organised by IPTA. IPTA started in Bombay with Calcutta being a branch. 

Prodosh Das Gupta in documents shows that none other than K.H. Ara was present to help organise the exhibit, “How Ara helped us in those days”, the two Calcutta Group shows in Mumbai. That after the two shows the works from the exhibit were collected from Ara’s residence by Prodosh (The Calcutta Groups - Its Aims and Achievements by Prodosh Das Gupta). It is further documented in Prem Nath Mago’s book “Prodosh Das Gupta claimed that the younger artists in Bombay who were feeling unsure and unsettled felt immensely inspired with a new hope (after the two Calcutta group shows in Bombay). He mentioned K H Ara and Francis Newton Souza - the two rejects from the Bombay Art Society exhibition - to form the Bombay Progressives Group in early 1948 with his (Prodosh’s) help” (Contemporary Art in India - Pran Nath Mago). The same Bombay Art Society had invited Rathin Maitra to do a solo show in Bombay in September 1947.

1945: Annual Art Exhibition Government School of Art Calcutta

1945, September 23rd: Marching For Release Of People’s Heroes. A show put up by Rathin Maitra and curated by Nirode Mazumdar.

1945-46, 28th December: 2nd Exhibition of the Calcutta Group (in Calcutta): 2nd Exhibition of their Paintings and Sculptures at No. 1 Chowringhee Terrace on Friday, at 4 p.m. On till 9th January 1946.

1946: Academy of Fine Arts 10th Annual exhibition

1946: 23rd Annual Art Exhibition Government School of Art

1946: Book - Indian Fairytales by Mulk Raj Anand, 1946 - Inside illustrations by Rathin Maitra.

1947: 24th Annual Exhibition Government School of Art

1947: 3rd Exhibition of the Calcutta Group (in Calcutta): 3rd Exhibition of their Paintings and Sculptures at No. 1 Chowringhee Terrace from 24th May to 1st June, between 3 - 8 p.m, 1947. (Hindustan Standard, 8 June 1947)

September 1947Solo Exhibition by Rathin Maitra at the Bombay Art Society, Inaugurated by A. P. Sabavalla. (Refer to catalogue in link)

1948: 4th Exhibition of the Calcutta Group: 4th Exhibition of their Paintings and Sculptures held at the Government School of Art, 28, Chowringhee, Calcutta. 16th January 1948.

1948: Exhibition of Paintings and Sculptures by Progressive Cultural Association. Note the use of the term Progressives for another art group out of Calcutta the same time as the formation of a similarly named group in Bombay. Both these art groups clearly inspired by the leftist movement. Further note from this catalogue the mention of another 'Progressive Art Society', Calcutta.

1948, 10th to 24th December: Diamond Jubilee Exhibition of the Bombay Art Society. (held at Sir Cowasji Jehangir Hall and Prince of Wales Museum, Bombay). Prof. W. Langhammer, Mulk Raj Anand, and R.V. Leyden were also a part of the managing committee. Invite from Rathin Maitra archives.

1948: Indian Exhibition Singapore 

The Leydens along with Schlesinger and Langhammer must have further influenced the newly formed Progressive Artists' Group.  

1949: The inaugural exhibitions of the PAG in Baroda in February and Bombay in July. The Bombay show was inaugurated by Mulk Raj Anand, the founding editor of Marg magazine and a member of the Progressive Writer's Association(reference: Zehra Jumabhoy. Chronology of Historical and Art Events, 1947-2014. The Progressive Revolution. Modern Art for a New India)

Invitations to the February and July 1949 exhibitions by the Progressive Artists' Group

1949: August 26th - September 5th: An exhibition showcasing the Calcutta Group’s 5 years of work was held at No. 1 Chowringhee Road, Kolkata. (The Statesman, 27 August 1949.); (The Republic, 27 August 1949); (The Nation, 6 September 1949)

1950: Selected Group Exhibition: Calcutta Group introduces the Progressives. Joint show of Calcutta Group and Bombay Progressive Group, No. 1 Chowringhee Road, Kolkata. (The Statesman, 13 April 1950) (Refer to catalogue in Link)

It has to be mentioned here that the incessant strikes and the ultimate nationalisation of IISCO led to the downfall of the Academy of Fine Arts and the loss of one the main benefactors of that era - Lady Ranu Mukherjee.

Both the Calcutta Group and the Bombay Progressives disbanded very shortly afterward. The Calcutta Group due to conflicts within the group and the Progressives due to the artists leaving India. Rathin Mitra (not Maitra and different) was a late joiner to the Calcutta Group.

1953: The PAG opens its third show in Bombay including participants H.A. Gade, M.F. Husain, F.N. Souza, V.S. GaitondeK.H. Ara, and the Group's only woman member and JJ School of Art Gold Medalist Bhanu Rajopadhye Athaiya.

1953, 9th October: An official letter from H. Goetz (The Curator of National Art Gallery, Delhi) to Rathin Maitra asking for some of his works to be displayed in the gallery as a part of the collection representing Modern Indian Art.

1953: Rathin Maitra’s exhibition shows in the USA (New York, San Francisco)

1955: The Indian Art School Prospectus -  In 1955, Gobardhan's last year as a teacher at the institution, he taught Fine Arts and Commercial Art alongside artist Somnath Hore.


Any questions?