Focusing on Modernism in Indian Art in the early 20th century

At Prinseps, we are working to change the discourse to redefine the critical period for modernism in India as the first half of the 20th century. Though academia reiterates the same, the art trade seems to have strayed with a focus on the later part of the 20th century. The early 20th century witnessed the uprising of major art movements questioning the status quo.

The Art Rebel Centre led by Gobardhan Ash was one of the first organised attempts to counter the Bengal School ideology in 1933. Here we highlight the relevance of an artist like Gobardhan Ash who stirred a quiet revolution against the preconceived notions of art at that time. One such example was his Avatar Series which he created during 1948 - 1951.

Find below links to catalogues that give one an apt historical perspective on modernism and its many movements prevalent in the early 20th century. 

1930 Calcutta University Institute, First Annual Fine Arts Exhibition


The first annual Fine Arts Exhibition by the Calcutta University Institute displayed early works of Gobardhan Ash, alongside artists such as Nandalal Bose, Sudhir Khastagir, Sailoz Mookherjea, and more. 

1932 Exhibition of Drawings Paintings Engravings Pottery and Leatherwork by Sir Rabindranath Tagore

1933 Art Rebel Centre Exhibition

Gobardhan Ash established the Art Rebel Centre alongside Abani Sen, Annada Dey, and Bhola Chatterjee to create fearless, authentic, and assertive art in its desire to fuel artistic freedom. Ash led one of the first organized attempts to counter the Bengal School ideology in 1933.

1933 Academy of Fine Arts, First Annual Exhibition, Calcutta 

Gobardhan Ash participated in the First Annual Exhibition of the Academy of Fine Arts established in 1933 by Lady Ranu Mukherjee with the working committee comprising master artist Atul Bose and American Art Historian Stella Kramrisch.

1934 Academy of Fine Arts, Second Annual Exhibition, Calcutta 

14 works in total by Gobardhan Ash were displayed in this exhibition. 

1936 Academy of Fine Arts Exhibition

Gobardhan Ash's watercolour work won a prize alongside artists Zainul Abedin, Chintamoni Kar, Ramendranath Chakravorty, and more. 

1940 Quality Pictures Exhibition, Society of Modern Art

Gobardhan Ash's works were displayed alongside Atul Bose, Hemen Mazumdar, Nandalal Bose, Gaganendranath Tagore, and Sailoz Mookherjea.

1944 Verified Perspective by Atul Bose 

1944 Calcutta Group First Exhibition of Paintings and Sculptures

The Calcutta Group of artists came into existence at this time as a reaction and retaliation to the Bengal Famine. The Group represented the time and turbulence of the "man-made" famine. They aimed to give artistic expression and a voice to the concerns of the common man. The founders and core members of the Calcutta Group were Prodosh Das Gupta (notable sculptor), and the painters Gopal Ghosh, Rathin Maitra, Nirode Mazumdar, Subho Tagore, and Prankrishna Pal. They were later joined by Abani Sen (1947), Gobardhan Ash (1950), Sunil Madhav Sen (1952), and Hemant Misra (1953). The participating members in the first exhibition were: Subho Tagore, Rathin Maitra, Nirode Mazumder, Prankrishna Pal, Gopal Ghosh, T.C. Kamala, and Prodosh Das Gupta

1945 Invitation to Calcutta Group's Second Exhibition of Paintings and Sculptures

The eight participants of the Calcutta Group Exhibition in 1945 were Prodosh Das Gupta, Kamala Das Gupta (nee T.C. Kamala), Gopal Ghosh, Paritosh Sen, Nirode Majumder, Subho Tagore, Rathin Maitra, and Prankrishna Pal.

1945 Annual Art Exhibition, Government School of Art

This was the first-ever student-sponsored exhibition in the history of the Annual Exhibition of the Govt. School of Art after the sudden brutal assault and firing, perpetrated by ·the police on the unarmed students of Calcutta in the month of November 1945. Gobardhan Ash (ex-student) participated with three of his works on display. 

1946 Academy of Fine Arts, Tenth Annual Exhibition, Calcutta

This exhibition displayed Gobardhan's portrait of philosopher, scholar, and politician Hirendranath Dutta. This work was displayed alongside artists such as Zainul Abedin, Rathin Maitra, and Amina Ahmed.

1946 Twenty-third Annual Art Exhibition, Government School of Art


Opened by Jamini Roy, this exhibition displayed 2 of Gobardhan Ash's works alongside artists such as Atul Bose, Zainul Abedin, and more. 

1947 Twenty-fourth Annual Art Exhibition, Government School of Art

1947 Calcutta Group Third Annual Exhibition of Paintings and Sculptures


The third exhibition of the CG comprised works by members Prodosh Das Gupta, T.C. Kamala, Nirode Mazumdar, Pran Krishna Pal, Gopal Ghose, Rathin Maitra, Paritosh Sen, and Abani Sen. This exhibition as the catalogue states was held amidst political and communal unrest. Scheduled to be held earlier, the exhibition was delayed due to violence prevailing at that time. The exhibit aimed to restore peace in the mind of the public. 

1947: Solo Exhibition by Rathin Maitra at the Bombay Art Society, Inaugurated by A. P. Sabavalla.


Rathin Maitra was the first in independent India to have been invited for an exhibition of his works at The Bombay Art Society, on 22nd September 1947; years before the first inaugural exhibition of the Progressive Artists' Group at the Bombay Art Society Salon in 1949. The show was opened by the Mayor of Bombay, Mr. A. P. Sabawalla, and it was functional from 23rd to 29th September 1947. 

1948 Calcutta Group Fourth Annual Exhibition of Paintings and Sculptures

The fourth exhibition of the Calcutta Group was held in Calcutta in 1948 with participating members Abani Sen, Prankrishna Pal, Gopal Ghose, Paritosh Sen, Rathin Maitra, Kamala Das Gupta, and Prodosh Das Gupta. 

1948 Indian Exhibition Singapore 

This exhibit represented the indigenous art forms prevalent in Bengal over 5 decades to the South- East Asia region. Works on display were by stalwarts Gobardhan Ash, Rabindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Atul Bose, Gaganendranath Tagore, Zainul Abedin, Sunayani Devi, Mukul Dey, Hemen Mazumdar, Jamini Roy, and Abanindranath Tagore

1948: An exhibition by the Leydens, Bombay Art Society

Rudy Von Leyden himself came from a family of artists and had their own exhibition in Bombay - titled aptly “The Leydens"

1948 Exhibition of Paintings and Sculptures by The Progressive Cultural Association, Calcutta


The Progressive Cultural Association was a multi-disciplinary group encompassing Art, Literature, Drama, Music, and Dance. The members in the Art section comprised Rathin Maitra, Bishnu Dey, Gopal Ghosh, Prodosh Das Gupta, Pran Krishna Pal, Subho Tagore, Parimal Goswami, and Sree D.P. Ghosh. Note the incessant and popular use of the term Progressive. Another observation to be made is the donation of Rathin Mitra's artworks courtesy of the Progressive Art Society, Calcutta. 

 1950 Exhibition of Paintings and Sculptures by Calcutta Group and Bombay Progressive Group 

This is the second catalogue of the Bombay Progressive Artists' Group, in collaboration with the Calcutta Group. Gobardhan Ash's works were exhibited in the joint show of the Calcutta Group and Progressive Artists’ Group alongside masters such as K.H. AraFrancis Newton SouzaMaqbool Fida HusainS.H. RazaH.A. Gade, and S.K. Bakre at Calcutta in 1950. This document is indeed a historically prominent yet lesser-known artistic discovery in the world of modern Indian art. The first Progressive Artists' Group exhibition was the inaugural show at the Bombay Art Society Salon in 1949. The second show followed in Calcutta in 1950. The interaction between the Calcutta Group of Bengal and the PAG artists played a role in holding this joint exhibition, where "the critics interpreted the staging of the joint show as a challenge to the conservative art critics and the painters were admired as the precursors of a new movement".

1952: Rathindranath Tagore: An Exhibition of Paintings and Woodwork, Government College of Art and Craft, Calcutta 

1953: Third Exhibition of Progressive Artists' Group

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

1954: 24th Annual All India Fine Art Exhibition 

1955 The Indian Art School Prospectus

In 1952, Gobardhan joined the Indian Art College at Atul Bose’s request as the Head of the Painting Department. In 1955, his last year as a teacher at the institution, he taught Fine Arts and Commercial Art alongside artist Somnath Hore.

1980 Drawings and Paintings Exhibition by Gobardhan Ash at the Academy of Fine Arts

An exhibition of Gobardhan Ash's works spanning his creative oeuvre over five decades. The exhibit comprised Ash's Famine Series, his still-life works, Avatar Series, dreamy landscapes of Rural Bengal, his self-portraits, and Children Series. 

1983 Art Heritage (19 Oct 1983 - March 1984)

This exhibition focused on artists working in Bengal particularly Gobardhan Ash amongst others who is described as a distinctive personality wielding considerable influence in the 40s and 50s by Ebrahim Alkazi. 

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