Bhanu Athaiya was the first woman artist to receive a gold medal from the J.J. School of Art for her work 'Lady in Repose', which was the first-ever abstract painting to be made by a member of the Progressive Artists' Group . This work which she addressed as Lying Lady in one of her handwritten letters along with The Nuns was painted as a part of her study at J.J. where Vasudeo S. Gaitonde was her mentor. In 1952, Gaitonde created the artwork 'Painting No.1' displayed at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
At first sight, this encaustic painting – rendered in heated beeswax, into which pigments of various colours have been mixed – seems to be worlds away from what most viewers know of Bhupen Khakhar’s work. There are no limp-limbed yet curiously wide-awake men from a broad middle class; no domestic interiors laid out for erotic encounter; no playful or picaresque encounters among figures whose ordinariness is belied by some eccentric bodily feature or undecipherable gesture. No figures at all, in fact.
Bhanu Athaiya: The legacy of a long-hidden sun
It was D.G. Nadkarni, elder statesman among Bombay’s art critics, who first told me that Bhanu Athaiya had trained as a painter and had once shown alongside the members of the Progressive Artists' Group (PAG).
"My father, a multifaceted man, was far ahead of the times. His thirst for knowledge led him to explore avenues of learning beyond scholastic and academic boundaries. He would travel to Mumbai frequently to collect books on various subjects ranging from painting to photography and embroidery to film making. These books were imported from Britain by Englishmen who had big stores in Mumbai.
Bombay, May 2010 - "I was exposed to paintings from a very young age. My father was a self-taught artist who sometimes painted in oils by studying the old European masters and sometimes following his own inspiration. In his studio, he had many books on paintings of European masters like Leonardo Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Turner, Gainsboro, Constable, and others. I enjoyed looking at these books just as I enjoyed washing my father's brushes and pallet.
There are nine artists considered to be National Art Treasures - The three Tagores (Abanindranath, Gananendranath, Rabindranath), Ram Kinker Baij, Jamini Roy, Nicholas Roerich, Nandalal Bose, Amrita Sher-Gil and lastly Sailoz Mukherjee.