In lieu of India's 75th year of Independence, Google Arts and Culture celebrated Bhanu Rajopadhye Athaiya as one of India's trail-blazing icons. She leaves behind a rich and wonderful legacy built on creativity, fortitude, and immense talent. One of the early members of the Bombay Progressives group and India's first Oscar-winning Costume Designer, Bhanu Rajopadhye had a historically important early career as an artist, exploring the possibilities of Indian Modernism with her contemporaries at the J.J. School of Art and the Progressive Artists' Group.
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.
"I wish my mother had seen all this because it was something that was just after her heart," said Radhika Gupta, the daughter of the Oscar-winning costume designer and artist Bhanu Athaiya. Talking about the documentation of her mother's antique textile collection recently consigned to Prinseps, Radhika Gupta dotes over her mother's inherited legacy.
Like a brocade bridge that takes you back in time, the personal textile collection of India’s most renowned costume designer Bhanu Rajopadhye Athaiya leads you deeper into both her inherited legacy and the one she herself created.
The only time I have seen M. F. Husain in person was at his exhibition in honour of singer M. S. Subbulakshmi at a gallery in Chennai (Madras) in 2004. Wearing no footwear, except for thick black socks, and wielding a massive paintbrush in one hand, Husain was surrounded by a group of Chennai’s socialites. I was patiently waiting behind them to meet Husain when he suddenly popped out and said, “Hello”. I was giddy with excitement and asked him to autograph the invitation card I had in my hand. He did so and quickly moved on to greet the next visitor. Husain was as excited to meet unknown gallery visitors as they were to meet him—the energy was amazing for a man who, at that time, was 91 years old. A year or so later, Husain left India, never to return.
Stated below is the text of 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. Ara, Francis Newton Souza, Maqbool Fida Husain, S.H. Raza, H.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.
A silent, dedicated artist content amidst the walls of paintings stacked in his Begampur mud house stirred a quiet revolution against the preconceived notions of artistic expression. No wonder Gobardhan Ash (b.1907) carved a niche for himself as an individualistic artist who fearlessly explored diverse artistic styles and techniques.
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.
The city of Kolhapur in southern Maharashtra is often called Kalapur, a city of the arts: a tag that originated in the early twentieth century. This was a result of a social and cultural transformation initiated by Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj (1874-1922).
She was born to design! As a girl of nine years, she passed the elementary and intermediate art examinations and won a scholarship to the JJ School of Arts in Mumbai at nineteen. That is Bhanu Athaiya, India’s first Oscar-winning designer for the mega-blockbuster film, “Gandhi” by Sir Richard Attenborough in 1982.
Traversing the world of art can be a game of clue hunt. Sometimes, even if there is a lot documented about a group of artists and their works, one tends to find a thread that can become an enticing exploration in itself. A lot has been written about the Progressive Artists' Group, which was formed in India in the year 1947.