The story of Indian Art has been an incredibly rich and complex journey. While finely entwined with the history of our culture, Indian Art evolved like a meandering river charting its course. Tracing back to the Indus Valley Civilisation and early petroglyphs, art in the Indian subcontinent constantly transcended and transformed with time.
A monumental shift was witnessed in this trajectory during the latter half of the 19th century. As the British monarchy was firmly established, art was adapted to their tastes, which led to the emergence of Company Style paintings. Characterised by the linear perspective and shading, these works were created by Indian artists for the British people living in the country at the time. Eventually, this cultural and artistic hegemony seeped into native society and led to the emergence of several extraordinarily talented artists. Meanwhile, the dominance of western artistic traditions was further solidified by the establishment of the Sir J J School of Art.
Here are some old masters who set Indian art on a path of greatness.
Raja Ravi Varma: The arrival of Raja Ravi Varma was a great turning point in the history of Modern Indian Art. An artist of unsurpassed genius, Raja Ravi Varma studied under the guidance of Danish painter Theodore Jensen at the court of the Maharaja of Travancore and revolutionised the ‘Indian aesthetic.’ With oil as his primary medium, the artist created a visual treasure trove of paintings, which were executed in the Western techniques of composition and perspective but depicted Indian subjects and fables from Hindu mythology. Raja Ravi Varma possessed a keen eye that astutely captured the eloquence and opulence of royalty. Highly sought after by the aristocratic dignitaries of the time, Raja Ravi Varma travelled across the country to paint commissioned portraits.
M. V. Dhurandhar: M. V. Dhurandhar perfectly amalgamated idioms from Western academic realism with Indian tradition cementing his reputation as one of the most revered realist artists of early 20th century India. One of the brightest alumni of the Sir J J School of Art during his time, he was highly appreciated by the principal of the institute, John Griffiths. He worked in a range of mediums and styles including portraits, landscapes, figurative compositions, watercolour works, as well as murals. He came to be especially appreciated for his large body of work based on Indian historical and mythological subjects.
Manchershaw Pithawala: One of the most remarkable salon artists of his time, M F Pithawalla was an immensely popular portrait artist during the early twentieth century. Mastering the elements of European naturalism, the artist painted his subjects in a way that his portraits also became a visual vestige of India’s glorious Victorian past. With extraordinary finesse and beauty, his works came to be seen on par with veteran European masters like Rembrandt and Velasquez.
António Xavier Trindade: Known as the ‘Rembrandt of the East,’ Antonio Xavier Trindade was a master portraitist who was born in Goa in 1870. Initially meant to be a lawyer, Trindade showed artistic promise at an early age and joined the Sir J J School of Art in Bombay in 1887. After graduation, he assisted in tinting photographs for the studio of Raja Deen Dayal and later became a faculty member at the institute as the superintendent of the prestigious Reay Workshops. A striking feature of his compositions was the use of layered, multiple glazes of colour that rendered an almost life-like texture to his canvas.
These are a few artists whose works are well-known and popular, and who continue to inspire artists today. There are numerous other masterpieces by well-known artists that are great sources of inspiration for art lovers.