India has a history of thousands of years and art has played an important role in its culture. The sole credit goes to the Indian artists and their hard work. Art is known to have no boundaries. It can be found in any corner of the world. India’s history is almost as old as its art. Our land has produced some of the most famous artistic gems. A country can survive without a constitution but it can’t survive a minute without its culture. Indian culture is all about leaving everyone amazed. Be it Madhubani paintings or Gond style wallpapers, our art has helped our culture reach everyone. No one can deny the beauty that our art has. The unique Indian style of painting has amused even the artistic legends.
Indian paintings have lived for hundreds and thousands of years to tell their stories. What would surprise you to learn is the connection between science and paintings. The ancient paintings made around 2500 B.C. show us the advanced science and technology of that time. No art form can persist if talented artists don’t carry it with them. It is skillful painters, who keep our rich styles of painting alive. Some of these were able to leave a mark on the world with their unique sense of painting. While India produced hundreds of artists, we shall read about a few of them, who changed the dynamics of paintings in India.
Born in a small town of Gujarat in 1925, Tyeb Mehta is considered a renowned painter by masses and critics. His family shifted to Mumbai during his early years. Mesmerized by the world of art, he earned a diploma from an art school in Mumbai and later on went to become a part of Bombay Progressive Artists Group. His student life was influenced by the political situation of the time. Political and Social happenings left a denting mark on his personality and art. His paintings reflected this mark, clearly. His talent was boundless and went to earn him appreciation outside India, as well. He received numerous awards such as Padma Bhushan and Rockefeller 3rd Fund.
His fondness for modernism and minimalism best suited the interests of contemporary admirers. He invented a unique style called ‘Diagonal Series’. Following his stay in London and New York, he grew a deep understanding for art. His first exhibition took place in the iconic Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai in 1959. His famous paintings were falling figures, kali, Mahishasura, and Santiniketan series. However, one painting that established him as a legend was ‘Celebration’. It was sold for an enormous amount of 15 Million Rupees. One of the highest ever prices paid for a painting in Asia at that time. He lived a beautiful life and passed away in the presence of his family in 2009.
Sayed Haider Raza
Raza was born in the state of Madhya Pradesh in 1922. Raza moved to France during the 1950s yet portrayed a rich Indian style of painting in his works. Sayed developed a liking for paintings at a young age and went ahead to pursue studies in various art schools. He continued to find inspiration from the cultural treasure of India. He didn’t shy away from bringing the world of Indian cosmology to art. His paintings were influenced by Indian philosophy and ancient scriptures. This love for art later made him co-found Bombay Progressive Artists Group, an iconic pool of legendary Indian artists. Amazed by the world of Modernism, he focused on exploring it more. Most of his paintings involved landscapes and portrayed a wonderful vision. His excellency in the field of modernism and Indian art made him a visiting lecturer in the prestigious University of California, Berkeley.
He inspired a great number of American and Indian artists, as well. After exploring the Europe and USA, Raza decided to return home during the 1970s. Although his brothers moved to Pakistan during the partition, He always cited India as his country. He wanted to incorporate everything that he has learned with the Indian elements of art. He explored the farthest corners and art forms of India. Be it naga style or Kundalini energy. He started including epics like The Mahabharata in his works after 2000. Adding to his list of achievements, he was conferred with Commandeur de la Légion D’ Honneur, highest civilian award for his contribution in the field of art, by France. He was even awarded Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan by the Indian government. Universe, Anukaran and Saurashtra are some of his paintings.
Bose was born in a small town in Bihar in 1882. His influential paintings focused on rural India, femininity and religious work. Although he had a keen interest in studying arts, his family never supported him. Thus, he gave up the idea. Even after opting for studying other subjects, he couldn’t resist the marvelous world of art. He went to become an artist after joining Santiniketan. One reason that led to his interest in femininity and religion was the impact on festivals on him. He adored the decoration in Durga Puja and Diwali. He was able to tour through the country after winning a reward for his painting ‘Siva and Sati’.
His paintings incorporated both European and Indian art styles. What helped him establish himself as a powerful artist was the ability to include traditional and contemporary worlds. What might interest you to know is that he was commissioned by Indian government for several projects? Most prominent of them being the Bharat Ratna’s art style itself. His beautiful paintings crossed the limits of political boundaries and were exhibited in Europe, as well. He received Padma Vibhushan in 1954 for his priceless art. He passed away after decorating the world with his art in 1966.
Born in 1887, Roy went on to become one of the most famous Indian artists. He pursued his studies from Government College of Art, Kolkata. Western art was his muse initially but that soon changed. Jamini took an interest in oil and traditional painting during his early years. He found his muse in the roots of Indian society. He included tribal and regional life in his art form and gave them power. His works went on to be exhibited at various events in New York and London. Some of his famous paintings were Mother and Child & Ramayana.
His love for folklife earned him critical acclaim and success. He was often cited as a unique artist because of his beliefs. His work was closest to him and he never painted for money. Some of his works were sold for a very nominal price. He often refused to sell his paintings to people. This brought financial instability to him. Nonetheless, he never gave up painting and his work is still considered precious by many. We find many of his paintings in the National archives today.
This one name strikes up in every conversation about Indian painters. Born in Hungary in 1913, Amrita is considered a gem in the world of Indian art. Having a strong presence and knowledge in the genres of modernism and impressionism, she was able to pursue a successful career. Amrita’s work can be defined as a bridge between western and Indian art style. Although she used western techniques, her work consisted of Indian traditional elements. This brought her fame in not just India but also abroad. She moved with her family to India after facing financial insecurity. Here she was able to retouch her roots and portray them in a way so that the world can learn about them.
We come to know about her interest in art from the fact that she, along with her mother, moved to Italy, just to learn sculpting. She used her personal life as a source of inspiration in her early works. She would often paint herself and her friends on the canvas. ‘Siesta’, ‘Village Scene’ and ‘In the Ladies’ Enclosure’ were her famous paintings. She toured entire India to learn more about her country. She represented the marginal sections in her art, as well. Calling her a ‘pioneer’ Indian government has appreciated her hard work. She’s also one of the few Asian painters to receive critical success and awards in Europe as well.
Calling him an artistic legend would just be an understatement. Abanindranath came from an average Bengali family. However, his work was nothing less than extraordinary. He was always influenced by the power of art. This keen interest made him use political conditions as a source of inspiration. Be it swadeshi movement or freedom movement, he depicted the political desire prominently in his works. Tagore knew the impact that art leaves on people and thus decided to root for Indian art styles. He modernized and portrayed Rajputs and the Mughals in a never seen before way. He depicted old kings and queens as heroes of a story.
‘The Passing of Shah Jahan’ and ‘Asoka’s Queen’ are testimony to that. Tagore founded the Indian Society of Oriental Arts and Bengali School of Arts to encourage young Indian artists. He inspired various famous Indian artists to pursue art as a part of life. He chose an unconventional way of painting techniques. Rather than choosing the Western-style, he used Japanese and Chinese techniques for his work. Unfortunately, most of his paintings are locked behind unknown doors of his art society. This keeps us away from appreciating his talent with a much better sense of observation.
If there was one name that alone could stand as the father figure of modern Indian paintings, then it would surely be that of M.F Husain. ‘Picasso of India’ was born in Maharashtra in 1915. His initial works have nothing to do with the intricacies of art world. He started off as a painter for movie posters. He would paint the posters for movies and advertisements, which earned him a living. His success is closely related to Bombay Progressive Artists Group. Along with his friends, he founded the group in order to draw the attention of Indian youth towards art. He believed in the idea of a new India where people saw art as something more than just a hobby. His profound works were displayed across America, Europe, and Asia. His paintings are always kept at the center stage of Indian modern art.
Some of his paintings are sold for millions of dollars, making him the best paid Indian painter of all time. He was commissioned by Qatar’s first lady for making two paintings, as well. Other than painting, he earned critical acclaim in photography and filmmaking, as well. He has been awarded Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan and Padma Shree for bringing fame to India’s rich art. He was even nominated as a member of Rajya Sabha for his contribution in the field of art. Controversies were also a part of his success. He often received death threats for his artwork like Bharat Mata. This made him leave the country and never return. Some of his famous works include Lady with Veena, Woman in Red and Black Hill.
Raja Ravi Varma
Born in 1848, Raja Ravi Varma is called one of the most famous Indian painters. He drew inspiration for his paintings from Indian epics and mythology. He joined together the world of European and Indian techniques of art. His work’s simplicity made him famous not just among critics but also among the laymen. Exhibitions in Europe often included his lovely paintings. He received various awards for his astounding knowledge of art.
He used women as an integral element in his paintings. The age-old portraits of Indian deities are made by Raja Ravi only. One of them being Hamsa Damayanti. Other famous works of him are ‘Shakuntala’, ‘There Comes Papa’ and ‘Disappointed’. He used the traditional oil painting technique in all of his work and earned fame because of it. He incorporated both realism and mythology in his work, which set him aside as a unique artist.
Most of us know him for his contribution to the literary world. However, he had a skillful hand for painting on canvas. Unlike most Indian artists, he started painting much later in his life. He created doodles and enjoyed the liberty that art offers. Individualism was a constant theme of his works and earned him major success. He is one of the few Indian artists whose work was displayed in Russia, the USA, and Europe in the 1930s.
What may come to you as a surprise, is that Tagore was red-green color blind. Nonetheless, he produced some unique and colorful paintings. His artistic journey can be traced from animals to landscapes to women and etc. ‘Dancing Woman’ and ‘Woman’s Face’ are still considered some of his best artworks. When we look at various faces that he draws, we are able to learn about his ideologies and philosophies that made him someone as important as Mahatma Gandhi.
A founding member of Bombay Progressive Artists Group and a prominent painter, F.N Souza was born in Goa in 1924 to an ordinary family. He pursued his studies from St. Xaviers College and J.J School of Arts and began his artistic journey. Personal setbacks such as loss of father and disease pushed him to work hard for success in life. He surely left a mark on the world by his skillful paintings. Some of his paintings were even displayed in London.
One particular painting that brought him fame was ‘Birth’. The work was sold for a record-breaking amount of $4 Million, making him famous across the world. He displayed a deep understanding for Indian freedom movement. He often used realism in his work and tried to give voice to people who didn’t belong to the upper class. Before returning to his country, he spent some time in New York. He died at his home in Mumbai, India in 2002. Paintings like ‘Crucifixion’ and ‘Women on a Path’.
Das gave a lifetime for his love for art. Born in a small town of Odisha in 1941, he has been painting for 50 years and has surprised us with his skills. He always had a keen interest in art and used this interest to participate in various exhibitions, both nationally and also internationally. His work brought him critical acclaim for his profound knowledge of art. Some of his famous paintings are ‘Flight of Steel’, ‘Working Woman 2’ and ‘Man-Woman’. Jatin has had the honor of serving as a visiting lecturer in Jamia Millia Islamia University and also the National School of Drama. He was also conferred with Padma Bhushan by the Indian government in 2012. He lives to continue striking us with his view on art.
Born near the river Jhelum in 1925, Satish Gujral has lived to amaze us with his artistic hands. He used the partition of India as a source of inspiration for his works. The agony brought by the violent separation motivated him to paint on the same. He passed from JJ School of Art and went on to pursue a successful career in the field of painting. ‘Mourning of Masse’ and ‘Days of Glory’ show us his use of nostalgia as a theme.
His longing to revisit his home made him include various personal experiences in his paintings. He has organized numerous art shows in multiple cities of Europe, Asia and North America. He also worked as an architect and created the designs for Indian Embassy in Belgium. His work contained a depth and history in it. Some of the prestigious awards that he won were Padma Vibhushan and Order of Crown. Currently, he lives along with family at his residence in Mumbai, India.
Considered as one of the most famous abstract painters in India, V.S Gaitonde was born in Maharashtra in 1924. Being a member of the Bombay Progressive Artists Group, he was awarded by several national and international organisations for his contribution to Indian art. His work has been displayed in cities like New York and Tokyo. He used the theme of abstract art to portray his own vision of the world.
His paintings held spirituality and depth that made him popular across the subcontinent. Unlike the other Indian artists who struggled hard to accomplish fame, Gaitonde was a simple man. His forte was art, not the fame that follows it. He never lived in a bungalow or a villa or a luxurious apartment, even though he could have. During his last years, he lived in New Delhi, India and passed away in 2001. Among many of his paintings are Painting 3, Painting 4 and Blue Abstract.
Being a banker, Ram Kumar’s journey inspires us to strive for our beliefs. His middle-class status of family background couldn’t stop him from pursuing a successful career in art. After visiting an art exhibition, he could never escape from the beautiful world of paintings. Abstract paintings made oil work were his specialty. He quit his decent-paying job to learn art at Sharda Ukil School of Art. This provided a strong foundation for his career as a painter. With solo exhibition in cities like Tokyo and Venice, It won’t be incorrect to call his works, masterpieces. He has been recognized by various organizations and been awarded for his contribution to the world of abstract paintings. Some of these awards being Padma Shree, Padma Bhushan and Rockefeller fellowship.
Born in a Bengali family in 1867, Tagore was an admirer of art from a tender age. Being a member of the great Tagores, he learned quite many techniques and skills from them. ‘Adbhut Lok’ and ‘Pratima Visarjan’ were some of his famous works. He observed and mastered the style of water coloring. Most of his paintings were made with watercolors only. He also experimented with modern art and Cubism in his paintings. Other than art, the world of writing and theatre also lured him. He pursued the studies of art from the iconic Bengali School of Art. After being a productive member of the artistic society, he passed away in 1938.
Feeling astonished after reading about all these marvelous Indian artists, aren’t you? Painters like these changed not just Indian art space but also moved the world with their talent. Can you imagine what the world would have missed if they never picked up a brush? They played a role in uniting us together as a society. Their artwork binds us together to reflect on what we are as a community. They provided a detailed visual critique on political, social and economic issues. With their thoughtful minds, they held the power to give even the most marginal sections a voice.
What makes Indian art so special is its cultural richness. It carries with it the cultural heritage of our community. The paintings hold not just colors but also the emotions of their admirers. Realism has been a constant theme of Indian art. Be it erotic art, temple paintings or body art. It would not surprise anyone to learn that Indian civilization was the only Asian culture that lured even the Greeks and the Romans. Even they couldn’t resist capturing the mind-blowing art of our unique country. Indian artists drew inspiration from religion, culture, spirituality, etc.
We all hold inside us various emotions yet these Indian artists express them collectively. What is present today will soon be a memory of the past. It is only an artist that preserves this memory for us.
Who could possibly know a bit about ancient times, if it paintings never existed. Art is immortal. It will live for ages and more generations to come. TheseiIndian artists who have left behind them, a world of art, will always be present on this planet in the form of their paintings.
Above all, these Indian artists and work have a deep sense of love in them. By giving us a meaningful and beautiful representation on the canvas, they spark within us a sense of community. Lastly, as they say, an artist was created to create. Whatever inspires you, just go for it. Who knows your name might be the 16th one our list in no time? Fate doesn’t favour those who don’t stand up for themselves.