ON MY WATCH: History of the Masters

On My Watch

The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Delhi, is 63 years old. To mark its 63rd foundation day, an exhibition, Itihas, showcased  the works of some of the country’s master sculptors. What a treasure the gallery owns. On display were some of the finest works of Amarnath Sehgal, Ram Kinkar Baij, Sankho Choudhari, Prodosh Dasgupta, Shirin Jal Virjee, and more.


The in-house curated exhibition had some magnificent sculptures and a few paintings. But I wish the exhibition was better curated. Several of the works were placed on huge wooden crates used for shipping stuff. I am not sure if it was a good idea. The huge boxes with some scribblings here and there seemed to overpower the delicate and often exquisite pieces of art.



My eyes did not move for a long while from Prodosh Dasgupta’s terrifyingly broken man entitled In Bondage. The bronze is a masterpiece – the man appears crushed and humiliated by poverty. His hands are missing, or have they been broken? Or have they been consumed by long years of labour? He seems to be staring at you,  almost asking, “Is that enough? Or would you take my legs?”


I almost missed the Egg Bride by this outstanding sculptor who was inspired by Auguste Rodin and Henry Moore.


The Egg Bride is another marvel that represents Dasgupta’s constant theme of evolution and genesis. The woman, shaped like an egg, is the beginning of creation. She is open and free,  naked and full.

Egg Bride by Prodosh Dasgupta

And then I saw him. From far, I knew it is Gurudev (Rabindranath Tagore).  A closer look presented the extraordinary craft of Ram Kinkar Baij, Shanti Niketan’s famous modernist. Baij’s masterpiece captures an ageing thinker and poet, broken in parts but not shattered. Still capable of writing wonderful verse and hopeful of a new India.


Although there were several voluptous women on display, GC Butt’s work, Toilet, took my breath away. Created more than 60 years ago, Toilet is a peep into the personal space of a woman who has finished her bath and is now probably contemplating about the day that lies ahead. Besides the  grace in form I wondered if the woman whoud have been any less arresting if she had not lifted her arm and placed it on her head.


NGMA could hire better curators and proofreaders in the future. The past needs to be retold correctly and creatively.

Picasso, Marie-Thérèse Walter & the Blind Bull

Past Lives, Uncategorized

Marie-Thérèse Walter was just 17 when a 40-plus Picasso spotted her in a metro and lured her to his studio. The relationship lasted for close to a decade, stirring Picasso to create some of the most erotic and sensitive works. Picasso drew and painted Marie-Thérèse consistently, often presenting her as a child who was not always innocent.


A look at the Vollard Suite (a collection of 100 etchings Picasso did in the 1930s)  displays his passion for this classical beauty. In some of the etchings she is a sleeping beauty, in some others an enchantress, in a few a child guide and in many a passive lover.


Minotaur with a Goblet in His Hand and a Young Woman.

The most touching  among the etchings are those where she appears along with a Minotaur (a man with a face of a bull).  In Minotaure caressant du Mufle la Main d’une Dormeuse (Bloch 201), the Minotaur is presented as a gentle lover, careful not to disturb the sleeping beauty but desperate to find out what she is dreaming about.

Close to 15 etchings in this collection trace the journey of the Minotaur, from a powerful predator to a helpless, blind beast.


Blind Minotaur Guided by a Little Girl with Flowers

Was Picasso the Minotaur? Some art historians believe so, especially when they study the series.Picasso may have sexually controlled the very young Marie-Thérèse, but may have lived in constant fear of losing her. He never married her though he continued to paint her even after their affair ended. Marie-Thérèse bore him a daughter, Maya.She committed suicide four years after Picasso’s death.




ON MY WATCH: The living & the dead

On My Watch

Speck of beauty

Speck of Beauty

cropped-prakriti5.jpgA lovely naked woman rising from the waves…Florence-born Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus  (1485) is a marvellous piece of sensual and spiritual experience. An art critic says the painting depicts the moment when “Humanity is born to civilisation, and coming out of nowhere lands on the shores of nature, who welcomes and clothes it.” Birth of Venus is the beginning of civilisation.botecelli

Past lives : ”This painting is the best of my life”

Past Lives

Young Amrita in the 1930s with some of her works. WIKICOMMONS

At age 16, Amrita Sher-Gil went to Paris to study art. It was 1929. Within three years  Amrita made close to 60 paintings and produced two outstanding canvases – Young Girls and Professional Model. Young Girls fetched her the Gold Medal from the Grand Salon, Paris’s top art event. Amrita’s sister Indira and friend Denise Proutaux were the models for this delightful painting.


Amrita Sher-gil (1913-1941), Indian, Young Girls, National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi

However, it is Professional Model that exhibited Amrita’s  superior talent. In Professional, Amrita portrayed a 40-year-old woman suffering from TB who struggled to survive in Paris. Amrita spent her Christmas eve painting this nude. In Amrita Sher-Gil: A Life, art historian Yashodhara Dalmia mentions what Amrita wrote to her cousin and later husband Victor Egan about this work.  “This painting is very good, (the best in my life).” Indeed it was an extraordinary piece of art from a girl who was barely 18.  “All the people whose judgement I trust told me that this painting is the best of my life and those who don’t have any knowledge about art say this is awful,” wrote Amrita to Victor. Both the works are now with the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi.

professional model

Professional Model, National Gallery of Modern Art