The mural- Bharat Bhagya Vidhataby M.F. Husain came out of a competition process. Here we unfold the story of the competition.
The Colaba Campus of the The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research was inaugurated by Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on January 15, 1962.
The founder of the Institute Homi J. Bhabha was not only a famous scientist, but he was also a good artist himself and a great connoisseur and patron of art.
Soon after independence of India in 1947, a group of six artists formed the Progressive Artists’ Group to establish new ways of expressing India in the post-colonial era.
Homi Bhabha was both a patron and a close friend of some of these artists. He bought several of their works for very nominal prices. In doing so he founded the priceless collection that can be seen today at TIFR.
The idea behind the mural was simple: each artist was requested to produce a preliminary design in a scaled- down size.
An internal note of that time reveals that Ara, Bendre, Gaitonde, Gujral, Hebbar, Husain, Padamsee, Prabha, Raval, Raza, Sadwelkar and Solagaonkar were requested to submit competition entries.
In addition, the names Shanti Dave, Ram Kumar and Jamini Roy were noted in a separate list, probably in case any of the first list were not able to participate.
An advertisement was also placed as an open call for applications. From the initial list of invited artists, Raza, Padamsee and Gaitonde were not to submit entries and instead Jamini Roy was added.
Roy responded promptly to Bhabha’s invitation. The special respect given to Roy is revealed
in a letter that Bhabha wrote on 19 October 1962. Here is an excerpt:
“In view of the eminent position you occupy among the artists of today and the fact that you are so to speak the doyen of contemporary artists in India… it is clearly understood that your design will not be considered for competition with the rest, but as a work of art which we would treasure as part of the art collection of the Institute."
"I may mention in this connection that the Institute has one of the best collections of contemporary Indian art in the country, and the absence of any painting by you is a serious lacuna, which we wish to fill… May I take this opportunity to express to you my admiration for your pioneering and original contributions to contemporary Indian painting, and I would like to call on you when I next visit Calcutta.”
Bhabha had also seriously considered asking Pablo Picasso to design the mural for TIFR. Referring to a previously held conversation about Picasso doing mural for the institute, he wrote to J.D. Bernal: “We talked about the possibility of interesting Pablo Picasso in this on special terms”. The timing of this letter is significant in that it comes at the same moment that letters had already been sent out to the Indian artists to submit entries for the mural competition.
However no further correspondence on this subject is available and TIFR ultimately never got its own Picasso mural.
The committee shortlisted Raval and Husain and finally, chose Husain. Bhabha summarizes their views in a note dated 29 April 1963:
"There is unanimity of view that the only designs good enough for being considered for the final mural are those of Husain and Raval. The consensus of opinion is that Husain is to be preferred. I am personally of the view that the Raval, though elegant, is more manneristic, and it is possible that it may wear less well with time."
"The Husain seems to me a more substantial and enduring composition and in view of my knowledge of the artist’s finished pictures, I would expect that the full-scale mural would be richer in texture and detail than the sketch. In the light of Raval’s present style, it is doubtful whether the full scale mural will be any richer in texture or detail than the sketch.”
Photo of Mural and the other paintings- Anil Rane
Archival photo-TIFR Archives
Other photos- Nupen Madhvani
The TIFR Art Collection by Mortimer Chatterjee and Tara Lal, published by TIFR, 2010, Mumbai
Finance- Tata Education Trust