'An Unfinished Portrait': Vignettes from the KNMA Collection 

Kiran Nadar Museum of Art

‘An Unfinished Portrait’ presents drawings, sketches, watercolours and photographs of three generations of prominent Indian modernists from the KNMA Collection. Covering five decades, from 1930s to 1980s, it draws attention to intimate visual conversations between these artist-ideologues; the informality of exchanges, translation and leanings between different art centers in India: Santiniketan, Bombay, Baroda and Delhi. Breaking away from the linear historical narrative of modernism, it addresses ‘the Indian modern’ through juxtapositions of artistic processes of these artists, and suggests newer clusters and interrelations.

Sketching was an important part of Nandalal Bose’ everyday routine in Santiniketan. His drawings and sketches, mostly done on postcard-size formats, suggest immediacy and his astute observations.

Bose recorded whatever he saw, the flora and fauna, people, their mundane activities, landscapes and festivals. As the Principal of Kala Bhawan (1919-51) his artistic process inspired many students.

Plant and flower paintings form an important part of Benodebehari’s oeuvre. In his autobiography ‘Chitrakar’ he speaks of several trees and plants, referring to their specialties and distinctive features.

Benodebehari started making paper collages after losing his eyesight. With loose compositional structure and colourful exuberance, they transcribe a world comprehended through tactile sensations.

Mostly done on the spot, with great speed, Baij’s watercolours suggest multiple movements and quick approximations. This one shows a family harvesting their farm.

Dispensed with mass and volume, Somnath Hore’s figures with stick-like limbs are groping in their inner nakedness. Though emerging from a particular historical context, they’re devoid of any identity.

The Famine of 1943, communal riots of 1947, devastations of war, all the wounds and wounded are subjects of Hore’s works: the hapless, deserted, starved and tortured figures gazing into infinitude.

Known for his peculiar use of tempera, Ganesh Pyne gradually built layer upon layer, giving enigmatic form to his melancholy interior world. Note the depth and tonal variations in ‘Death’.

M F Husain’s early works from 1950s alongside his portrait taken by art-critic Richard Bartholomew.

Husain’s cityscape of Rajasthan resonates with Himmat Shah’s explorations of the desert in his drawings and sculpture, and Mahatta’s photographs of Delhi architecture.

In 1957 Husain went to Prague to do a mural for Air India. This set of 19 drawings suggests his working method, his passion for poetry and history not as a chronicle of events but as a flux of human affairs.

This set of 26 preparatory drawings of F N Souza was made for Polish writer Jerzy Peterkiewicz’s book ‘Inner Circle’. They annotate journeys into liminal zones and cycles of dying and rebirth.

“These drawings were done when I was in the hospital. I made the choice of being in the general ward where all kinds of ailments and treatments are matter-of-fact experiences”, says Jeram Patel

Jeram’s monochromatic drawings, done with a crow quill, capture the body in pain and as a site for archaeological digging. In dense short stroking, the images contain the intensity of life and death.

Madan Mahatta’s photographs of Delhi architecture juxtaposed with Himmat Shah’s terracotta sculpture

Himmat Shah’s simple line drawings, virtually abstract, acquire an autonomous movement of their own, without any reversal or erasure.

Between 1950 and 1980, at the height of Nehruvian modernism, Madan Mahatta, a prolific photographer, captured and recorded the development of New Delhi. He worked closely with two generations of modern Indian architects and captured in black-and-white such landmark constructions as the India International Centre, Asian Games Village, the Shri Ram Centre as it stood isolated on Safdar Hashmi Marg, Pragati Maidan under construction and the Hall of Nations, with its House of Cards-like structure, to name just a few. – Ram Rahman

Richard Bartholomew as an acclaimed art critic, artist and photographer was close to this generation of artists. His photographs present some of the most important portraits of artists instrumental in the shaping of Indian Modernism. He captures his artist-peers’ persona, in their studios with their works, or at exhibition openings and sometimes all by themselves, pensive or looking at the transient world around them.

Bartholomew's portraits in this exhibition activate these artist-actors' deep friendships, conversations and engagements with the art world.

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