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Monday, April 19, 2021

A Gallery of Dreams

For the late Jehangir Nicholson,one of the best-known art collectors of India,it had always been a dream to share his significant art collection with the public.

Written by Zaira Arslan |
April 14, 2011 1:20:48 am

A decade after Jehangir Nicholson’s death,a gallery opens to share his rich collection of Modern Indian art with the public

For the late Jehangir Nicholson,one of the best-known art collectors of India,it had always been a dream to share his significant art collection with the public. In 1968,a year after he lost his wife of 27 years,Nicholson bought his first painting from the Taj Art Gallery — a Sharad Waykool work for Rs 600,titled A Scenery. Soon he became a regular at Mumbai-based Pundole and Chemould galleries. He was introduced to the renowned painter Laxman Shreshtha by Kali Pundole,the founder of Pundole Art Gallery. Through Shreshtha he met many more prominent artists from the Progressive Group,including MF Husain,SH Raza and Akbar Padamsee,all of who contributed a great deal to his growing interest in collecting art.

By the mid-Seventies,Nicholson’s collection had grown considerably. He began looking for a space in South Mumbai to open a museum of modern art — this is a search he carried on till he passed away in 2001 at the age of 86. The lack of an adequate space for it prompted him to loan a part of his collection to the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) in 1976. This led to the setting up of the Jehangir Nicholson Gallery of Modern Art at NCPA that year.

However,due to the lack of publicity only a handful of people know of this gallery.

Nearly 10 years after his death,Nicholson’s dream has finally come true with the opening of the Jehangir Nicholson Gallery at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya,Mumbai. The gallery housed in the East Wing of the museum is spread over a sprawling 4,500 square feet,with 3,500 square feet devoted to viewing space,and 1,000 to storage. Inaugurating this majestic space is an exhibition titled Six Decades: Celebrating the Bombay Artists from the Jehangir Nicholson Collection. Scheduled to run till the end of August,this exhibition will be followed by curated exhibitions showcasing different works each time. Apart from this,the foundation also has a research centre and open storage with all the paintings comfortably placed in sliding panels.

In his will,Nicholson,a cotton merchant-turned-art patron,had requested his nephew Cyrus Guzder and his lawyer Kaiwan Kalyaniwalla — both appointed as his trustees — to liquidate his assets and set up a foundation that would manage his art collection. The Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation was thus formed. A few years later,a partnership was formed with the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya and the foundation for the gallery Nicholson dreamed of all his life was laid.

Describing Nicholson as “a private collector who collected in the name of the public” Zasha Colah,the curator of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya,says he honed his taste “through intense dialogue and debate with artists,gallerists,other collectors and scholars”. At the time of his death,his collection stood at close to 800 paintings by more than 250 Indian artists,including works by Tyeb Mehta,Krishen Khanna,Ram Kumar,FN Souza and Vasudeo Gaitonde. Not limiting himself to the modern artists,however,he also bought works by contemporary artists such as Jitish Kallat and Anjolie Ela Menon,and made a special attempt to collect works by female artists. Speaking fondly of his uncle and dear friend at the opening of the Jehangir Nicholson Gallery,Guzder also points out that Nicholson “engaged actively with his collection” and enjoyed discussing his possessions in great detail.

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