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Face Value

Over two centuries of portrait painting in India is chronicled through the works of 150 artists

Written by Vandana Kalra |
September 26, 2013 4:49:28 am

His name might not feature in the list of stalwarts but JA Lalkaka was an artist of repute in colonial India. The first Indian deputy director of Sir JJ School of Art,he painted the portrait of King George V that hangs at the Buckingham Palace. Having specialised in portrait painting in London for five years,now — almost four decades after his demise — Delhi Art Gallery (DAG) has recognised his work and those of 150 other artists in the exhibition “Indian Portraits: The Face of a People”. “It’s part of art history. Portraiture in its true sense is dead now,” says Kishore Singh,head of exhibitions,DAG,and the curator of the exhibition.

In a book published alongside the exhibition,Singh traces the history of royal portraits in India,from portraitures under the Mughal rule to the arrival of Jesuit priests and European merchants who introduced more naturalistic depiction of the noble visage. The exhibition comprises a work of Benjamin Hudson,who arrived in Calcutta in 1854,almost 100 years after Tilly Kettle,the first European portrait painter to come to India. The Raja Ravi Varma school is represented by a series of artists. Back in 1965,Fatima Ahmed was commissioned by Air India to do a mural in Rome. Portraits of victims of the 1943 Bengal famine are documented by Gobardhan Shah and Chittaprasad. We also see an 1896 pastel of a young girl by Abanindranath Tagore’s mentor,O Gilhardi.

It was while researching for the show that Singh discovered artists lost in time,such as the Parsi Koulji Ardeshir Tachakra,active in late 18th century. “There were several oils in our collection which were anonymous and while preparing for the show we discovered signatures. No one knew about these artists,” he says.

Artists’ perception of self comes forth in numerous self-portraits. A young F N Souza paints himself with chiselled features whereas P T Reddy wears his collar up in a 1938 oil. There is a lot more of art history in the process of being discovered. Lined up are shows on still life and abstract.

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