In the mid-’60s, artist FN Souza was making elegant portraits, working under the patronage of American collector Harold Kovner in London, before he moved to New York in 1967. During the time, Kovner started paying Souza a monthly renumeration so that he wouldn’t have to worry about where his next painting was selling or what exhibition to hold next.
Kishore Singh, Head of Exhibitions and Publications at DAG (Delhi Art Gallery), calls it the artist’s finest period in terms of his art practice. At the leading international fair, Masterpiece London 2018, in the UK, it comes as no surprise that the gallery (the only entrant from India) — chose a 1962 nude portrait by Souza, among its 11 modern Indian artworks on display. Posing like a classical sculpture, the subject shows a sense of calmness and beauty while sporting jewellery, and her non-confrontational gaze stares at the viewer, shining in illuminating yellow colours.
At the height of the summer art season in London, over 170 galleries from across the world have gathered on the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea for the event. Art and antiquities collectors and exhibitors are showcasing objects and artworks — from rare maps and paintings to sculpture, jewellery and furniture — under one roof. Here, DAG’s collection of paintings mostly hover between the 1940s and 1980s. These include Jamini Roy’s rare painting of Jesus Christ on woven bamboo mat and Rameshwar Broota’s drawing that contrasts between the human body and architectural elements.
Late modernist Bikash Bhattacharjee’s A Social Gathering (1980) shows Indian women from different facets of life, many dressed in sari and expensive jewellery, painted with a heightened sense of realism yet their eyes left deliberately dark, leading to a sense of eeriness. Singh says, “At Masterpiece, everyone is putting their best foot forward. Whether it is 2nd century BC Eyptian statues or works from Greece and Rome or jewellery and carpets — the finest is being shown there.”
MF Husain’s Untitled (Two Figures With Cactus) showing two people enveloped next to each other also makes an appearance. Apart from featuring Tyeb Mehta and Krishen Khanna, DAG pays a homage to painter Ram Kumar, who passed away earlier this year. Kumar’s 1977 canvas portrays Benaras in resplendent colours.
Making DAG’s presence felt for the third time in a row, Singh points out that this could be attributed to the fact that it is not merely an art fair. He says, “It cuts across all categories and caters to different needs. It gives you a chance to meet the kind of people who already have fine refined tastes and what we are getting is a curated audience.”