From MF Husain to KCS Paniker: rare works by India's greatest artists in Chennai

From MF Husain to KCS Paniker: rare works by India’s greatest artists in Chennai | Pro Club Bd

Explore a fascinating collection of contemporary Indian art, including rare early works by luminaries of the Madras Art Movement and the Bengal School, from the personal collection of the late entrepreneur Pradipto Mohapatra

Explore a fascinating collection of contemporary Indian art, including rare early works by luminaries of the Madras Art Movement and the Bengal School, from the personal collection of the late entrepreneur Pradipto Mohapatra

Sanghamitra Mohapatra’s earliest memories of art are housed in the sprawling Cholamandal Artist’s Village: as a little girl she had to play with other children every Sunday while her father, entrepreneur Pradipto Mohapatra, met his artist friends and might even be picked up a canvas or two at the way outside. Most of these artists later became the greats of the Madras art movement.

She admits having no idea who they were or what they were doing until much later. Today she completes a very challenging five-year project: the careful cataloging of her late father’s vast collection of artworks with a sensitively curated exhibition at Focus Art Gallery to honor his passion for art.

Lovingly built up over decades, this collection is home to many notable pieces: KCS Paniker’s rare paper sketches, RB Bhaskaran’s cats, KH Ara’s breathtaking large-scale work “Nude” and Laxma Goud’s etchings on metal plates: the crème de la crème of contemporary Indian art.

Ajay De's charcoal on paper work

Ajay De’s charcoal on paper work | Photo credit: special agreement

An MF Husain stands almost hidden against one of Focus Art Gallery’s crowded walls. Yet it is unmistakable. A simple watercolor on paper, marked by the artist’s early brushstrokes, the work depicts two women, perhaps dancers, accompanied by a meditating saint in white. Inside, an entire wall depicts the Bengali school, while the birds are captured in arresting shadows by Ajay De, and Suhas Roy’s beautiful pastel works of the female form sit alongside forms of Christ, personalized in their own ways by different cultures and artists. There are also some sculptures, mostly made of stone and metal.

Together they make up around 275 works spanning veteran artists, diverse schools of thought and shifting styles that Pradipto Mohapatra, the man behind retail chains like FoodWorld, MusicWorld, Health & Glow and HMV India, has collected over more than 40 years.

A work of art by AV Ilango

An artwork by AV Ilango | Photo credit: special agreement

Sanghamitra remembers him as “the image of health”, affable with a keen interest in watchmaking and historical artifacts. Mohapatra loved his art and watches. “In terms of art, he was a big fan of the Bengal School of Art and the Madras Art Movement. He had a deep understanding of the Bengali school and its history,” says Sanghamitra. His father-in-law was also an avid collector. “A lot of notes were exchanged between father-in-law and son-in-law,” she recalls. Many works that characterize the Bombay School, such as KH Ara, have made it into the collection. The exhibition is a fascinating walk through evolving thoughts, ideas and sensibilities.

In such a vast collection, dating and research pose unavoidable challenges. In order to make sense of the collection and create a loose narrative, Sanghamitra has conducted her own research into the life of each of these artists. “Then there are provenances for each work of art: authenticity papers and invoices that give us an idea of ​​the media and prices. Some of them were purchased before the 1990’s and do not have authenticity papers. For that, I had to dive into each piece, reach out to family or an expert in the field to put the certification together,” she says.

Many of the pieces of the Madras art movement are early works by the artists, sourced around the 1980s before they were even famous. Referring to RB Bhaskaran’s oil and acrylic paintings on canvas with his beloved cats, Sanghamitra recalls: “He had no love for cats. But he bought us a lot of work with cats. My mother’s family was an avid cat lover.”

S Nandagopal's work

S Nandagopal’s work | Photo credit: special agreement

Although there is no set narrative for the exhibition, viewers are greeted by the Madras art movement and portraits, who are then encouraged to travel to the Bombay and Bengal schools, passing by some abstract works en route. Did Mohapatra have a favorite artist? “He loved [C] Douglas. In the Bengali school he had a special love for the Tagores: Of course we have some doodles by Rabindranath Tagore.” However, they are not part of the ad.

Why does she want to part with such an exhaustive collection? Much of this boils down to the dangers of preservation. Mohapatra had an affinity for paper formats: ink on paper and watercolors. “But they need to be hung on a wall and broadcast,” says Sanghamitra, adding, “More than that, they need to be appreciated and seen. There’s no point in them being in our camp.”

The collection is on view July 22-24 at Focus Art Gallery, Alwarpet. It is open to everyone.

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