Ro­man­tic REAL­IST

India Today - - LEISURE -

Hugely suc­cess­ful in the early 20th cen­tury, M.V. Dhu­rand­har is these days a for­got­ten fig­ure. This may be as much the re­sult of his po­si­tion as a mem­ber of the colo­nial es­tab­lish­ment as his aca­demic style, which fell out of favour with the ad­vent of In­dian mod­ernism. But art his­to­rian Suhas Bahulkar—cu­ra­tor of M V Dhu­rand­har: The Ro­man­tic Real­ist, a ret­ro­spec­tive on dis­play at the Na­tional Gallery of Mod­ern Art, Mum­bai—be­lieves it’s time we took an­other look at his legacy.

Dhu­rand­har cer­tainly paid his dues as a loyal ser­vant of the Raj. He served un­der var­i­ous Bri­tish prin­ci­pals of the Sir JJ School of Art for 41 years. He painted the King and Queen re­ceiv­ing obei­sance from their In­dian sub­jects and dec­o­rated the Im­pe­rial Sec­re­tar­iat with busy mu­rals rep­re­sent­ing the laws of the land. Even his gods and god­desses can some­times seem sus­pi­ciously western in their fea­tures, more posh than Pu­ranic.

Bahulkar, how­ever, sees Dhu­rand­har as a key mem­ber of the Bom­bay School, the real­ist painters who were Raja Ravi Varma’s con­tem­po­raries and suc­ces­sors. The NGMA ret­ro­spec­tive is part of his mis­sion to doc­u­ment the school’s role in the his­tory of mod­ern In­dian art. It be­gins with Dhu­rand­har the por­traitist and his­tory painter, pro­ceed­ing from his por­tray­als of the Maratha past to his nar­ra­tives from mythol­ogy.

As­cend­ing the gallery’s lev­els, the ex­hi­bi­tion delves into lesser-known as­pects of his art. Dhu­rand­har’s sketches, es­pe­cially, un­cover a hu­man side to the artist. Many of them were made dur­ing his trav­els across the Bom­bay Pres­i­dency as an in­spec­tor of draw­ing. Oth­ers, com­piled in a vol­ume awk­wardly ti­tled ‘My Wife in Art’, de­pict his con­ju­gal life. His first wife Ba­pubai died of the plague, and the book has a ten­derly ren­dered wa­ter­colour of her life­less body that he made at her deathbed. There’s a quaint do­mes­tic eroti­cism to his sketches of his sec­ond wife Gan­gubai, a stocky, sa­ree-swad­dled fig­ure, who is of­ten seen sleep­ing face down.

Dhu­rand­har’s eye for the world around him is also ev­i­dent in his com­mer­cial work. M V Dhu­rand­har: The Artist as Chron­i­cler, a par­al­lel ex­hi­bi­tion at the Bhau Daji Lad Mu­seum, dis­plays his tal­ents as a pi­o­neer­ing il­lus­tra­tor. Break­ing bound­aries be­tween high and low, Dhu­rand­har took his art to the masses through his posters, mag­a­zine and book il­lus­tra­tions. His post­cards are minia­ture comic gems that take us peo­ple-watch­ing in old Bom­bay. Here, the colo­nial artist re­veals him­self to be a sharp so­cial ob­server who reaches out to us with his love for the city and its peo­ple. —Ra­jesh Devraj

Images Cour­tesy DAG

Clock­wise fromtop: Scene of Hindu mar­riage cer­e­mony; A Bom­bay Prabhu Lady; The Pot­ter

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