New Delhi: Three hundred years ago, India went to Europe with realistic paintings of villages, the green countryside, temples, forts, people and festivals in water colours and prints. Over the centuries, landscapes have lived at the heart of the Indian art movements, morphing from the early visual documentary essays to contemporary abstraction.
An exhibition, “The Changing Horizon”, will map the journey of Indian landscapes from 17th century with 365 art works by 150 artists in perhaps the first panorama of the genre, which marked the beginning of modernism in Indian art and paved the way for a fusion of eastern sensibilities with western styles.
An early tribe of European traveller-artists like the Daniell Brothers, William Hodges, Edward Cheney and Robert Grindlay introduced Indian landscapes to the west with their documentary paintings of life in the country and their journeys through the colourful land.
The exhibition will run at the Delhi Art Gallery Aug 18-Sept 29.
“The genre began in India with the arrival of the European traveller-artist at a time when it was waning in Europe, which was experimenting with impressionism. Part of their images were documentation which the artists marketed to the natives of Europe residing in India and the local elites. They also sold their art to commercial art houses and private collectors in Europe,” art writer Kishore Singh, who has curated the exhibition, told IANS.
Describing the journey of the landscape art, Singh said the early European documentation of India inspired several Indian artists like J.P. Gangooly, M.V. Dhurandhar and Raja Ravi Varma to paint realistic landscapes in an Indian idiom using Indian symbols and stylised nature.
“Post the arrival of the colonial artists, the country saw the emergence of a realistic style in Indian paintings which the early artists learnt from the Europeans between the late 19th and the early 20th century,” said Singh, the head of exhibitions and publications at the Delhi Art Gallery.
If the first step was of assimilation of styles, the second phase in the 1950s-1960s was marked by total rejection of realistic European landscapes in favour of the Japanese “wash” paintings – which use layered pigments washed subsequently with water – to create new images of landscapes.
The wash paintings had a transparency to them, making them complex and delicately nuanced.
“The wash landscapes became more intimate with schools like Bengal washes which went to Santiniketan to experiment with expressionism,” Singh said.
The contemporary landscapes in the 1970s grew out of expressionism to play with abstract forms. They became more interpretative than documentary.
“One of the best examples of contemporary abstract landscapes are those by artist Ram Kumar. Today’s artistic environment is vastly different with the melange of exposures. A lot of artists will tell you that the 19th and 20th century landscape genre cannot flourish now because artists move on to other genres. They do not spend much time in realistic landscapes,” Singh said.
He said artists like Akbar Padamsee, Jehangir Sabavala and F.N. Souza had their “own interpretative genres of landscapes”.
The exhibition will trace the growth of landscapes under different categories like “Indian Eye on West”, “European Eye on India”, “Cityscapes”, “Nature Scapes”, “Countryside” and “Foliage”.
The exhibition, which Singh says is one of the “first on landscape art”, will bring together the work of the earliest European artist-travellers to India, such as Thomas Daniell, William Hodges, Edward Cheney and Robert Grindlay, realist oil landscapes by J. P. Gangooly and Ravi Varma, as well as a strong representation of academic Indian art school-trained artists like S.L. Haldankar, M. K. Parandekar, L.N. Taskar, D.C. Joglekar and S.G. Thakur Singh.
The Bengal School’s Far East-inspired innovations will be seen in the works of Abanindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Prosanto Roy, Benode Behari Mukherjee and Indra Dugar.
“Two landscape art by M.F. Husain, not known to have painted landscapes, will be a special highlight,” the curator said.