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Thursday, 11 July 2013

RUSSIAN IN BANGALORE




Luminous streaks of clouds traverse the eerily lit, crisp outlines of the Himalayan Mountains. I have never seen these lofty peaks at the roof of the world in real life. So, these images that I have are only second-hand. They derive from seeing the magnificent series of paintings by the Russian-born artist Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947). These hang in the art gallery of the Karnataka Chitrakala Parisath ('CP'), a prestigious art college in Bangalore.



The CP is  located near the end  of Kumara Krupa Road furthest away from the Windsor Manor Hotel. It is set amongst extensive grounds. A large vestibule, open to the elements, gives access to a number of rooms on the ground floor. These include a ticket office, which doubles up as a bookshop, and some larger rooms that are used to house occasional exhibitions of hanficrafts. When I visited recently, one room contained a display of flower arrangements and another a sale of handicrafts made in Rajasthan.



The permanent exhibition of artworks is housed in rooms on the labyrinthine first floor. The first of these rooms that one reaches after ascending the staircase contains the series of pictures of the Himalayas to which I have already referred. Nicholas Roerich, who was already an accomplished painter in Russia, his native land, had already left Russia when he began traveling in Asia in the mid 1920s. By 1928, he and his family had settled in India where he lived out the rest of his life. His son Svetoslav (1904-1993) was also a prolfic painter. A couple of galleries in the CP are dedicated to displaying his highly colourful works, which in my opinion are not as fine as his father's but good nevertheless. He married the Indian film star Devika Rani, and painted her portrait frequently. He died in Bangalore.



Although I consider the collection of Himalayan pictures painted by Nicholas Roerich to be the highlight of the CP, there are many other delights to be discovered in its ill-lit, dingy rooms. One of these contains paintings mainly by Bengali artists. The earliest of these is a collection of paintings by artists of the Kalighat school who worked in 19th century Calcutta. Paintings by members of the Tagore family including Rabindranath and Abinandranath can be seen in this room as well as some political cartoons by another relative Gaganendranath. These reminded me of the somewhat grotesquely sinister works of the German artist Georg Grosz. The works of other artists hanging in this room show the influence of European artists who were breaking the mould in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.



Moving on, we reached some rooms containing a wide selection of paintings and sculptures from artists who were/are working in more recent times. Although many of these works were created during the last 20 years or so, they are so badly conserved that they seem as if they were made many years earlier. The lighting in these galleries was poor even after it had been switched on. This is a great shame as many of the works on display are of the highest quality.

As one moves deeper into the building, one enters rooms containing everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. I will not dwell on the latter too long, but it includes sculptures that are, in my humble opinion,  unworthy of public display. Two of the many rooms are worthy of a visit. Although difficult to find, the search is worth the effort.



One room contains a collection of beautiful Karnatakan leather puppets. They resemble other oriental marionettes such as those used in the Javanese shadow plays. However, they look fragile and are badly displayed, often being attached to their backing displays by ageing pieces of adhesive tape.



Another room, deep inside the gallery contains a collection of Mysore paintings that date back to the 14th century. Many of the paintings on display at the CP were painted far more recently than this. One of them, which particularly intrigued me, was a genealogy of the Mysore Royal family (see above). Another picture in the collection showed the influence of the Company Style of painting, popular with British patrons stationed in India during the 18th and 19th centuries (see below).



The grounds of the CP contain a newly opened café, a branch of the Kamat chain; the college's library and sculpture studios; various other out-houses; a Hindu shrine; and a multi-leveled garden studded with sculptures. Occasionally, these grounds host 'Dastakar', a fair filled with stalls selling folkloric crafts from all over India.



Until a few years ago, the CP became the nucleus of one of the most wonderful art events in Bangalore, Chitra Santhe.  This event used to be held on the last Sunday of each year. The whole of Kumara Krupa Road was closed off to vehicular traffic. Artists lined the road with stalls from which they sold their works of art. Some were professional, many were students. We bought many beautifully painted watercolours from them over the years. Sadly, this event is no longer held. I do hope that it will be re-instated as soon as possible! The picture below was taken at one of these events.



The collection of art exhibited at the CP is of a far greater quality than that at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Bangalore ('NGMA'), which I wrote about earlier (see: http://yameyamey.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/best-in-bangalore.html ). However, the care given to displaying the works at CP is far inferior to that at the NGMA. Also, the latter is very fortunate in that it is housed in a heritage building of great beauty. This said, any art lover visiting Bangalore would be well-advised not to miss devoting some time to exploring the superb collection housed in the CP.



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