People all over the world have long been fascinated by Indian art and culture. However, the twentieth century was the one that truly defined and propelled India’s visual identity in the modern world. The global acclaim that Indian art now enjoys is the result of the tireless creativity pursued by highly talented artists of the time. These artists shaped the narrative of Indian art and brought it to the global stage by constantly experimenting and evolving throughout their careers. Here are some of the artists who have made significant contributions to Indian art and are well-known around the world.
Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian and Indian to win the prestigious Nobel Prize for his great English composition ‘Geetanjali,’ is widely regarded as the most important Indian artist in the world. Rabindranath Tagore’s contribution to art was multifaceted, as he was a poet, song composer, novelist, essayist, and painter. His ideas and thoughts, as a patriot and talisman for national pride, were instrumental in shaping the narrative of modern India. Despite the fact that he began painting at the age of 60, his awareness and drive for visual beauty were inherent, and he experimented with various visual expressions.
Known as ‘one of the most important Avant-Garde women artists of the early twentieth century,’ Amrita Sher-Gil changed the course of Modern Indian Art, both literally and metaphorically. Sher-Gil enrolled at the prestigious Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts in Paris when he was sixteen years old. She was destined for extraordinary fame and glory after creating the landmark work titled ‘Young Girls,’ which earned her numerous accolades, including a gold medal at the Grand Salon in Paris. She was also the Salon’s youngest and only Asian member at the time. When she returned to India in 1934, she famously declared, “I can only paint in India.” Picasso, Matisse, and Braque belong to Europe. “India is solely mine.” Even after decades, she remains the pinnacle of Indian art.
M.F. Husain was instrumental in introducing Modern Indian Art to a global audience. He was at the forefront of the modernism movement and had a constant influence on the beginnings of India’s artistic evolution. M. F. Husain began exhibiting his work outside of India in the 1950s and travelled extensively abroad. By the end of that decade, he had achieved international acclaim as an artist and had gained global exposure through his art and philosophy. When he was invited to exhibit with Pablo Picasso at the Bienal de So Paulo in 1971, he took inspiration from the latter’s antiwar painting Guernica (1937) to depict the moral battle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas in the Mahabharata. Husain was also a poet, writer, and ardent film fan. His 1967 film ‘Through the Eyes of a Painter’ won both the National and Golden Bear Awards at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Francis Newton Souza, a founding member of the Progressive Artists’ Group, was one of the first post-independence Indian painters to establish the reputation of Modern Indian Art in the Western world. He moved to London in 1949 and rose to prominence in 1954 with the publication of his autobiographical essay, ‘Nirvana of a Maggot,’ in Encounter magazine. When his first one-man exhibition at Gallery One in London sold out completely in 1960, the floodgates of success opened for him, and he never looked back. Souza moved to New York after receiving the Guggenheim International Award, the highest monetary award given in the arts at the time. Souza’s works can be found in a variety of important museum collections, including the British Museum, Tate Gallery, and Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
V.S. Gaitonde’s works have appeared in dozens of group shows around the world, making him an iconic modernist and arguably India’s most important abstractionist. His deeply meditative works, inspired by Zen Buddhism and other philosophies, have consistently set auction records. In 2014, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York honoured his international reputation as a legendary Indian modernist with a grand retrospective titled “V. S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life.” In 2015, the exhibition travelled to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice.