City Hangout – NGMA, Jaipur House
India’s modern art.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Set up in 1954 at Jaipur House near India Gate, the National Gallery of Modern Art’s old wing has stately marble flooring and arched corridors.
One of the wing’s two sections is devoted to the works of Indian painters; the other is a permanent gallery of paintings by international artists.
Chilean artist Arturo Pacheco Altamiran’s Ships at Anchor resonates with personal journeys yet to be undertaken. Bosnian artist Mersard Berber’s Chronicle of Sarajevo, with its neighing horses and a melancholic pasha, hints at the dark Balkan history. The Holy Cow by a Japanese painter makes us Indians look exotic in our own eyes.
The new wing (2009) comprising five floors over two blocks takes the visitor into a journey of modern Indian art, from the 19th century to the present.
The basement shows Indian miniatures and European artwork.
The next level displays 19th century India as an oriental fantasy. The sharp-lined temples, mosques, devdasis (temple goddesses), brides, kotwals (constables), sweepers, warriors were painted by Indians for their British masters. Called ‘company painting’, this art married the miniature tradition of Rajput and Mughal painting with the Western perspective. Raja Ravi Varma’s masterpieces in oil, the pinnacle of this Indo-Western style, are on this floor.
The third level pulsates with sensuous energy. The works of Amrita Shergil, the Lahore-based painter who died young, is a principal attraction. The naked brown girl, the woman with sagging breasts, a group of Brahmin boys… Shergill’s people throb with emotional vitality. Her self-portrait is the most flamboyant: the shoulders bare, the hair loose, and the smile showing bliss. Even her Still Life, with its three eggs and a water jug, has passion.
On the fourth level, some of India’s contemporary masters, also the most expensive, are exhibited: Satish Gujral, Tyeb Mehta, F.N. Souza, S.H. Raza and M.F. Husain.
On the first floor of the second block (new wing), the giant Connaught Place by Jaswant Singh should not be missed. It shows a man with one eye and no face. Behind him are the corridors and pillars of Delhi’s erstwhile British commercial centre, which gives its name to the painting.
On the second level of this block, there are photographs by Raghu Rai, Dayanita Singh and Ketaki Seth, and paintings of film stars like Madhubala and Nargis Dutt. Those familiar with Bombay cinema will feel at home here.
Where Jaipur House, India Gate Circle Time 10 am to 5 pm (Monday closed) Tickets Indian – Rs 10, student/child – Re 1, Foreigners Rs 150 Nearby Metro Stations Central Secretariat/Barakhamba