Lifestyle Books and Art 24 Dec 2017 Art of epic proporti ...

Art of epic proportions, but no gallery for SM Pandit!

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | K N REDDY
Published Dec 24, 2017, 4:01 am IST
Updated Dec 24, 2017, 4:01 am IST
In the ‘Super Market Area’ of this dusty city is hidden a treasure trove of rare paintings- the creation of SM Pandit.
A cursory glance at the surrounding would convince anyone that Batte Bazaar is hardly the place to house the art gallery of this world famous genius. (Photo: DC)
 A cursory glance at the surrounding would convince anyone that Batte Bazaar is hardly the place to house the art gallery of this world famous genius. (Photo: DC)

A second Raja Ravi Varma in our own Kalaburagi? That’s a bit hard to believe but in a small lane in the ‘Super Market Area’ of this dusty city is hidden a treasure trove of rare paintings- the creation of SM Pandit,  whose mastery over the brush was unrivalled. The SM Pandit Art Gallery is not an easy place to find amidst the confusing array of buildings as no effort has been made to give it a facelift and make sure the brilliance of Dr Pandit is showcased for future generations-a gallery on the lines of the Venkatappa Art Gallery in Bengaluru perhaps. All because of a legal wrangle in his family over his possessions.  K.N. Reddy profiles this great son of Karnataka whose genius has hardly got the due it deserved.

A second Raja Ravi Varma in our own Kalaburagi? That’s a bit hard to believe but in a small lane in the ‘Super Market Area’ of this dusty city is hidden a treasure trove of rare paintings- the creation of SM Pandit,  whose mastery over the brush was unrivalled. The SM Pandit Art Gallery is not an easy place to find amidst the confusing array of buildings as no effort has been made to give it a facelift and make sure the brilliance of Dr Pandit is showcased for future generations-a gallery on the lines of the Venkatappa Art Gallery in Bengaluru perhaps. All because of a legal wrangle in his family over his possessions.  K.N. Reddy profiles this great son of Karnataka whose genius has hardly got the due it deserved. 

 

‘Putani Galli?’ is a small lane in Kalaburagi where cloth and tailoring shops are situated. Although modern concrete buildings, embellished with glitzy tiles and bulbs have replaced the old structures which had Shabad slab roofs, the meandering lanes are still so narrow that even two-wheeler riders have to engage in acrobatics to safely ride through.  

In the bustling Batte Bazaar, the SM Pandit Art Gallery building is easy to miss unless one spots the small name board hanging on the concrete wall of a huge building. But one can easily locate Vishwakarma Printers on the first floor of the building where the art gallery is situated. Vishwakarma Printers is a printing press run by Mr Krishnaraj, the son of the legendary painter. An engineering graduate, Krishnaraj is the custodian of the priceless paintings left behind by Dr Pandit, who spent his last days in Kalaburagi in the same building where the art gallery is situated. Dr Pandit ranked at the top among those who took the epics to the masses through their work.

Sadly, the doors of the art gallery remain closed most  of the time and are opened only when a VVIP visits the gallery or curative work needs to be taken up.

A cursory glance at the surrounding would convince anyone that Batte Bazaar is hardly the place to house the art gallery of this world famous genius. For the ‘Kalamaharishi’ produced innumerable master pieces till he breathed his last on March 30, 1993.

It was Dr Pandit’s desire that a public trust be formed with eminent artists and art lovers to maintain and display his paintings. But the legal wrangle in the family over the ownership of paintings worth crores of rupees and the terms offered by the state government to which the family did not agree, have stymied all efforts to fulfil the dream of Dr Pandit and scores of his art lovers.

The foremost painter of his time in the school of classical realism, Dr Pandit’s subjects were inspired by ancient Indian literature. He brought a rare blend of artistic skill and sensitivity to his portrayal of romantic characters like Nala-Damayanti, Vishwamitra-Menaka etc with his work remaining hugely popular even today.

Known as the ‘Toulouse Lautrec’ of India, Dr Pandit who was born in 1916 at Kalaburagi, was trained at the early age of ten by Shri Shankar Rao Alandhkar. He continued his art education and completed his Diploma from the Madras School of Art at the age of 14. He then went to Mumbai in 1935 but in an error of judgement, the Sir JJ Art School rejected his application.  He however continued to stay in Mumbai , studying along with greats like KK Hebbar and AS Almelkar in Nutan Kala Mandir. A few years later though, he was admitted to JJ School after the principal discovered his work.

Dr Pandit was then inundated with work from the commercial world of advertising and publishing. With his unique skill in graceful figural composition, coupled with his mastery of the new medium of poster colours, which he pioneered in India, Dr Pandit showed to the art world that it could be used for painting too.

The king of art made film stars more glamorous than they actually were with his calendar pictures printed and re-printed to adorn the walls of lakhs of houses. Readers raved about the beauty of his cover designs for FilmIndia which was a famous magazine in the period from 1945 - 60.

One of his great contributions to fine art is the life size portrait of  Swami Vivekananda at Kanyakumari. They are several others including the portrait of Mahatma Gandhi-now at the new Council Hall in Mumbai and those of ex-prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher besides one of then Iraq President Saddam Hussain. Dr Pandit was later elected  Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, London (FRSA) a rare fellowship awarded to an Indian artist.

Krishnaraj was instrumental in saving and exhibiting his paintings in different parts of the country and is the son of Pandit’s first wife Nalini Pandit. Everything was alright till the doyen of art was alive.  But the absence of a will regarding the ownership of the paintings resulted in a legal dispute between the children of his two wives. The contention of Pandit’s first wife and six of the seven children is that the painter before breathing his last in a Mumbai Hospital, had bequeathed his priceless works to Mrs Nalini Pandit. This was contested by one of Dr Pandit’s sons from his second wife Subash Pandit, who dragged the issue to court. Rajalakshmi, the second wife of Pandit, who died in 1991, through a court decree was awarded the property owned by the painter in Mumbai after she agreed not to stake any claim to the ancestral property and paintings of Dr Pandit.

Nadoja Dr J.S. Khanderao feels it necessary to set up a state of the art gallery to keep the memory of this legendary painter alive. Although an effort was made to persuade the government to set up a gallery in Kalaburagi in the name of Dr Pandit, it was dropped after the government put forth certain terms which were not agreeable to the family. “The government simply wanted us to hand over the paintings. How can the family members hand over the paintings without being made permanent members on the Board of Trustees? And moreover where is the guarantee that the paintings will be well maintained when bureaucrats keep changing”, asks  Dr Khanderao.

While agreeing that there is a need for setting up a proper art gallery in Kalaburagi, Mr Krishnaraj made it clear that they are not keen on knocking on the doors of the government again. “We tried hard in the past to persuade the government to provide us land for the gallery. But the government put forth a condition that the art work should be handed over to them. As this was not acceptable, the plan did not come through. Now we intend to take the art work to metropolitan centres and hold exhibitions there. If sponsors come forward and their terms and conditions are agreeable, we may consider their proposals”, Mr Krishnaraj added.

Art reflects the colours of our changing minds over the centuries and the emotions of bygone generations, whose thought processes were moulded by the age they lived in. A gallery for a painter who strode the world of art like a colossus is not difficult in times when we have no dearth of art lovers. This maybe, is the least we can do for someone who gave form and colour to our Gods and our mythical heroes in a manner which few have been able to match since then.

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Location: India, Karnataka, Bengaluru




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