How Bengali Modernist Painter Gobardhan Ash Challenged Traditional Artistic Expression

With quiet diligence, Gobardhan Ash's art stood out by challenging preconceived traditional notions of artistic expression.
With quiet diligence, Gobardhan Ash's art stood out by challenging preconceived traditional notions of artistic expression. Prinsep

Among the constellation of stars of the Bengal modern school of artists, stands out the elegant and quiet figure of Gobardhan Ash. Born in 1907, he dedicated his entire life to his artistry exploring diverse themes, styles, and techniques. He was always content amidst the walls of paintings stacked in his Begampur mud house in West Bengal and never sought the mainstream limelight. During his early years, Ash rebelled against the conventional British approaches to art education. His desire to pave the way for modernism in India resulted in him playing a crucial part in establishing the Young Artists' Union in 1931 and the Art Rebel Centre in 1933. He was at the peak of his powers and cultural relevance during the 1940s. With quiet diligence, his art stood out by challenging preconceived traditional notions of artistic expression.

Gobardhan Ash
Gobardhan AshPrinseps

Ash's body of work demonstrates a strong commitment to portraying social realism, evident in notable pieces such as Ploughing, which sensitively captures the everyday experiences of rural life. Along his artistic journey, Ash explored self-portraiture, showcasing his developing artistic style and skillful use of techniques like cross-hatching. His innovative Avatar Series, showcased in the Joint Show of the Calcutta Group and the Progressive Artists' Group in 1950, had a lasting impact, inspiring artistic experimentation and conversation.

Ploughing, 1940, Oil on Board
Ploughing, 1940, Oil on BoardPrinseps
Self Portrait, 1936, Pen and Ink on Paper
Self Portrait, 1936, Pen and Ink on PaperPrinseps

Ash's Children Series presented a moving representation of childhood, connecting with audiences through realistic portrayals. Ash's studio in Shibpur played a central role as a gathering place for artistic discussions, drawing renowned figures such as Zainul Abedin and Gopal Ghose, who were inspired by his talent. As a mentor to emerging artists like Ganesh Haloi, Ash's impact resonated across the Indian art scene, leaving a lasting impression on future generations.

Commander-in-Chief, Children Series, 1957 - 67, Oil on Panel
Commander-in-Chief, Children Series, 1957 - 67, Oil on PanelPrinseps
Ganesh Haloi, Gobardhan Ash & Rabin Mondal in Artist residence
Ganesh Haloi, Gobardhan Ash & Rabin Mondal in Artist residencePrinseps

Even though Ash passed beyond the veil in 1996, his influence continues to pervade the art world and his successors. The Prinseps auction house is commemorating Ash’s artistic legacy and brilliance through its upcoming exhibition — 'The Prinseps Exhibition: Gobardhan Ash Retrospective'.

With quiet diligence, Gobardhan Ash's art stood out by challenging preconceived traditional notions of artistic expression.
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Curated by Brijeshwari Kumari Gohil and Harsharan Bakshi, the retrospective features over 100 artworks, including sketches, landscapes, self-portraits, portraits, rural Bengal scenes, the iconic Avatar series from the late 1940s, vibrant pastels from his outdoor studies, and his Children series capturing the myriad moods of children.

Fisherman, 1939, Watercolour on Paper
Fisherman, 1939, Watercolour on PaperPrinseps
AVATAR SERIES GOBARDHAN ASH AFTER RAID (1950) Gouache on paper
AVATAR SERIES GOBARDHAN ASH AFTER RAID (1950) Gouache on paperPrinseps

About The Curator:

Brijeshwari Kumari Gohil serves as the Vice President of Prinseps and possesses a Bachelor's degree in Archaeology and Art History, as well as a Master's degree in Heritage Conservation. With ten years of experience in the field, she has undertaken a range of responsibilities, including conserving artworks and serving as a curator.

About Prinseps:

Prinseps is a cutting-edge auction house that takes pride in its focus on research. It has an exceptional archive and library. The name Prinseps is a nod to the princely states and James Prinsep, the founder of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. James Prinsep is renowned for deciphering ancient Indian scripts and his dedication to documenting and illustrating cultural aspects is reflected in Prinseps' methods and processes. Having already held numerous auctions, Prinseps continues to support research, curation, and exploration in the art world. Over time, the Prinseps brand has become a go-to destination for collectors and connosieurs.

The Prinseps Exhibition: Gobardhan Ash Retrospective

Dates: 29th March to 21st April 2024

Venue: Kolkata Centre for Creativity, Kolkata

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