When we think of 19th-century Indian painters and artists, quite a few names instantly come into our mind. If they don’t, run a quick Google search and one of the prominent names to feature on the list would be that of Mahadev Vishwanath Dhurandhar’s.
British colonial rule impacted the Indian art form in tremendous ways. Since the 18th-century popular art was bold and uninhibited, especially in the depiction of its women, it started drawing criticism for not aligning with the Victorian notions of chastity.
To counter this criticism, many Indian artists tried to marry Victorian aesthetics with Indian traditions, including Raja Ravi Varma and Dhurandhar. As compared to Varma, not much has been written about the latter, whose work we must have come across one too many times but never accredited him with the recognition that he deserves in our contemporary times.
Mahadev Vishwanath Dhurandhar (1867-1944) was a prominent Indian painter of the late 19th century hailing from Kolhapur, Maharashtra. Dhurandhar, who was also an ace postcard illustrator, studied at the Sir J.J. School of Arts, Bombay.
His education at the institute helped him develop a sense of realism as well as the classic technique of chiaroscuro, wherein light and shadow are used to create three-dimensional portraits. He was the first Indian gold medal winner of the Bombay Art Society in 1895.
Dhurandhar’s work is mostly known for his documentation of city life, his paintings of the Indian mythological figures, and most importantly his depiction of women navigating the realms of the private and the public sphere. His charcoal drawing, ‘Household Work’ depicts two Maharashtrian women chatting whilst carrying out their errands.
The artist is known to have spent hours by the promenade, sitting with his sketch pad, observing the people as they carried on with their mundane activities. He would try to capture the essence of their activities in his intricate drawings. The manifestation of the Maharashtrian society and its cultural celebrations is especially remarkable.
Later in life, Dhurandhar returned to his alma mater as a teacher and in 1930, he became the first Indian Director of the Sir J.J. School of Art.
In retrospect, Dhurandhar’s work also gives us an insight into the sartorial sociology of Bombay and provides us with a clearer picture of the status of women in the society, as perceived from the inner sanctum.
As one of the few commercial painters from India, he illustrated women from different regions for Otto Rothfield’s book Women of India (1920). A careful but nevertheless extremely interesting study of these illustrations would draw our attention to the garments worn by women across regions and socio-economic strata, making his work a good source of material for historians and art lovers to study the lives of the people who lived in that era.
The year 2017, marked his 150th birth anniversary, and it seems only fair to talk about the legacy that this artist has left for us.
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