Contemporary Art in India


by Smruti Mirani

Where there is development there is bound to be change. Over time, India has witnessed changes in almost every field of life be it science, culture, technology, human attributes or fashion. Different eras have brought with them peculiarities that have been portrayed in myriad ways.

India has always been known for her artistic flair. Right from the Vedic Age to the Mughal Era and the British Raj, great Indian artists have been widely sought after. Paintings and painters have been patronised by kings, who commissioned artists to create family portraits. These paintings eventually became part of royal collections and were passed on through generations. The commissioned artists won great respect and appreciation for their work. One such great artist of the 1930s was Raja Ravi Verma, who was so well appreciated that he was given a part of a small kingdom by the King of Baroda. He was also given the title of 'Raja'. An ordinary Ravi Verma thus became Raja Ravi Verma. However, global recognition came to him only in the 1980s.

It was in the post-independence era that India found a place on the world map with offerings that tickled international senses. Globalisation brought with it an awareness of different countries and culture and Indian culture, in the form of music, fashion, films, dance and art, found appreciation overseas.

The Indian art movement started to flourish in the 1960s. Soon, Indian art got recognition internationally when auction houses like Sotheby's and Christie's started selling works by artist M F Hussain. Thus, Hussain, who started off as a film poster artist, became one of the art ambassadors of India.

Since the 1960s, there has been a tremendous change in the way Indian art is looked upon globally. Not only have Indian artists come to the forefront, but the value of Indian art has appreciated in monetary terms too. With globalisation also came transparency in the price artists could command for their work. Fixed pricing came into effect and more importantly, people started to look upon art as an investment. The kind of buyers thus changed. Initially, buyers were art lovers, but today they are dealers and investors.

Some of the contemporary Indian artists who have got global recognition are Anjolie Ela Menon, S H Raza and Akbar Padamsee. In a recent auction, a Raza painting sold for $16 million (close to Rs 75,08,58,400)! This made him the first Indian to get this kind of international acceptance. Other sought after artists are Rabindranath Tagore, Ganesh Pyne and Suhas Roy, who has trained at Santiniketan, Kolkata. In fact, Santiniketan was the first open art school in India, which has always given India the most talented artists.

As global recognition of Indian art increased, Indian artists and buyers also became more exposed to new styles of art. Where in the earlier days, people preferred paintings of family portraits or deities, today modern styles and abstract art are being showcased. Art has also found new spaces for display. Where it was initially found in palaces, museums and residences, it has now started to find wall space at airports, hotels and community-owned spaces too.

In 2000, the world of art went professional. Art became a commercial venture and flourished. Art galleries, auction houses and art dealers mushroomed. People were soon charging a commission on sale and organising art events and exhibitions. These events were soon clubbed with publicity drives and today, art evenings have become places for social get-togethers.

India has definitely arrived in the world of art, but we still have a long way to go. The price a Raza can command is still not a match to the price of a Salvador Dali or a Picasso.


Born on May 7, 1861, Rabindranath Tagore was a multitalented personality. He was a Bengali poet, a Brahmo Samaj philosopher, a visual artist, a playwright, a novelist, a painter and a composer. He started composing artworks at a very young age.

- Born on April 11, 1887, Jamini Roy was an influential painter of the 20th Century. He was born in a middle-class family in 1887 at Beliator village in the Bankura district of Bengal.

- Born on January 30, 1913, Amrita Shergil was one of the most eminent painters of India. She was the daughter of a Sikh aristocrat and a Sanskrit scholar.

- Born on September 17, 1915, M F Hussain is considered to be one of the most gifted artists of India. His paintings are stark and bold and always make a point.

- Born on February 22, 1922, S H Raza is an internationally acclaimed Indian painter who has lived in France for the better part of his life. He started off with figurative paintings but gradually moved on to abstract work.

- Born on April 12, 1924, Francis Newton Souza was the first experimental artist to achieve widespread fame in the West.

- Born in 1924, Vasudev S Gaitonde was regarded as one of the finest abstract painters of India.

- Born on July 25, 1925, Tyeb Mehta was a multifaceted personality who also dabbled in filmmaking. He was part of the Bombay Progressive Artists' Group, which also included M F Hussain and S H Raza.

- Born in 1940, Anjolie Ela Menon is considered to be one of India's leading contemporary female artists. Her works are a part of significant painting collections across the globe. In 2006, one of her artworks titled 'Yatra' was bought by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, USA.

- Born on October 27, 1941, Jatin Das is considered to be one of the most creative artists of India. He is proficient in painting, graphic art, sculpture, murals and even poetry.

- Born in 1941, Manjit Bawa is a well-known contemporary artist who effectively uses colour and space to emote moods.

- Born in 1941, Rameshwar Broota mostly paints using the monochrome technique, black being his favourite. He works with a sharp and thin blade so as to create the illusion of light.

Smruti Mirani is a curator for art shows. She was the proprietor of an art gallery called Studio 51j.