Bhanu Rajopadhye Athaiya's estate sale set to open a new chapter for Indian Modern Art
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Bhanu Rajopadhye Athaiya's estate sale set to open a new chapter for Indian Modern Art
Prayer s exhibited at the Bombay Art Society’s definitive 1953 exhibition titled Progressive Artists Group.

MUMBAI.- Following months of research, including primary sources from Ms. Athaiya’s personal archives, Prinseps are set to host the first-ever auction dedicated to Bhanu Rajopadhye Athaiya’s estate, with key works of art created during her years in association with the “Progressives” group. The 32 lot auction carries sketches, early fashion illustrations and paintings by Bhanu Athaiya. Auction highlights include an oil on canvas painting titled “Prayers” originally exhibited by Bombay Art Society’s 1953 exhibition titled “Progessive Artists Group”, alongside K.H. Ara, F.N. Souza, V.S. Gaitonde and Krishen Khanna.

In the predominantly male bastion of what has been categorized as the “Progressive Artists Group” or “Bombay Progressives”, the rediscovery of a suite of paintings and sketches by Bhanu Athaiya ( née Rajopadhye) opens up the possibility of an important reframing of a popularly held notions about the artists producing in the milieu of post-Independence, cosmopolitan Bombay (Mumbai) of the 1950s.

In his essay for the auction catalogue, titled “The Legacy of a Long-hidden Sun” Ranjit Hoskote - poet, art historian and one of India’s leading authorities on the Bombay school of artists - finds himself dismantling many of the ideas commonly associated with the PAG. Notes from Bhanu Athaiya’s personal diaries have proven to be an invaluable source in this regard and have been quoted extensively in the research and essay for this auction. Mr. Hoskote’s essay makes a strong case for re-examining the commonly-accepted framework of the Progressive Artists Group as being a self conscious group of avant garde artists and rather, viewing them as a more organic collective, a product of the zeitgeist . The new framework, supported by original archival sources, creates space for figures like Bhanu Athaiya, recognising their contribution to a dynamic moment in India’s cultural history.

The artworks up for auction suggest a strong artistic talent, with paintings, watercolours and sketches executed at a high level, in a range of styles that belie the idea of a particular aesthetic or style as associated with the Bombay artists of the late 1940s - 50s. Whilst Bhanu Athaiya’s segue into cinema was met with derision among her contemporaries (as evidenced in her diary entries), Ranjit Hoskote reads a strong feminist gesture in this move of hers, which resulted in a highly successful career.

Emphasizing upon the gravity of Bhanu Athaiya’s oeuvre, in his essay Mr. Hoskote says - “When we find ourselves gazing, our breath taken away, at works like ‘Prayer’ (oil on canvas, c.1950) and ‘Lady in Repose’ (oil on canvas, c. 1950), we recognise the degree to which cinema’s gain was painting’s loss.”

The “Bhanu Athaiya Estate Sale” by Prinseps stands to be a unique auction, of significant interest for academics, institutions and collectors interested in Indian modern art.

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