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Impressionism Features in Bombay Progressive Artists Group

Sadanand Bakre, Untitled (Still Life), 1964, private collection. Saffron Art.

Indian Art

Impressionism Features in Bombay Progressive Artists Group

Progressive Artists Group (PAG) was an answer to the existing Indian institutional structure of exhibitions in the mid-20th century. It was a collective primarily formed by FN Souza, SH Raza, KH Ara, HA Gade, MF Hussain and Sadanand Bakre. Later, Vasudeo Gaitonde, Krishen Khanna, Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee, among other popular Indian modern artists had joined. While unearthing their European influence, many PAG paintings reflect a range of Impressionism to Post-impressionism features! Among them, a few listed below will impress the idea.

Progressive Artists Group
Progressive Artists Group: from left (first row) FN Souza, KH Ara, HA Gade, (second row) MF Hussain, Sadanand Bakre, SH Raza; photographer and location unknown. Wikipedia.

Progressive Artists Group

PAG was established, in 1947, in Bombay (now Mumbai). The founding artists had not only experienced but also observed the stagnancy in artistic idioms of modern Indian art. PAG aimed to reform and remodel the methods of expression as well as exhibiting them. As a step towards re-realizing the idea of experimentation, they looked to European modernism. Hence, the Indian diaspora of a few PAG artists brimmed with yearning and enthusiasm for learning the prevalent wave of modernism and wished to unlearn traditional redundancy. With artists moving out, the PAG disbanded in 1956.

“It’s all very well talking in metaphors about having one’s roots in one’s own country. But roots need water from clouds forming over distant seas; and from rivers having sources in different lands.” 

FN Souza, Saffron Art.

FN Souza

Co-founder of PAG, FN Souza (1924-2002), is the epitome of rebelliousness and insurgence. Anecdotes of his expulsion from Sir JJ School of Art, Mumbai, demonstrates an idea of his fearless personality. Although the influence of European modernism shows in his colorful paintings in the early years, the portraits and sardonic imagery take off from representative signs.

Progressive Artists Group, FN Souza, Untitled, 1962, private collection
FN Souza, Untitled, 1962, Oil on canvas 27.75 x 35.75 in, private collection. Saffron Art.

SH Raza

Through the vivid transformation from indigenous to European to innately Indian, SH Raza (1922-2016) charts a route that safeguards color meticulously. Raza’s entire oeuvre charms with varying color palettes, whether in his early landscapes, branching into impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, or in the later mature phase of his Bindu paintings. Both Raza and Souza left India within a few years of the establishment of Progressive Artists Group.

Progressive Artists Group, SH Raza, Carcassone, 1951, private collection
SH Raza, Carcassone, 1951, Oil on paper board 18.5 x 22 in, private collection. Saffron Art.

HA Gade

HA Gade’s (1917-2001) paintings show a direct influence from impressionism and cubism. Although the below painting is absent of geometrical structure, Gade was greatly influenced by scientific theories. His attempt to break off from colonial subjugation was expressed through his ferocious and exceptionally demanding brushstrokes.

Progressive Artists Group, HA Gade, Trees, private collection.
HA Gade, Trees, Watercolour on paper 13.5 x 19.75 in, private collection. Saffron Art.

KH Ara

KH Ara (1914-1985) bestowed benevolence in his engagement with his students and the younger generation by helping with funds. Living in a poverty until the end, Ara’s simplicity is reflected in his landscapes. They also display themes of socio-economic conditions. His preoccupation with colors marks his concerned and compassionate personality.

Progressive Artists Group: KH Ara, Untitled, private collection.
KH Ara, Untitled, Oil on canvas 23.25 x 18.25 in private collection. Saffron Art.

MF Hussain

MF Hussain (1915-2011) was one of the foremost Indian modern painters who eventually gained worldwide recognition. Hussain was a self-taught artist, unlike the league of the academic progressive artists group. Having painted film posters, his involvement with PAG drove his artistic sensibilities and his aesthetics of expression.

Progressive Artists Group, MF Houssain, Portrait of Souza
MF Houssain, Portrait of Souza, 1950, Oil on canvas 34.25 x 28.75 in, private collection. Saffron Art.

Sadanand Bakre

Sadanand Bakre (1920-2007) was the only sculptor in the Progressive Artists Group. Dynamic personality as well as a sheer sense of experimentation denoted his lifelong oeuvre. His paintings and sculptures later trod the realm of abstraction while innovating idioms and styles.

Progressive Artists Group: Sadanand Bakre, Untitled (Still Life), 1964,
Sadanand Bakre, Untitled (Still Life), 1964, Oil on masonite 20 x 24 in, private collection. Saffron Art.

Discover more contemporary Indian artists:

Urvi Chheda is artist and art researcher based in Mumbai. Currently, she has enrolled in MVA Art History at the Faculty of Fine Art, MS University, Baroda, India. She runs, swims, treks, and is learning Kalaripayattu, an ancient martial art form.  She has graduated from the Sir JJ School of Art, Mumbai, India.

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