Photography

Discover 9 Indian Landscapes Through Modernist Lens

Guest Profile 4 July 2024 min Read

India’s rich and diverse topography has served as inspiration for artists throughout time. With awe-inspiring sites and landforms ranging from lofty mountains, dense forests, and tranquil beaches to arid deserts, India has no dearth of scenic beauty. When modern Indian artists entered the conversation, they sought to reimagine these landscapes with their unique techniques and styles.

Indian modernists such as M. F. Husain, Ram Kumar, Nandalal Bose, Manu Parekh, K. H. Ara have created impressive works that depict the country and take the viewer on a majestic visual journey. These works also speak to the personal experiences, cultures, and interests of the artists themselves.

Presented below are works from eminent Indian modernists in praise of the subcontinent’s captivating landscapes.

1. Manu Parekh: Banaras (Triptych)

indian landscapes: Manu Parekh, Banaras (Triptych), 2011, oil on canvas, 84 x 288 in. AstaGuru.

Manu Parekh, Banaras (Triptych), 2011, oil on canvas, 84 x 288 in. AstaGuru.

Manu Parekh (1939-), born in Ahmedabad, starts his creative journey from his inner world. In Banaras (Triptych, 2011), Parekh showcases his interpretation of the famed Ghats, the colorful boats that dot the Ganges river, and the religious iconography the vibrant city of the same name contains. This oil-on-canvas painting was part of a series of works on Banaras inspired by his visit to Varanasi after his mother’s passing. His preoccupation with visualizing male and female energy is palpable in these landscapes; the utilization of bright colors brings forth a sense of motion and energy.

2. K. H. Ara: Untitled

indian landscapes: K. H. Ara, Untitled, circa 1960, gouache on paper, 33.5 x 22.5 in. AstaGuru.

K. H. Ara, Untitled, circa 1960, gouache on paper, 33.5 x 22.5 in. AstaGuru.

Self-taught artist K. H. Ara (1914-1985) was revered for his paintings of nudes and still lifes, but he began his artistic career with landscapes. His works are impressionistic, unmarred by academic training, and a poetic combination of the natural beauty of the country and the meaningful connections enabled by people from everyday life.

In this untitled gouache-on-paper landscape work finished circa 1960, the artist portrays a colorful town facing the sea. The way colors are applied one next to another suggests an influence from French impressionists like Henri Matisse and Paul Cezanne.

3. Jaminni Prokash Gangooly: Untitled (Sunrise)

indian landscapes: Jaminni Prokash Gangooly, Untitled (Sunrise), circa 1930, oil on canvas, 23.5 x 47 in. AstaGuru.

Jaminni Prokash Gangooly, Untitled (Sunrise), circa 1930, oil on canvas, 23.5 x 47 in. AstaGuru.

A member of the Jorasanko Thakurbari (the family of Abanindranath and Gagendranath Tagore), Jaminni Prokash Gangooly (1876-1953) was introduced to art at a very young age. He then received training under British artist Charles Palmer, which led him to realize his visual language. This unique syntax involved blending the vibrant imagery of his hometown in Bengal with European naturalistism. His works were lauded around the world for the impeccable brushwork and demonstrated command over light and shade.

The Gangooly piece featured is a seascape from around 1930, showcasing his fascination with capturing sunset and sunrise. Depicted here is an almost ethereal beach scene with several people helming boats and ships.

4. Paresh Maity: Untitled

indian landscapes: Paresh Maity, Untitled, 2004, watercolor on paper, 21 x 29.5 in.  AstaGuru.

Paresh Maity, Untitled, 2004, watercolor on paper, 21 x 29.5 in.  AstaGuru.

Born in Tamluk, West Bengal, a city surrounded by open skies, waterbodies, and clouds, Paresh Maity (1965-) is a master of capturing the soul of the places he visits in his paintings. Maity’s landscapes are admired for their true-to-life depiction of various destinations. Throughout his ongoing artistic career, nature, and travel have been major sources of inspiration for the artist.

The painting above is a watercolor on paperwork executed in 2004 depicting boats at a dock. It shows his command over light and shadow, as well as his attention to vibrant colors.

5. Ram Kumar: Untitled

indian landscapes: Ram Kumar, Untitled, 1984, oil on canvas, 50 x 65 in. AstaGuru.

Ram Kumar, Untitled, 1984, oil on canvas, 50 x 65 in. AstaGuru.

Known for his abstract landscapes in oil or acrylic, Ram Kumar (1924-2018) was a talented artist and writer. He spent his early years in Shimla, and then went to Varanasi before moving to Paris to study under Andre Lhote and Fernand Leger. His experience in India and with multiple European art scenes (one of them Being Social Realism) indelibly impacted his artistic career.

Upon his return to India in 1952, he began painting urban landscapes. His works of that era appear more bleak and somber as they reflect his inner turmoil, having witnessed violence in both India and Europe. One example is the 1984 oil on canvas, which has a muted color palette, abstract strokes, and diverse textures.

6. H. A. Gade: Market Day

indian landscapes: H. A. Gade, Market Day, circa 1960, gouache on paper, 11.5 x 16.5 in. AstaGuru.

H. A. Gade, Market Day, circa 1960, gouache on paper, 11.5 x 16.5 in. AstaGuru.

H. A. Gade (1917-2001) was one of the most celebrated abstract expressionist painters from post-independence India, known for his landscape works. The artist’s fascination with painting scenic landscapes began after he visited Jabalpur for his B. Ed. (Bachelor of Education) examinations.

These works then evolved to portray the slums of Mumbai that sprung up throughout the city in the 1950s. Despite his concern with poverty during this time, he continued to explore the beauty that lay in the country, depicting the starkly contrasting landscapes of Kerala and Udaipur. This gouache-on-paper painting executed circa 1960 showcases his unique style and depicts vibrantly portrayed people in a market or town square. Gade used both knife and brush for the paintings to add dimension to his compositions.

7. Nandalal Bose: Tagdah Forest

indian landscapes: Nandalal Bose, Tagdah Forest, 1938, watercolor on paper pasted on board, 27 x 16.5 in. AstaGuru.

Nandalal Bose, Tagdah Forest, 1938, watercolor on paper pasted on board, 27 x 16.5 in. AstaGuru.

An exceptional artist hailing from Bengal, Nandalal Bose (1882-1966) was one of the leading figures of the 20th-century modern Indian art scene. He was highly influenced by Rabindranath Tagore’s artistic style and the seasonal festivals of his village. His extensive travels to coastal areas and mountains with family along with regular visits to ancient historical sites also informed his landscape paintings.

His landscapes captured the changing geography of India with their portrayal of people and various scenes of nature. Tagdah Forest, a watercolor on paper pasted on board, depicts the forest in Darjeeling, West Bengal. This 1938 painting includes a mystic haze surrounding rows of large trees and a lone traveler, whose presence makes the enchanting forest even more majestic in scale.

8. S. H. Raza: Kashmir Valley

indian landscapes: S. H. Raza, Kashmir Valley, 1949, gouache on paper, 20.5 x 19.5 in. AstaGuru.

S. H. Raza, Kashmir Valley, 1949, gouache on paper, 20.5 x 19.5 in. AstaGuru.

Madhya Pradesh native S. H. Raza (1922-2016) is well-known for his abstract expressionist works as well as works with impressive geometric abstraction. A master of colors, he also painted various landscapes of Bombay, France, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Kashmir.

Titled “Kashmir Valley,” this gouache painting was inspired by Raza’s first visit to the region mentioned in 1948. Touched by the sights and concerned about the distress the people had to experience, he stayed for three months to produce a plethora of works about the valley. His usage of earth tones as a background for bright pops of color reflects his unique take on Kashmir. The work earned Raza a gold medal from the Bombay Art Society in 1949, the year it was published.

9. Pralhad Anant Dhond: Untitled

indian landscapes: Pralhad Anant Dhond, Untitled, 1981, oil on canvas, 23 x 60 in. AstaGuru.

Pralhad Anant Dhond, Untitled, 1981, oil on canvas, 23 x 60 in. AstaGuru.

P. A. Dhond (1908-2001) grew up in Malvan, Ratnagiri, surrounded by typical coastal elements such as the sea, boats, coconut trees, and fishing villages. The artist first began as a portrait artist but later transitioned to creating landscapes. He chose watercolor as his medium to depict the transience of nature. Dhond traveled to find ideas to paint. He drew from his hometown, the seascapes of artist William Russell Flint, and later in life, the backwaters of Kerala.

His 1981 oil on canvas, for example, showcases his skillfulness at capturing a panoramic view of a coast dotted with fisherfolk and boats. The artist created about 7,000 such landscapes over the course of his illustrious career.

Landscape paintings from the modernist era not only mirror the land’s history, topography, and culture but also embody a rich diversity of styles that gives rise to modern Indian art. In the process, artists connect with their homeland and, likewise, their travel destinations. They capture moods, moments, and memories of the time that have inspired generations of artists and will continue to inspire for generations to come.


Author’s bio 

Sunny Chandiramani is the resident modern Indian art specialist at AstaGuru. She joined the auction house in 2013 and now has over seven years of experience in this industry. Since joining AstaGuru, Sunny has contributed to over 25 successful auctions. One of the things she cherishes about working in this segment is the opportunity to view firsthand the works of various modern Indian painters who have left quite a legacy. Being a veteran in this field, she understands not only the importance of each artwork but also the market fundamentals and statistics.

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