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Art History

History Of Art From Indian Sub Continent


History of Indian Art is as old as the Indian civilization itself and every major period of history has given India newer modes of expression and newer forms of art. As India was well connected to the outside world through both sea and land routes, the influence of cultures of other lands have always been felt in the art of India. These myriad influences have enriched Indian Art over the years and in the new 21st century; one can see all these influences in the fine arts of India.

The Indus valley civilization that thrived between 2500 and 1700BC was a contemporary of the Mesopotamia civilization and one can see the existence of steatite and limestone statuettes as well as terracotta figures. Most of these show animal figures made in abstract modes with high degree of sophistication.

While for a larger part of history, Western art remained mostly realistic and Abstraction came only in the late 19th century, the history of Indian art does not show the same. Abstraction of forms was always a part of Indian Art.

The Mauryan School of Art was also similar in many aspects to this form of realism. However, The Gandhar style was followed only in a part of Indian sub-continent. There were many other forms of art that were prevalent which showed various degrees of abstraction and realism.

Another important period in the history of Indian art was the Gupta Period, when the Ajanta Caves were built. The murals in these caves depict Jataka tales.Similar frescoes can also be seen the Elephanta and Ellora caves.

The coming of the Muslim invaders in India brought in new influences in Indian art

Like the repetitive floral motifs and spatial dimensions and narratives. Miniature art was also introduced during this time. The major schools of art that emerged during this time were the Mughal, Pahari and Rajasthani Art.

Subject matter of Indian art had also been varied; religious parables, folk stories, mythology,erotica as well as life of common people have all come in various forms.

The British Era brought India in touch with major European trends of late 18 and 19th centuries. But one of the important Contributions of the British era was the infusing of individualism in art practice. For the first time, Indian artists started getting recognition as individuals and artists now started thinking in terms of their own signature styles.

Parallel to the Company School of Art, many local art forms were becoming highly stylized like the Kalighat Patachitra art.

Indian artists also was introduced during this time to the oriental art of China, Japan and other countries and this was all to give shape to what is today called Contemporary Indian Art.


The current Indian art scene is one of the most vibrant in the world, characterized by a delightful exuberance that has not been seen since the time of the great Mughals in the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries. Art of Modern India lucidly explains how the current artistic renaissance came about in an old country steeped in traditionalism, and one which had endured foreign rule for two centuries.

The coming of Independence created an uninhibited context for the long-dormant Indian creative genius to flower once again. From the late forties, India embarked on a quest for identity that was new, and yet would reflect the ethos of its ancient heritage. Since then, experimenting, exploring and forging individual styles, Indian artists have quietly brought about what may aptly be described as a charmed revolution in Indian art. The results of this ‘revolution’, as yet little known in the west and seen here in over 130 color reproductions, connect India’s timeless tribal and folk art traditions with developments in twentieth century western art in ways which are as Indian in spirit as they are universal in appeal.

The turning point of 1947, a twenty three year old former member of the communist party, of modest origins, the Goan Born F.N.Souza (1924), founded the progressive Artists’ Group in Mumbai. The Group had five other members-M.F.Hussain(1915),K.H.Ara(1914-85),H.A.Gade(1917),S.K.Bakre(1920) and S.H.Raza (1922).While Husain would emerge as the towering figure of twentieth-century Indian art and its most successful pat agonist, at the time of the group’s formation it was young Souza, the most articulate and daring of the six, who was the driving force. Souza bought progression and change in terms of rejecting the hackneyed nineteenth-century English art school education and escaping from the small-time values of the Mumbai art world.

Experimentation and the quest for identity continued after the demise of the PAG, but it now became a quest with a difference.

A quiet revolution forging individual styles, bringing to the fore new talent and new ideas. On the scene emerged artists of substance such as Satish Gujral (b.1925),Tyeb Mehta(b.1925), Krishen Khanna (b.1925),Ram Kumar(b.1924),V.S.Gaitonde (b.1924),Akbar Padamse (b.1928), Laxman Pai(b.1926),Jahangir Sabavala (b.1922) and a host of others. In 1950 the Indian Govt established the Indian Council for cultural Relations for cultural exchanges with the rest of the world.

The National Gallery of Modern Art was created in 1954 at the Maharajah of Jaipur’s palatial Lutyens style mansion in Delhi. The same year, under the watchful eye of a committee of nine artists including Bose, Chaudhry and N.S.Bendre(1910-92),a national academy of art, the Lalit Kala Akademi, was set up in the heart of the Indian Capital. Exhibitions were regularly held in its spacious galleries together with a prestigious annual national exhibition and the Delhi Triennale.

By the beginning of the swinging sixties, Delhi and Mumbai, which back in 1947 did not have a single professional art gallery between them, boasted several sustaining the increasing number of artists and selling their work. In 1959 the painter Bal Chhabda(b.1924)opened Mumbai’s first commercial gallery in its bustling new Bhulabhai Institute, calling it Gallery 59.This was soon followed by Kekoo Gandhi’s Gallery Chemould in the busy Jehangir Art Gallery, the Dhoomi Mal and many more.

Functioning along the lines of any professional gallery in London or Paris, they pioneered the exposure of contemporary Indian art in these two cities, showing the cream of the established artists, including Husain,Raza,Souza,Padamsee,Kumar,Ambadas,A.Ramachandran,Krishen Khanna,Mehta,Gaitonde,Biren De,G.R.Santosh,Sailoz Mukherjee,Krishna Reddy(b.1925) and numerous other young and up-and-coming artists.

As more private galleries, museums and art centers sprang up elsewhere in the country, art centers sprang elsewhere in the country, a lively current of artistic activity came to life creating a palpable atmosphere pulsating with debate, discussion and the exchanging of ideas. More and more artists started to travel abroad for study.

In the 1960’s Indian artists travelled regularly between the leading artistic centers of Delhi, Mumbai and Calcutta to show their work and now, for the first time, they also began to travel to the western capitals to try their luck.

The first was outspoken Souza who, as has already been noted, made an impression on the English art scene. A strikingly similar pattern of events was experienced by another great Indian artist, Avinash Chandra(1931-91)who came to London in 1956 and became critically and commercially as well known and successful as Souza.

Souza and Chandra may not have stylistically influenced the work of any Indian artist, but their dedication to their art and their phenomenal success in a country which had ruled India for so long, and which habitually negated the merits of Indian art, had inspired many. They have evolved their own idioms, however different from one another, and set an example. It would be emulated.

If Modern Indian art really began life in the year of its independence, 1947. It entered its next and more crucial phase that of consolidation, in the 1960s as artists strove to evolve individual styles. The PAG had not truly opened up any new directions nor offered a panacea to artists struggling to find their identity-all it had done was to articulate a voice and sublimate an inner urge to come to terms with that struggle.

The 1950s and 1960s saw the nation-wide evolution and crystallization of these attitudes and the art scene, more so in Mumbai and Delhi than Calcutta began to enlarge visibly.

Modern Indian art was coming into its own, yet there was still no substantial change in market forces and art cannot survive without patronage.

Indian artists had imbibed the ethos of modernism which rested in creative freedom and individuality.

In the absence of a commercial system of galleries and dealers, few artists at the time could make a living from their work. Most came from a middle-class background and some had middle-class professions.

As the great schemes slowly began to bear fruit, as the economy improved a little, commerce started to flourish, the middle class expanded and more paintings were sold.

Mehta was and remains one of the most original artists of his generation. His early work was done in the expressionistic manner of the Progressives, notably Souza, and during his stay in Europe (1959-64), mostly in London.

Gujral, perhaps the most complex artist of the era and the also the most versatile. The thinking artist had become a most productive polyglot; the painter with an innate proclivity for creating elemental forms in the 1970s turned to sculpture, with compelling results.

Padamsee. The son of a successful, self made businessman and follower of the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Ismaili sect of Muslims. Padamsee became an artist with ‘divine sanction.

Raza who emerged as the profoundest of them all. His colours resonate like Rothko’s while the mathematical precision of his geometrical elements have an effect on us akin to the sensation we experience upon coming face to face with a Mondrian-one of absolute harmony-as had been assiduously pursued by his adopted teachers, the Tantric artists of preceding ages. His bindu, the dot, is a microcosm encompassing the macrocosm.

More puzzling than any other Indian artist is perhaps Jogen Chowdhary(b.1939).Using ink,pastels and biro pen, he draws well fed, middle-class, middle-aged men often sitting cross-legged on the floor, Indian-Fashion. His subjects seem trapped in lumpy, putrid and wrinkled flesh so flabby it can be folded over.

Manjit Bawa(b.1941). Using brilliant colours, he paints gods, men and beasts in situations that charm and amuse.

In 1970s and 1980s some professional women arrived in the world of art,some of whom were more gifted than many of their male counterparts.

Indian women simply wanted to paint and sculpt. They proved to be brilliant and they deservedly received respect for their work. India began to enjoy the exceptional talents of the Bengali sculptors Meera Mukherjee(b.1923),Mrinalini Mukherjee(b.1949),the Delhi painters Arpita Singh(b.1937),who married the remarkable landscape painter Singh, and Arpana Caur(b.1954), the, Paris-educated Anjolie Ela Menon(b.1940),and Nasreen Mohamedi (who died in 1990,leaving behind a body of astroundingly original minimalist drawings in ink),the Royal College of Art graduate Rekha Rodwittiya(b.1958) and the Lucknow-trained Gogi Saroj Pal(b.1945),among so many others.

Changes in the field of Art are a continuous process as our society is growing. Taste of viewers and styles of Art works are also gradually changing. It’s the younger generation who want to have a piece of Art which is different and very contemporary. Society are also understanding and accepting the value of Antic or Ancient Art which grows in its own time. Classical, Ethnic works are also admired a lot nowadays. People in their mid age have realized the aesthetic values behind it. Hence one way or the other Art will be admired and it appreciates in its time.