K. H. Ara with journnalists & media personalists - Rakesh Krishna Mathur & Rauf Ahmed with Mdhusudan Kumar at the Center ( K. H. Ara's painting on the background - "RAPE OF BANGLADESH")

 -The Nursery of the “Progressive Artists’ Group” and “Bombay Group”

“Artists’ Aid Fund Centre” was established in 1950, formerly   “The Bombay Art Society Salon” that thrived during the era of the British Raj. It was established by Rudy Von Leyden, an art critic of the ‘Times of India’ and his brother hailing from Austria, who had felt the need of extending institutional financial support to the deserving artists; in order to lend a helping hand to garner a genre of    ‘Contemporary art of India’ and give fillip to the true and free expressions of the artists. Later it was known as “Artists’ Aid Centre”, that underwent metamorphosis as the “Artists’ Centre” in the early seventies. The building premises also changed its name from ‘Sassoon Building’ to ‘Radia House’ and later ‘Ador House’.

In the forties, during the pre and post Independence days of India , the Centre was the only available premises and meeting place for the artists, intellectuals, musicians, authors and poets to come together and exchange ideas for laying the foundations for the would be contemporary art scenario of India. Eminent men and women pondered over the overall cultural vista, especially the visual arts,

dominated by the western realism at that time, which was ostensibly   endorsed by the ‘Royal Academy of Art’, London. A search team for finding such talents to help to establish an identity for the futuristic ‘Contemporary art of India’ had taken birth at the Centre. Rudy wrote about the shows by the ‘Progressives’ and the ‘Bombay Group’, which he used to file on the same day by cycling to ‘The Times of India’ building near the Victoria Terminus or Bori Bunder.  

Francis Newton Souza was the first one to rebel against the conventional, representational and academic approach towards art and its regimentation, prevalent at that time.  As his painting was rejected by the ‘Bombay Art Society‘s selection panel, he along with Krishnaji Howalji Ara initiated the task of founding the “Progressive Artists’ Group”. Maqbool Fida Hussain and Hari Ambadas Gade joined the group, followed by Syed Hyder Raza and Sadanand Bakre. Initially, the group flourished and later disintegrated after two years. By then, Souza, Raza and Bakre had migrated to live in the West. Hussain chose to travel and return to India, from time to time. Gade taught art at New Delhi, thus leaving Ara alone to mend for himself in Bombay.

The “Progressive Artists’ Group” received aesthetic and technical guidance from the eminent artist from Austria, Walter Langhammer, who had fled his country from the Nazi aftermath, to make India his home with his Jewish wife. He was the Art Director of the ‘Times of India’ and he encouraged them to be bold, dexterous and free in their expressions, while painting. The European post ‘renaissance’ idioms of impressionism and expressionism were sources of inspiration to those young impressionable minds.

 Souza was born in Goa in 1924. With his leftist leanings, he was a bundle of knowledge and wisdom. His initial works ranged from the Communistic propaganda to religious iconography. His works depicted diverse influences from Hshieh Ho and Hokusai, Cezanne, Rouault, Indonesian and Mayan plastic arts, Indian sculpture- especially of Gupta period and the pre-historic life of the ‘Indus Valley Civilization’ of Mohenje Daro and Harappa. He painted the ‘Head Priest of Mohenje Daro’ with a bull, during that time.

Ara was born in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh (Deccan) in 1914. Beginning his life as an errand boy and Motor cleaner, his passion for painting took different twists and turns. He was directly influenced by the French impressionists like Pissaro, Monet and Renoir. On the eve of India’s freedom in 1947, Ara painted a 10’ feet oil on canvas, portraying the jubilant people of all castes, creed and religion going on a precession to celebrate, near the Oval grounds. He painted beggars and ordinary people, for whom his heart throbbed and pulsated with compassion. His mastery over the still life and nudes were synonymous with his free and bohemian soul. Ara painted at the Centre, making the office as his make-shift studio. He was the custodian of the Centre and a mentor to many young artists for decades until his demise in 1984.

 Within that span of time, Ara had spearheaded and envisioned India’s impending ‘Cultural renaissance’ of the forthcoming millennium. During that time, the Centre bustled with the varied activities of visual and performing arts. A travelling exhibition of prints of Leonardo de Vinci paintings was held at the Centre, which was graced by Sir Cowasji  Jehangir, Dr.Homi Bhabha, Dr.Mulk Raj Anand, M.C.Chhagla, Taya Zinkin, Schellsinger, Kekoo Gandhy, Kali Pundole,  Langhammer, Rudy Von Leydon, Sudhahar Dixit of ‘Chetana’ and freedom fighter Aruna Asaf Ali. Ara’s friend Rajendra Shankar used to organize classical music concerts, including Sitar recital by his brother Ravi Shankar and Sarod recital by Ali Akbar Khan, under the baton of ‘Sancharini’, during the weekends. Also, the Centre used to conduct nude studies and figure drawings, - organized by artist B.G.Godse.

K. H. Ara (hon, Secretary, Anjaan Dave (Precident) Felicitating Eminent Photographer R. R. Bhardwaj at the centre.

The ‘Jehangir Art Gallery’ was built by Sir Cowasji Jehangir in the memory of his late son, with the participations of the ‘Prince of Wales Museum’ and the Government of Maharashtra, in 1953. It had the support of many eminent artists including Ara, Hussain, Raza,  K.K.Hebbar, N.S.Bendre ,Krishen Khanna, P.T.Reddy, A.A.Raiba, Kharkanis, Tyeb Mehta and  V.S.Gaitonde .  Art patrons like Nirmala Raje Bhosle and others contributed their might in that yeomen deed, along with V.V.Oak, Secretary ‘Bombay Art Society’ and Soli Batliwala, a great organizer and impresario.    
























 “Artists’ Centre” was recognized by the “Lalit Kala Akademy” New Delhi and received annual grants for its overall upkeep and for the art camps of the Centre. Ara was supported by his close friends in his conceptual and administrative endeavors, those included Harish Raut, Secretary, ‘Bombay Art Society’,  ace photographer R.R.Bharadwaj, Critics Nissim Ezekiel, S.V.Vasudev, Dnyneshwar Nadkarni , Anant R.Kanangi, R.T.Shahani, O.K.Joshi, Advocate Hyder Pathan, artists K.K.Hebbar,  Anjan Dave, Manohar Mhatre, Bernard Chavis and a host of others.          

Maqbool Fida Hussain was born at Pandharpur, Maharashtra in 1916. He began as a painter of cinema hoardings and later created a genre coupled with portraitures, composed with intent of solids and spaces. Some of the most powerful principles of German expressionism of Beckmann Hofer and Nolde were incorporated in his works. Hussain painted the series like “Ghasiram Kotwal” based on the renowned play by Vijay Tendulkar, “Mother Teresa”, “The Raj Series”, “Ramayana”, “Mahabharata” and his “Horses” received world acclaim for their ‘ content rich’ magnetism, portrayed through forceful strokes . He had his first show of paintings at the Centre, graced by Sir Cowasji  Jehangir Bart. He was considered  a rich artist as his works were sold even in those days, when the art buyers were few and scarce. Dr.Homi Bhabha, who was also an artist of yore, apart from being a renowned scientist and head of the TIFR, commissioned Hussain and his friends to create some of their early masterpieces. Kali Pundole had visualized the great potential of Hussain as the future ‘face’ of India’s body of contemporary art and used to host his shows from time to time at his gallery. Hussain pays visits to the Centre from time to time.

Hari Ambadas Gade was born in Berar in 1917. He graduated in Science from the Nagpur University and his passion for painting inspired him to join the ‘Sir J.J .School of Art’, popularly known as the ‘Bombay School of Art’. Initially he began to paint landscapes with opaque water colors and tentative oils. Following the Cezannian principles he painted for values far beyond realism. He used to bring forth the aesthetic order through re-construction and deliberate formal organization with an intuitive feeling for colour. Gade was inclined to be a teacher of art and became the Dean of the ‘Delhi School of Art’. He has to his credit of setting up the academic syllabus for the study of art at institutions in India. His depiction of the statue of ‘Kala Ghoda’ with the riding figure of King Goerge VII, juxtaposing the sea and green pastures was a sheer visual treat. Gade, along with Bakre, Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni, Dr.Saryu Doshi and art patron Jehangir Nicholson inaugurated the ‘Golden Jubilee’ of the Centre in 2002, which was organized by Prafulla Dahanukar, a month prior to his demise.

Syed Hyder Raza was born in Central Province or Madhya Pradesh in 1922. He was a student of ‘Sir J.J.School of Art’ and joined the “Progressive Group of Artists” on the behest of Souza. He began painting the ‘Cityscapes’ of Bombay, guided by Schellsinger and Langhammer. His journey from the impressionistic idiom to the philosophical ‘Bindu’ had its initial grooming at the “Artists’ Centre”. His indelible childhood memories of the sunsets, he used watch from his class rooms, stayed and manifested in his paintings. He is known for his recitations of compositions by Tulsidas, Kabir and Meera with his profound knowledge of the Indian scriptures. The genius of Raza has inspired many artists to go beyond the realms of the act of painting towards spirituality and infinity. He is termed as a ‘saint’ among the painters. Even though he made Paris as his home, all along, he firmly believes that he never left India, ever. Till today, he maintains his umbilical cord with the Centre and returns to the lap of the ‘mother’ of galleries whenever he is in India. He donated the sale proceeds of his four serigraphs to the corpus fund of the Centre in 2002.

Sadanand Bakre was born in Baroda in 1920. He was a painter and sculptor, who studied art at “Sir J.J. School of Art.” He was awarded the ‘Mayo Gold Medal’. His sculpted works included portraiture in the clay-pallet technique and free-standing figures in mass-planes. Though inspired by Henri Moore and Brancusi, he created his own idiom- expressional and experimental by nature. Bakre lived in Paris and travelled to other European countries, before he returned to live in Dhapoli, a picturesque interior region of Maharashtra. He continued his association with the “Artists’ Centre” till the last. The “Bust of Ara” he had sculpted at the Centre is in the collection of “The National Gallery of Modern Art”, New Delhi.
                        F.N.Souza: Secretary, “Progressive Artists’ Group” wrote in its six fold catalogue:
“I do not quite understand now, why we still call our Group “Progressive”. Not that, most retrogressive institutions call themselves so, but we have changed all that chauvinistic ideas and the leftist fanaticism which we had incorporated in our manifesto at the inception of the Group: “To bring about a closer understanding and contact between different sections of the artists community and the people…” We found this in the course of working an impossibility because there not only a permanent rift between sections of artists, between Meissioner and Whistler, Munnings and Picasso, Achrekar and Jamini Roy; but the gulf between the so-called “people” and the artist cannot be bridged.”

“Art will as long it remains, be esoteric. It can be utilitarian- functional, manufactures of house-hold commodities: didactic … Illustrational for school books or party journals; socialist-purative  art of the Soviet Union; and religion- of the sort we see today, painted clay Ganapatis and blond operatic Christ- then it is mercenary, pedagogic, political and devotional, but never pure intrinsic “Art”.

“Artists’Centre” has maintained its original character of simplicity and heritage grandeur as a unique exhibition space, being situated within the ‘Art District’ of Kala Ghoda, even today. It is known for its classy ambience with natural light and air and bestowed with an exquisite view of the “Chhatrapati Vastu Sangralaya” dome- formerly “The Prince of Wales Museum”. The tranquility and serenity of the vicinity beckons one and all – artists, art lovers and connoisseurs of art, from India and across the globe.

Being a charitable institution, it has been nurtured by various elected committees of volunteers belonging to diverse fields, with a common agenda-extending infra-structure ,guidance and platform for deserving artistic talents of India and abroad, especially the young, unknown and emerging artists. Since the last five decades men and women of letters did contribute their valuable times, energies and finances for the upkeep of the Centre. The old records and minute books depict many names, including those of Deolalikar, V.S. Gaitonde, M.F. Hussain, S.H.Raza, K.K.Hebbar, Akbar Padamsee, Baburao Sadwalekar, Madhav Sadwelkar, Tayeb Mehta,  N.S,Bendre, P.T.Reddy, Lalitha Lajmi, D.G.Godse, Ratan Batra, Samar Dasgupta, last but the least Ara and a host of others. Also, the Centre envisaged and witnessed the formation of the “Bombay Group” of artists, who exhibited their works at its premises. The group’s simple catalogue folder had the names of Ara, Gade,  Samant, Gaitonde, Hebbar, Chavda, Palsikar and Kulkarni. The Price ranges of drawings and paintings were between Rs.40 and Rs.600.  

 Since the beginning of the new millennium, the Centre could recreate its past glory with art activities, encompassed with added vigor, under the batons of Prafulla Dahanukar, Dr. Saryu Doshi, Saroj Satija, Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni  Dr.V.S.Gopalakrishnan, Shirin Bharucha, Brinda Millar Chudasama and others. The Centre hosted several prestigious exhibitions of renowned artists like Anjolie Ela Menon and the works of the “Progressive Artists’ Group”, during its Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002. The event was graced by H.A.Gade , S.Bakre and Jehangir Nicholson, an ardent supporter of art . Also, group Shows of younger artists like Jitish Kallat, Baiju Parthan and others were held at the Centre.   

The “Artists’ Centre” has been frequented by many celebrities from the visual and performing arts, including Music, Poetry,Literature,Theatre and Cinema. Alyque Padamsee, Raell Padmsee, Dolly Thakore, Naseeruddin and Ratna Shah, Suniel and Mana Shetty, Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar, Nana Patekar, Nitin Desai, Astad Deboo, Kumar Ketkar, Ranjit Hoskote and others have graced the Centre from time to time.

In this 21st Century, “Artists’ Centre Art Gallery” takes strides and moves forward from glory to glory!