B Prabha shines at the Pundole Summer Paintings Sale
Prabha was an important artist of her time and one of the first Indian female artists who also had a successful career, at a time when few Indian women chose arts as a profession. Prabha was born in 1933 in Nagpur and studied at the Nagpur School of Art before graduating from the prestigious Sir JJ School of Art in Bombay, which was the alma mater of some of the most successful Indian artists of all time. time. The most captivating aspect of Prabha’s vast body of work is her sensitive and engaging depiction of ordinary women, going about their daily tasks with elan and grace. Besides ordinary villagers, she also portrayed the working poor in cities, chronicling their lives and taking a sensitive look at their difficult existence.
At the recently concluded Indian Art auction, The Summer Paintings Sale, by Pundole’s from June 5-10, an interesting name dominated the sale by value. This was B Prabha (1933-2001), whose 1986 untitled oil on canvas sold for Rs 40 lakh, against a pre-auction estimate of Rs 20 lakh – Rs 30 lakh.
Measuring 47 x 113 in (119.5 x 287.2 cm), it is a beautiful painting of one of India’s greatest modernist women, who sadly remains unrecognized and relegated to the backstage of all discourse.
In rich Indian hues and tones, the painting captures a daytime snapshot in a village, where four women with earthen pitchers on their heads are fetching water or returning from chores. They are on the edge of a hamlet in the center of which stands a temple, its red flag stretched in the wind. The four barefoot women seem to have stopped in the shade of a banyan tree and gaze ruminatingly towards the hamlet and the temple. The women are young, their bodies taut and supple with miles of daily walking, the rich brown of their skin is also evidence of their hard physical labor under the sun. They wear pretty colorful ghaghra cholis, with their dupattas covering the head and falling gracefully at the sides. Their well-groomed faces are in B. Prabha’s signature style, making for a charming work capturing an idyllic scene of a long-gone India, even as the artist came to do so in the late 1980s. .
As well as being engaging, the image also demonstrates the artist’s mastery of medium and technique, revealed by the image’s depth, lucid strokes bringing flora and human habitation to life in a indescribable village, and the overall naturalistic expression of the day. Light and shadow.
At the end of the Pundole auction, this adorable canvas sat on top of the table, surpassing the works of well-known masters such as MF Husain, FN Souza, Jamini Roy and Ram Kumar to name a few- one.
Who was B Prabha?
B Prabha is a lost name in popular contemporary Indian art. The much-neglected museum shop of the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi offers prints of some of her most captivating paintings, but this seminal artist is nearly obliterated from any mention of modern Indian art on any contemporary platform. whether it be. His masterpieces continue to appear at auction, as they did recently at Pundole, but hide in plain sight as they are almost always overshadowed by superstar artists such as VS Gaitonde, Tyeb Mehta, Husain, SH Raza, FN Souza and a few others.
Prabha was an important artist of her time and one of the first Indian female artists who also had a successful career, at a time when few Indian women chose arts as a profession. Prabha was born in 1933 in Nagpur and studied at the Nagpur School of Art before graduating from the prestigious Sir JJ School of Art in Bombay, which was the alma mater of some of the most successful Indian artists of all time. time.
The most captivating aspect of Prabha’s vast body of work is her sensitive and engaging depiction of ordinary women, going about their daily tasks with elan and grace. Besides ordinary villagers, she also portrayed the working poor in cities, chronicling their lives and taking a sensitive look at their difficult existence.
Prabha’s career followed in the footsteps of the first generation of these modern Indian artists who broke free from British academic influences in Indian colleges to create a uniquely Indian vocabulary of modern art – creating new modern art for a nation newly independent. Like many of these modernists, Prabha also drew inspiration from European masters and classical Indian paintings. This resulted in works of the highest quality which were executed with a modernist European sensibility but which depicted Indian subjects and sentiments. Among Indian painters, Amrita Sher-Gil (1913-1941) had a distinct influence on Prabha’s art, while the influence of the styles and sensibilities of AA Almelkar, SB Palsikar and NS Bendre can also be seen in his canvases.
Renowned nuclear physicist and founding director of the Tata Institute for Basic Research (TIFR), Homi J. Bhabha, was an early collector of Prabha’s art. She was married to fellow painter-sculptor B. Vithal, also an alumnus of the Sir JJ School of Art.
Prabha and the art market
Prabha may not be the art market superstar she truly deserves to be, but her art had her dedicated group of collectors, both in her lifetime and even after her death in September 2001. His works regularly appear on the art market and almost always exceed the highest pre-auction estimates, showing the faith that collectors continue to show in his works. She was a prolific artist and was well collected even during her lifetime, which explains a regular release of her works on the auction circuit. For example, major auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s both record a significant number of works by Prabha they have sold so far – nearly 100 works each over the last three decades or so.
The highest price fetched by any of Prabha’s work in a public auction so far was $90,000 (around Rs 70 lakh at current prices). This award was won individually by two of Prabha’s untitled works, one made in 1964 and the other in 1986, at Christie’s Modern and Contemporary Indian Art auction in New York on September 20, 2006 Both are iconic works by Prabha, village women at their chores, their elongated, lithe bodies symbolizing the hard work Indian rural women undertake in their daily lives.
Although his paintings of women are among his best known, his landscapes are equally enchanting, showing the artist’s increasingly abstract mind, devoid of realistic expression, focusing instead on forms, creating an image lyrical and semi-abstract. shot of a landscape in a minimalist language. These works make her one of the first modernist landscape painters in India, her creations bringing her closer to the finest works of the genre by Raza and Ram Kumar during their early years in France. Like his inspiration NS Bendre, Prabha’s works too, this author believes, will in time reach a well-deserved zenith.
(The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist, editor and arts consultant. She blogs at archanakhareghose.com)