“ART is the creation of beauty”, says Will Durant. “It is the expression of thought or feeling in a form that seems beautiful or sublime.” Indian art is a mirror of femininity which is visible in the wealth of sculptures and paintings where the female figures dominate the scene. Images of women recurring in miniature paintings do not stress female physical charm as much as they do her character and moods. The aim of this art was not to do a realistic portrayal of women but depicting the essence of human joy and anguish. This was done by delineating attitudes and gestures to show a variety of emotions and ways in which they may be expressed.
The advent of the Raj brought British artists to India who influenced the work of traditional Indian painters who adapted their style to meet the taste of British patrons. Subjects in demand were pictures of common people of different classes, their diverse occupations, fairs and festivals and religious ceremonies and rituals. Company Schools refers to this category of paintings by Indian artists. There is a vast collection of these in the British Library, London.
Towards the end of the 19th century, along with the spread of western education, the government decided to introduce academic art and modern concepts in painting and sculpture. Art schools were set up in Madras, Calcutta, Bombay and Lahore and accomplished British artists headed these institutions. They changed the whole system of teaching art replacing the traditional relationship between the British and Indian artistic perception and techniques.
The Bombay Art School was set up in 1857 with the support of Jamsethji Jijabhai, a Parsi industrialist. The course of instructions followed the pattern of the British Council of Education. In the early years, a number of students graduating from the school applied their talents to producing popular Hindu mythological pictures which had a ready market. By the end of the 19th century, the J.J. School of Art came out with distinguished artists like Pestonji Bomanji, D.V. Dhurandhar, A.X. Trindade, Abalal Rahiman and G.K. Mohatre who were inspired by the European at manifest in the statues of the Venus de Medici and Appollo Belvedere kept in the school premises.
Drawing from live models was experimented within the 1890s but models were not easily available. It was only in 1920s that regular drawing from undraped figures was introduced by the school director Gladstone Solomon.
S.N. Chamkur, the Andhra artist, graduated from the J.J. School of Art in 1920s. While specialising in portrait painting of the rich and famous, he also made his mark in depicting mythological episodes. One of his works shows the enchanting flute-wielding Lord Krishna captivating the gopis. It was awarded the best pictorial composition prize by the Bombay Art Society Exhibition in 1928. A disciple of Damarala Ramarao, founder of the Andhra School of Art, Chamkur not only carried on his guruâ€™s tradition but enriched it with his innovative works.
Chamkurâ€™s album of 24 beautiful pictures under the title “Art and Beauty”, published in 1937, was hailed as a masterpiece and an admirable contribution to the Indian art of the day. The enchanting female figures executed with rare skill are charged with emotion and ease, the lines flow harmoniously bringing out the essence of life with its joys and sorrows. A mere glance at these figures is a visual delight. One marvels at Chamkurâ€™s techniques and imagination. An amazing feature of his work is the illusion of a colour scheme in spite of the drawings being in black and white. We also notice a rare blending of the traditional Indian concept of visual expression and western academic art.
Chamkurâ€™s extraordinary depiction of women in different moods was also recognised as a part of the renaissance in art experienced by the country at that time. He is, perhaps, the only artist of his time to give a visual expression to the formidable subject of woman and her moods and that too with such vigour and sincerity.
He succeeds in infusing life in his figures. Their innermost feelings and emotions are conveyed through his unique treatment of the subject. A contemporary art critic observed that â€˜if a thing of beauty is a joy for ever. Chamkur has quite a number of perennial joys packed in his album.