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SADANAND BAKRE: INDIA’S ELUSIVE MODERNIST PAINTER & SCULPTOR
MALLIKA CHAKRAWARTI

In newspaper records, Sadanand Bakre is described as a ‘reclusive’ painter who spent his last days in his quaint, Ratnagiri home, alone and friendless. ‘Elusive’ would be more befitting an adjective to describe the persona of the internationally famed, painter and sculptor.

Bakre was born in 1920 in Baroda, and moved with his family to Bombay where he laid the foundations of a brilliant artistic career. Young Sadanand’s talents were discovered by his drawing teacher in Gokhale school, who encouraged him to take up painting seriously. At age 16, his first-ever solo exhibition comprising of watercolor artworks and draped sculptures was on view for the entire school to admire. In 1939, the director of Sir J.J School of Art, Charles Gerrad, found Bakre’s early drawings impressive and immediately accepted him into the school. In the Sculpture Department, Bakre learned the techniques of using using clay, bronze casting and alloys of different metals. The rebellious Sadanand took the road less traveled in sculpting by exploring newer methods and materials. The realistic rendering methods taught by his school professors served the curriculum’s purpose, but did very little for Bakre’s enterprising spirit. While teachers insisted on using soap water for making a piecemould, Sadanand preferred claywater for its properties. Despite these disagreements, he was an exceptional student and topped his diploma examination. In 1942, he won the first prize for sculpture from Bombay Art Society and the Lord Harding scholarship in 1944.

In pre-independence India, the modern masters were wellacquainted with the sufferings of the common man, and leaned towards a more leftist approach to art. 1947 spelled independence not just in terms of reclaiming India from the clutches of the British; independent thought and expression were considered to be an artist’s prerogative. The Bengal school of art and the former practices of art established by the British were rigid and not very accepting of new ideas and experiments. Like-minded artists joined hands to create a new, modernist art movement in India when the artworks of F.N. Souza and K.H. Ara were dismissed by the Bombay Art Society. Souza and Ara launched the PAG (Progressive Arts Group) which was later joined in by M.F Hussain, Sadanand Bakre, H.A Gade and S.H Raza; the group only grew to include artists such as, Krishen Khanna and Akbar Padamsee. It is interesting to note that Bakre was the only sculptor in the PAG. The ‘Progressives’ exhibited together, engaged in a healthy exchange of ideas, and agreed that every artist must develop a distinctive style in artistic expression.

Although, Bakre was greatly inspired by neoclassicist art forms popular in 18th and 19th century Europe, he began his experiments with abstraction soon after joining the PAG. The first, landmark exhibition by the Progressives in 1949, invited both appreciation and criticism from the dominant art circles in Bombay. The critics remarked that each artist in the PAG, sought a distinctive voice in the decisive application of colours and brush strokes on canvas. Bakre’s sculptures were scrutinized with interest by art critics. His powerful sculpture ‘Mother’s Pride’ depicted a heavy-bosomed form, expressing the notion that motherhood and that a mother’s love is supreme. Renowned critic Shri Jagmohan wrote, “An enlarged copy of this sculpture would be very effective in front of any maternity hospital”. His note-worthy sculpture ‘Centaur’ was also a result of distorted abstraction. While sculpting Sir Cowasji Jehangir’s bust, Bakre paid attention to certain intricacies and nuances, which easil makes the sculpture a treasured master-piece. The bust is now a displayed at the National Museum of Art in Mumbai.

Art had acquired a social dimension for few PAG members, including Bakre, who was unimpressed with academic realism and favoured varied techniques for sculpting. The burnished convex and concave surfaces of his sculptural pieces created alluring patterns of shade and light. Bakre’s mastery in sculpting brought him recognition in the PAG. However, the terrific trio of Hussain, Raza and Souza proved to be a bigger commercial success than most of the other Progressives. Even today, these three names are unfailingly synonymous with modern art in India. Bakre’s individual success was probably eclipsed by his group mates, but this might not have bothered him as he had won accolades for his works long before the Progressives had tasted fame.

Although, Bakre was greatly inspired by neoclassicist art forms popular in 18th and 19th century Europe, he began his experiments with abstraction soon after joining the PAG. The first, landmark exhibition by the Progressives in 1949, invited both appreciation and criticism from the dominant art circles in Bombay.
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