Parsis and Art – An Everlasting Romance!

The Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy School of Art, the oldest art institute in Mumbai and definitely one of the most respected and premier institutes of art stands testament to the fact that Parsis have always, not only appreciated but been true connoisseurs, promoting fine art in India. Its hallowed portals have honed the talents of renowned Indian masters, including master artists Tyeb Mehta and M F Hussain. Parsi Times Art Specialist, Razvin Namdarian, explores how Art and Fine Art has been one of our cultures strongest bastions, exploring all facets involved – the Creators, Promoters and Collectors.

The Creators:

Of course, there have been Parsi artists who have left their mark on the canvas of Indian contemporary art and who are a part of the celebrated Sir JJ School of Art alumni, the most prominent amongst them being Jehangir Sabavala. He could be credited with bringing the cubist style of painting into focus in Indian art. Sabavala, ever the gentleman, even used to allow those appreciative of his art to pay him in installments – he was proud to say, “Not one person reneged on the payments.” While he unfortunately succumbed to cancer in 2011, his paintings continue to sell for crore of rupees at international auctions. Homi Patel, another alumnus of the Sir JJ School of Art, is famous for his abstract paintings. However, while Homi was very well known in the 1950’s and ‘60s, his popularity began to wane over the years mainly because he was unwilling to play by the rules of the art market. Even today, knowledgeable art collectors ensure that they have a ‘Homi Patel’ piece in their collection – a validation to his talent and unique non-representational style of art. Paeans could be written about these two artists and the other Parsi artists who have over the decades interspersed the rich tapestry of Indian art with their talent. Some names that come to mind are Pestonji Bomanji, Sorab Pithawalla and his father MF Pithawalla; sculptors Adi Davierwalla and Piloo Pochkhanawala; Shiavax Chavda and Mehlli Gobhai. Of course, the younger generation of Parsi artists is keeping the flag flying high. Arzan Khambatta is known not only for his sculptures but also his wit in naming and creating them. His shows are keenly awaited by the art circuit.  Gieve Patel is a noted artist, poet and theatre personality, Adil Writer works with ceramics and Natasha Lalla’s paintings result in sold-out exhibitions!

The Promoters:

They say the artist’s job is to create but it is the gallerist who has the herculean task of promoting the artist and bringing his work into the public domain. An art gallery becomes an institution, based on the knowledge and instinct of its owner. It seems like a happy coincidence that two of the oldest private galleries in Mumbai, both established in 1963, were owned by Parsis. The Chemould Prescott Road and the Pundole Art Gallery provided the much needed catalyst to many an artist’s careers. Kekoo Gandhy, the founder of Gallery Chemould, had a keen eye for art and gave artists like Nalini Malani, Jitist Kallat, Anju and Atul Dodiya and Krishen Khanna, the opportunity to have their first solo shows in his gallery. His daughter, Shireen, continues to provide talented emerging artists the needed promotional platform to become future champions of their art. M F Hussain’s iconic horse was painted on the outer wall of the Pundole Art Gallery – a testament to the strong friendship Kali Pundole shared with the artist. The gallery is known for the goodwill it enjoys with its artists and clients alike. If an artist is featured at Pundole – he already has it made!

The Collectors:

Those who appreciate fine art, collect it; and some of the finest art collections are owned by – who else, Parsis! Dr. Homi Bhabha, as Founder Director of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), put together a museum quality collection of almost 250 artworks in the 1950’s and ‘60s. He was in the right place at the right time and bought several works from leading masters including F N Souza, S H Raza, M F Hussain, Gaitonde, Tyeb Hussain and several more. His brother, Jamshed, was also an avid art collector and he bequeathed his collection to the National Centre for Performing Arts, which he founded. Jehangir Nicholson devoted his life to art and building his impressive art collection, which had over 800 paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints by over 250 artists. His enviable collections of modern and contemporary art, is housed at the Jehangir Nicholson Gallery on the second floor of the museum’s East Wing – The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya.

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