A far corner of Devrukh in the Ratnagiri District of Maharashtra has become home to precious paintings of the Bombay School of Art. What’s more remarkable is how these works of art from the British era — now valued at Rs.4 crore — got retrieved and exhibited in the newly inaugurated fine arts museum.
The story goes thus: In order that the work of talented sons of the soil be preserved within Konkan, paintings were painstakingly collected by the 4th President of the institution, Late Shri Arun V Athalye, who was ably guided in his effort by Late Shri V S Gurjar, Some of the paintings collected by Late Shri Mulye Master were generously donated by his family to Mr. Arun Athalye for the Devrukh Shikshan Prasarak Mandal.
The paintings in this collection are rendered by artists who belonged to a tradition of painters known as ‘Bombay School of Art’. These painters and artists range from the three generations of the Pestonji Family, Pestonji Bomanji, Eruksha Pestonji and Dadiseth Eruksha, the father and son duo of the Haldankars, Late V S Gurjar, Late M V Dhurandhar, Late N R Sardesai, Late Dinanath Dalal and such other eminent artists whose work spans from 1850 through 1950 and beyond.
Today, they adorn the sprawling Lakshmibai Pitre Kalasangrahalaya thanks to a struggle, at whose forefront was 88-year-old resident Vasant Pitre. The seed for the museum was sown more than six decades ago. In order that the work of talented artists from the Konkan, Sindhudurg, Raigad, Ratnagiri belt be preserved, art teacher Yashwant Mule, artist V.S. Gurjar and art connoisseur Mr. Arun Athalye started collecting the paintings. From spending from his pocket, to raising donations, the new venture became an obsession. But the dream was not to be fulfilled anytime during their lifetime. The paintings were donated to the Devrukh Shikshan Prasarak Mandal (DSPM) Trust.
“The paintings had gathered dust and were in a shambles. Around six years ago, a member of the committee illegally sold them. The process to retrieve them was lengthy and tedious,” said Shrinivas Virkar, council member of the Trust. It was then that Mr. Pitre, chairman of the Trust, got down to the job. The museum is named after his mother.
Work on the museum began about five years ago. Architect Arvind Sardal designed the building which stands on 6,000 sq.ft. of land. Mumbai-based curator Mrudula Mane was roped in. Under the guidance of museologist Sadashiv Gorakshkar, the restoration began. It was decided that the ground floor would be devoted to the Bombay School of Art painters. The second made space for contemporary artists.
Every painting offers a slice of history. Now you see a beautiful landscape of Kolhapur of the time, painted by Mr. Rahiman. Now you marvel at the earliest painting in the museum — a realistic portrait by Bomanji. Numerous, detailed human figures come alive in a small painting called “Devadarshan” in the trademark style of L.N. Taskar.
“All the paintings on the ground floor have a strong western influence. It was just the beginning of realism in the country, where painters were moving away from depicting mythology. Their brush strokes, the use of water colour were borrowed from the West. But the core subject remained Indian,” said Ms. Mane.
Vasant Manohar Pitre – Chairman
Ajay Arun Athalye, Vijay Shivram Ambekar, Vaijanath Eknath Jagusthe, Shrinivas Ramchandra Virkar, Bharti Ajay Pitre, Asawari Sansare, Ranjit Marathe, Mahendra Mukund Damle, Kashinath Satyavan Salve, Milind Hegiste, Ratnadeep Gopal Adivrekar
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