There’s perhaps no medium as eloquent as art when it comes to stirring up creativities innately. A profusion of imagery, the evocation of every detail and a repertoire of senses make artist and their art an infinite and universal phenomenon. India has been home to quite some artists who are doyens of their field and the minds behind some real exhibits of brilliance. Here are a dozen of such most famous paintings of India by the artistic legends that have remained enduring masterpieces over the times-
Bharat Mata by Abanindranath Tagore
A muse so iconic that the associated work of art soon became the face of a whole ideal, Abanindranath Tagore’s Bharat Mata is one of the most famous paintings of India. Obviously there is no deception when it comes to the identity of the painting and the theme it carries. A saffron clad woman holding a book, some paddy, a piece of clothing and a rosary much like a sadhvi, Tagore’s visualisation of the India of the times when she was under the British rule and awaiting ’emancipation’ forms the core of this masterpiece that instantly became the very symbol of Swadesi.
Interestingly, this very emotional piece of art evokes the Goddess in women, drawn parallel to Bharat Mata, and is therefore not just a patriotic tribute to the nation but is also as effective in being the model everyone looks up to. In its seemingly human depiction, the painting is in fact a far more symbolic rendition of the India of our dreams.
The image invoked is that of a multi armed Goddess who carries symbolism even in her bearings. Thus in the apparent images of the paddy lies the essence of food, the piece of cloth stands for vastra, the book renders the value of education and the rosary is symbolic of being the beads of salvation- a visualisation that stems of a free and independent Bharat sufficiently equipped to care for all its citizens as Mata or mother. In presenting a very hopeful image of a free spirited India, Tagore did indeed create a masterpiece that became responsible for the country founding a new found respect, as a Goddess but most importantly as the motherland.
Horses by M F Hussain
One of the most prolific painters India has ever produced, Maqbool Fida Hussain is a name whose mention evokes an image of unprecedented brilliance in the folds within the world of art. Inventive and ingenious like someone only of his facultive capabilities could be, Hussain owed allegiance to many of his constant muses, that were a recurrent occurence in most of his works of art. One of the most famous paintings of this phenomenal painter, albeit of entire India, Horses is a really powerful work that revolves around Hussain’s fascination for the encompassment of power and energy by these swiftly agile animals.
Three horses in bold outlines and tremendous majesty capture the canvas in this iconic portrayal by Hussain that fetched an unprecedented over a crore of rupees at the 2008 auction at Christie’s. The energy encompassed by the galloping boasts is immediately perceptive, as is Hussain’s obsession with their free spirit and power.
Self-portrait by Amrita Sher-Gil
A 1931 self portrait by celebrated painter Amrita Sher Gill, touted by many as India’s Frida Kahlo, has long been considered one of the most famous paintings in India and is easily one of the finest manifestation of the artist’s prodigious talent with colors and brushes. Very prominent among India’s modern day artists, this portrait is a peek into the self of a 18 year old Amrita, where the seemingly half smiling lady gazes with an intensity so overwhelming that makes the viewer instantly perceptive of the melancholy that shrouds her inner self. All of the artist’s remarkably popular self portraits depict her diverse moods, from exuberant and playful to pensive and forlorn or even a hypnotic mix of both.
Three Pujarins by Jamini Roy
An eminent artist from Bengal, one of the early modernists of Indian art in fact, Jamini Roy was a painter unparalleled when it came to execution of his many ideas that are just as diverse as they are identical. As a worthy pupil of Abanindranath Tagore, another very phenomenal master of the trade and the founder of the Bengal School of Art, Roy set down to paint masterpieces that are basically a representation of the Indian essence. It is in fact to Roy’s credit and also a tribute to his immense creative faculties that in spite of his training in the western genre of art, he chose rather to dwell in the innate Indianess in him when it came to producing his most memorable works.
One such exceedingly famous of his paintings is Three Pujarins that carries the essence of India in its every stroke. Inspired by the folk art tradition of Bengal, this piece by the maestro remains steeped in an array of vibrant colors that characterised much of his work even when the domain of the hued reach remained restrictive. Three Pujarins is a depiction of three almond eye priestesses in a worshipping avatar, mature and very much holding their poise even when the piece is not without any symbolic leanings. With the dominant blues and the black contour lines, the painting is no doubt a striking visual phenomenon but the classic indigo color Bengali style sarees also manifest subtly as the symbol catering to the Indigo movement against the then British government. In its exemplary visual as well as suggestive impact, Three Pujarins is indeed more than a unique splash of color.
Shakuntala by Raja Ravi Verma
An epic painting by Raja Ravi Verma, perhaps the most famous of Indian painters in history, Shakuntala is a oil on canvas piece that is very much the embodiment of the loos of love that the whole Shakuntala- Dushyant saga is replete with. As a young and very much in love Shakuntala pretends to remove a thorn from her foot, what she is actually doing is stealing a glance of her lover prince Dushyant in a display of the youthful exuberance of and in love. Of course there’s nothing suggestive at play here, this is one masterpiece that assumes supreme identity for being exactly the beauty that it is, delivering through mannerisms and grace rather than symbolism and devoid of any figurative representation whatsoever.
Perhaps among the rare few of famous paintings and painters that manage to leave an indelible imprint on the psyche with mere play and no allegory, Shakuntala is a masterpiece in the way Verma exudes the very essence of the universal feeling of love. The gesture and body language of a young Shakuntala would resonate perfectly with every lover who would identify with the coy pretense that the lady indulges in so perfectly. It indeed is an ode to Raja Ravi Verma’s brilliance that mere static gestures speak volumes to the viewer with the ample display of love captured so brilliantly in imaginative strokes of color and realistic seeming twists and turns of the body.
Days of Glory by Satish Gujral
An exemplary painter, particularly one whose oeuvre of work draws considerably from the disturbing experiences of the Partition, Satish Gujral paints an impactful portrayal of the suffering that shook him to the core in Days of Glory. Ironic as it may sound in being reflective of the times of the bloodshed, the Days of Glory is a metaphor for all emotions that had overwhelmingly engulfed its creator who believes his paintings are in fact a rendition of his sufferings more than they are of the Partition. The masterpiece we are considering herein is a depiction of helplessness but not sans dignity. Even in such disturbance that can be unsettling, the characters are enormously restrained in such compact a space that speaks of an experience that concerned all, a chapter so touching yet so repulsive that solidarity seems to be the only possible response to it.
Krishna (Spring in Kulu) by Nicholas Roerich
A brilliant manifestation of art and artistic sensibilities that makes it to the list of famous paintings in India is Krishna (Spring in Kullu) that is remarkably not the work of an Indian artist. Painted by Russian Nicholas Roerich, the 1930 painting is a fine expression of spiritualism by the artist who the ASI recognises as one of the nine artists whose work make up to be national art treasures.
For someone whose art was a result of his initiation into the Buddhist path rather than his derivation from formal training, Roerich indeed did find peace in the haven of Kullu, both in the one he resided and the one that resided in him. The masterpiece under consideration paints a flute playing Krishna sitting inder a trees in blossom with the majestic snowy mountain as the background.
While the intricacy of his expression is apparent in the way Nicholas paints the movement of the branches to a mild wind, Krishna (Spring in Kullu) can in fact be considered even as something more figurative than what is instantly decipherable. Krishna seems to be somewhat of a philosophical depiction of human leanings rather than being just what it seemingly looks like- a glorification of Krishna but most importantly the spiritual evolution of the painter depicted in his subtle play with light and shadows.
Mahishasura by Tyeb Mehta
A towering figure of Indian art- perhaps even India’s finest contemporary artist, Tyeb Mehta is the man behind the masterpiece Mahishasura, recurring versions of which have repeatedly fetched millions in international auctions. It is indeed noteworthy how Mehta rendered a phenomenon as mythological and pertinent as the demolition of the demon by the Goddess Durga in such simplistic interpretation of form, color and line.
Essentially with the good versus evil theme in tow, the juxtaposition that Mehta renders to this masterpiece seemingly bereft of much complexity makes it all the more intriguing a piece of art. With ancient imagery at its core, this very modern work of creativity might be ambiguous in absence of any clear defined lines that might even render it suggestive beyond what the eye tends to make out of it, but there is no denying the brilliance that Mehta exhibits in this of the famous paintings that has come to characterise the doyen of exceptional art work in India.
Self-portrait by Rabindranath Tagore
The exceptional personality that Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore was in the multitude of wisdom he possessed and the many hats he donned with elan, it is only apt that a self portrait by this genius finds prominent presence among the most famous paintings in India. What perhaps makes his inclusion in the list even more a matter of distinction is the fact that Tagore only took to painting relatively later in life, precisely in 192 when was 63 years old. This indeed is then a marker of his genius and exceptional caliber that even at an age that many consider way past the prime of their life, Tagore dabbled with colors and dazzled with panache, as much as he had done in every of his undertakings.
What perhaps helps in making Tagore’s art so popular across masses is the universal nature of it. In striving to make art more accessible to all, Tagore invariably gave birth to a line of artistic depictions so striking yet so comprehensible that they became instantly identifiable. His self portrait makes use of primitive pencil lines to draw out his full bearded face with enhanced contour, sans color and background and is such a remarkable depiction- in self as well as in essence- that there is no second thought as to why and how this indeed is an exalted masterpiece in simplicity.
Bindu by S H Raza
A reknowned Indian artist most commonly associated with the bindu or the dot, Syed Haider Raza’s namesake work of art is one very vivid presence in the pantheon of Indian paintings. With strong rooting in Indian culture as per Raza, the bindu is a source of energy and life, that begins and attains infinity from this focal point. Geometric enough to make it abstract yet sacred likewise in its symbolism, the bindu became a very prominent motif in Raza’s works, much as his other explored themes of the tribhuj that resided once again in geometry as well as of nature that is a derivation and perhaps even contemplation of all things abstract.
Intricate to Indian philosophy as being the point of all origin, it was therefore very aptly the bindu that made Raza a legend and became phenomenal in being the revival and beginning for this celebrated artist. Whether it was his belief in the power of what looks like only a mere dot or the bindu indeed being the source of all inceptions, it is only apropos that Raza’s bindu became one of the most famous paintings of India apart from being also his most recognisable presence.
Bapuji by Nandalal Bose
Another evocative depiction of a facet of the Indian struggle for independence, Bapuji by Nandalal Bose is a painting that has Bapuji Mahatma Gandhi as the unmistakable muse. A Shantiniketan artist, Bose’s fascination with and respect for Gandhi speaks not just of the influence that the Father of the Nation had on the people but also of the transcending nature of the impact that Gandhi had managed to create with his non violent ideals. A linocut portrait of Gandhi, the 1930 creation Bapuji by Bose remains one of the most iconic artistic depictions of the twentieth century- one that was a potent image at unifying the entire nation into one through a persona who remained steadfast even in his composure.
Glow of Hope by S L Haldankar
It is not very often that perpetual themes of everyday life fascinate so much and so many to render it iconic, even when manifested through the compelling fineries of art. It then indeed is a celebration of the artist’s perceptive abilities that make him the creator of such a work of art that holds everyone in awe in pure simplistic depiction on the face of it. One such highly regarded piece that is definitely among the most famous paintings in India is the Glow of Hope by S L Haldankar. Also popularly known as the Lady with the Lamp, this is a portrait of a lady- Haldankar’s daughter to be precise- who holds a lamp that remains shielded by her hands even as the light emanating from it is enough illuminating of the vicinity.
Interestingly, Haldankar painted the picture with his muse indeed holding her pose for at least three hours straight even as the image conjured is also as real a vision- one that had enthralled the painter when he saw his daughter in such light one Diwali. Soft and subtle colors characterise this world famous piece of art that dwells in a semblative approach even as the intelligent play of light and darkness render it further surreal even in its realistic depiction. There also is symbolism at play, that come to fore in tones that are far more subtle- or dare we say, insignificant. The saree clad woman is a definite epitome of beauty and feminity while the lavender saree symbolises grace and the gold therein and thereof perhaps an accurate foreteller of the continuing gleam of the charm embodied by the painting.