Thursday, July 03, 2014

Renoir, Rembrandt, Roerich and how not to die

We have art in order not to die from the truth – Nietzsche

Too much art talk in my head these days. First, the Girl presented me with a watering can on Mother’s Day - a cute, pint-sized, pink watering can that does not water and my sister remarked, ‘Now you’re a girl with a watering can!’

It struck me how easy it is for my elder sisters to delve into memories and come up with stuff my memory seems to have fogged away (half of it I don't know anyway). But since the mention, it kept running into my head – the watering can, the girl, the blue dress, the frizzy blond hair – the painting my friends came to look at when we were the age of the girl in the painting. 

Renoir’s, A Girl with a Watering Can

It also has to do with reading Donna Tartt’s, The Goldfinch – a baby elephant of a book – at one go, it was so demandingly unputdownable and all the while thinking: how Papa would have loved this!

It’s strange how one grows up with things around them that emerge so achingly significant only when they’re all gone. Some famous paintings were on the walls of our home forever. Papa had brought prints of many that he fancied as a student in Amreeka. 

I have spent hours looking at this Siegfried and the Rhine Maidens by Albert Pinkham Ryder. There was so much mystery in this scene. There was also a story that he told, it awed us but I couldn’t remember it.  I spun my own tales – these were washerwomen washing clothes and themselves in a forest river unaware of the man approaching them on horseback (they must be chattering over the big wind that seems to sway the trees). The real story, here

And then there was Rembrandt’s Aristotle with the bust of Homer, which was lost to dampness in later years. The only addition that was made to these was one self-portrait by Amrita Sher-gil.

I learnt of art, literature and history like it was never taught during my evening walks with Papa. We had moved to town and walks were through a slum where men sat on their haunches in circles; scruffy-nosed, naked-bottomed kids ran whacking worn two-wheeler tyres; skipping over cow dung and worse, we came to the urban Lego houses with young boys and girls leaning over gates; pressure cooker whistles and lone old men on culvert puliyas. We walked, Papa talked. I listened, sometimes got lost in mine own thoughts and forgot to. 

When through the bend in the street we came to the main road, and to a particular white house with a neat mehndi hedge, I sensed a slowing of his step, a slight turn of head – just so. Nothing so obvious I could ask.

Then one day to give way to a passing bus, we were stalled right in front of the white house. He said urgently, ‘Look at the painting’. Through the open window, I saw the abstract on the wall – a scarlet sun. Whether it was the yellow evening glow inside the house or its seemingly calm isolation from the  noisy, crowded road right across – it was surreal – the entire setting. 

When I moved to Delhi, Papa would take me to the National Gallery of Modern Art. Sometimes I was reluctant because I had other stuff to do that he thought little of. But there I discovered Roerich and his Himalayas. It was in Bangalore that I first heard of the Tataguni Estate and declared that I would be there the day it opens to public. And on that most beautiful October Sunday, when most wonderfully, we had Mummy with us, we rode down to the beautiful world of Devika Rani and Svetoslav Roerich. 

Here’s news report from then and pictures of our visit.

Times of India, Oct 2004: BANGALORE: The gloom is lifting. But for the Roerichs' pet dogs which no one kept track of, the 468-acre Tataguni Estate has been restored almost to its old glory, even as it was thrown open to the public on Sunday to mark the centenary of Russian painter Svetoslav Roerich.

The house and studio have been renovated; Roerich's 1948 Chevrolet restored to running condition and painted a spanking blue. The linolae factory is functional again and swans preen themselves in the re-done lake. The only shadow on the centenary celebrations, which was launched at the estate, was the pending Supreme Court judgment on the Karnataka government decision to acquire the Roerich Estate.

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