Mumbai’s art enthusiasts had something to cheer about on August 28, as
the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sanghralaya (CSMVS) [formerly known as
The Prince of Wales Museum] opened its doors to the recently renovated Sir Ratan
Tata art gallery. The gallery has on display 30 paintings from a collection
of nearly 200 European artworks that were bequeathed to the museum by Sir Dorabji
Tata and Sir Ratan Tata between 1922 and 1933.
Both Sir Ratan Tata and his wife Lady Navajbai Tata were keenly interested
in travelling and the visual arts. In fact Lady Navajbai (a philanthropist herself)
generously waived all claims to her husband’s art collection.
The paintings date from the 16th to early 20th centuries and include works
of noted British, Italian, Flemish and French artists, and also from the Renaissance
and Baroque periods. They are evocative of the times and cultures during which
they were done. Sir Edwin Ward, James Jebus Shannon, Jorge Romney, Thomas Gainsborough
and Robert Hillingford are just some of the artists whose works are on show.
The paintings have been curated by Dilip Ranade, exhibition consultant, CSMVS,
and Prasanna Mangrulkar, assistant curator (education and European paintings), CSMVS. Mr Ranade, a professional artist and an
alumnus of the Sir JJ School of Art, has worked at the museum for the last 41
years. Speaking about the gallery, he says, “It gives our Indian audience
a chance to view European paintings, and also helps educate them about European
lifestyle and culture in the days depicted through these artworks.”
“We have added eight new paintings from Sir Ratan Tata’s collection,
pieces that we felt were important works. One of these is a painting titled
The Crusaders by British painter John Gilbert, done in 1875. This is an important
painting as it was exhibited in the Royal Academy and it’s a very realistic
depiction of how a battle is fought,” he adds.
The painting Bohemian Gypsies, which is the largest of the paintings in the
gallery and graces the main wall opposite the entrance, depicts a slice of life
of this nomadic community with various aspects of their lifestyle realistically
The paintings have been grouped together according to genre and type –
ranging from landscapes to war scenes and portraits. Some magnificent portraits
of Jamsetji Tata, Founder of the Tata group, Lady Meherbai Tata and Lady Navajbai
Tata (wives of Sir Dorabji Tata and Sir Ratan Tata respectively) are also on
display. The women are regally attired in beautiful sarees draped in the traditional
Many of the paintings have been cleaned, conserved and some have also been
restored, as have the frames. Information cards have now been discreetly placed
at the four corners of the art gallery with information about each painting,
including the subject matter and the painter.
Specially designed chairs have been placed in the centre of the art gallery
with a drawing board, art sheets and pencils, to encourage visitors to try their
hand at drawing. Books on European paintings and other subjects have also been
provided for reference. All this helps visitors gain knowledge about the various
art movements and the artists’ thoughts on the paintings they created.
The gallery has not just been renovated but also restored. “In 2007
we had renovated the Sir Dorabji Tata art gallery (located opposite the Sir
Ratan Tata gallery), which is when we discovered that there was provision made
originally for concealed electrical wiring in the floor boards and walls. We
decided to renovate the entire gallery and get the concealed wiring done –
this makes it look much neater and is also safer,” explains Mr Ranade.
The lighting has also been changed and replaced. The earlier fluorescent lights
(which emit UV rays and can damage the paintings causing them to fade) have
made way for lights that are on par with international standards. These lights
have a higher colour rendering index and helps the colours on the paintings
look as they are supposed to, bearing in mind that most artists in those days
painted in daylight. The wood-panelled walls have been water-proofed; although
the exterior wall of the museum is made from stone, the wooden panelling inside
serves as a buffer to protect the artworks from the external environment.
As visitors leave, their last glimpse is of a statue of the gallery’s
benefactor Sir Ratan Tata, whose generosity now allows art lovers access to
some remarkable works of art.