September 2012 | Jai Wadia

Art revisited

The Sir Ratan Tata art gallery at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in Mumbai has been renovated and many of its pieces restored, and it now offers art lovers a chance to view unique pieces of European art. Jai Wadia visits the gallery and comes away inspired

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.

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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 rendered.

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 Parsi style.

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.