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250 × 190 × 17 mm
272 pages
147 illustrations, 107 in colour
01 Apr 2007

The Triumph of Modernism Partha Mitter

This richly illustrated book explores the contested history of art and nationalism in the tumultuous last decades of British rule in India. Western avant-garde art inspired a powerful weapon of resistance among India’s artists in their struggle against colonial repression, and it is this complex interplay of Western modernism and Indian nationalism that is the core of this book.

The Triumph of Modernism takes the surprisingly unremarked Bauhaus exhibition in Calcutta in 1922 as marking the arrival of European modernism in India. In four broad sections Partha Mitter examines the decline of ‘oriental art’ and the rise of naturalism as well as that of modernism in the 1920s, and the relationship between primitivism and modernism in Indian art: with Mahatma Gandhi inspiring the Indian elite to discover the peasant, the people of the soil became portrayed by artists as ‘noble savages’. A distinct feminine voice also evolved through the rise of female artists. Finally, the author probes the ambivalent relationship between Indian nationalism and imperial patronage of the arts.

With a fascinating array of art works, few of which have either been seen or published in the West, The Triumph of Modernism throws much light on a previously neglected strand of modern art and introduces the work of artists who are little known in Europe or America. A book that challenges the dominance of Western modernism, it will be illuminating not just to students and scholars of modernism and Indian art, but to a wide international audience that admires India’s culture and history.

‘Partha Mitters lucid and well-illustrated The Triumph of Modernism explores Indian artists encounter with the avant-garde from 1922 to 1947. It gives due prominence to pioneers: above all, Amrita Sher-Gil, the Sikh-Hungarian prodigy and firebrand.’ — The Independent

‘Contemporary critical arguments and critical context, as well as political melodrama, enliven the text. The colour illustrations are stunning.’ — The Art Book

‘A sumptuously illustrated exploratory guide to Indias artists and the avant garde movement of 1922-1947’ — Yoga and Health

‘With this book Partha Mitter adds further to his already monumental contribution to the study of Indian art. A comprehensive survey of ideas, institutions and schools, it is rich in details that leap out of obscurity to illuminate the significance of the whole. What emerges is a fascinating pattern of contradictions and coalescences that make up the stuff called modernism. Theres nothing simple about this tissue of paradoxes which constitutes the originality of the phenomenon in its subcontinental habitat. By undertaking to describe and analyze its complexities, this book earns its place in the corpus of distinguished critical literature that warns us against an overtly Eurocentric view of modernity, an alarm already sounded in the authors celebrated work, Much Maligned Monsters (1977). Furthermore, it alerts all concerned to the indifference that allows South Asian historiography to remain blissfully unaware of what it can and must learn from contemporary writings on the history of art. There is a great deal here for all narratives of colonialism and modernism to feed on.’ — Ranajit Guha, founder of Subaltern Studies

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Partha Mitter is Emeritus Professor of Art History at the University of Sussex, and is the author of Much Maligned Monsters: A History of European Reactions to Indian Art (1977), and Indian Art (2002).

The Formalist Prelude
The Indian Discourse of Primitivism
   I  Two Pioneering Women Artists
  II  Rabindranath Tagore's Vision of Art and the Community
 III  Jamini Roy and Art for the Community
Naturalists in the Age of Modernism
   I  The Regional Expressions of Academic Naturalism
  II  From Orientalism to a New Naturalism: K. Venkatappa and Deviprosad Roy Chowdhury
Contested Nationalism: The New Delhi and India House Murals
Photo Acknowledgements