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From Austria, with love

'You really have to be devoted to people in order to paint them the way I do' — Helmut Zwerger

Most Austrians do not know anything about cricket and so, naturally, they have not heard about Sachin Tendulkar. Yet, the little master as those commentators like to refer to Sachin, has been brought to life with masterstrokes.


Different strokes for master strokes: Helmut Zwerger (l), the portrait, Sachin Tendulkar and Aakif Habib

Legendary Austrian artist Helmut Zwerger has presented Tendulkar with a 7-foot high, 5-feet wide Sachin Tendulkar portrait. The Zwerger now hangs in Tendulkar’s new home at Bandra (W) in the high-ceilinged living room. He was gifted the painting on March 24, with his family, including his in-laws present at his home when Zwerger presented it to him.

Aakif Habib, Bandra-based businessman who represents Zwerger, says, “In 2010, Helmut Zwerger held an exhibition of his work at the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai. Sachin’s mother-in-law, Annabel Mehta heard of this and saw the invitation card. She did not have time to come in for the exhibition but she liked Zwerger’s work and got in touch with him through us.”

Says Annabel, “I looked at the invitation and loved Zwerger’s style and the use of colour in his work. That is when I decided to contact him to see if he could do a portrait of Sachin. We gave him some photographs of Sachin. I absolutely love what he has done.”


A Helmut Zwerger work

One year
Adds Aakif, “Zwerger started working on the portrait in 2011. The project has taken him nearly a year to complete. Sachin knew it was being worked on but he was absolutely delighted with the result.

His living room on the first floor has a 24-foot ceiling. The painting hangs there. In fact, when it was put there, Sachin even joked, “I like it because now, I am looking down on people,” laughs Aakif.

The businessman says it is a “gift” from this top class artist to Sachin, given to him free of charge. Art aficionados say that a Zwerger of this size may cost approximately Rs 60 lakh.

Zwerger who is currently in Mumbai chuckles when asked if he knows what is a fine leg or a gully. “I have absolutely no clue about cricket,” says this Innsbruck-based artist and adds, “Like most Europeans, with a few exceptions like the English. I had also never heard of Sachin Tendulkar.


A burst of shouting colour: Artist Helmut Zwerger with his work in Bandra. Some of these paintings are from the Diana series and there are others about Elton John

” That is a statement that borders on the sacrilegious in a country where cricket fans hold posters that read: ‘Cricket is our religion, Sachin is our God.’ Yet, Zwerger did not have to really know cricket or Sachin to paint what he was told to do by Annabel Mehta: “Capture the soul of Sachin.”

Adds Zwerger, “Two years ago, I got acquainted with Annabel Mehta when I was holding an exhibition at the Jehangir Art Gallery in the city. There were several newspaper reports that appeared at the time and it was then that Annabel contacted me. She asked me one question: Would you be able to portray Sachin? I said, Yes, surely I would.”

No meeting
How would two impossibly busy men meet? One, Zwerger, crafting his art on an easel, bringing to life the world’s most recognisable figures, the other, Sachin with masterstrokes of another kind on the cricket field — both of them, globetrotters. The result was that a meeting of these two men became impossible. Says Zwerger, “We planned to meet many times, when he was in England, I was in Mumbai, Sachin even planned to come to my home country but then I wasn’t there at that time.”


Distinctive: A Zwerger painting of Fifth Avenue

So, Zwerger began his work without meeting Sachin one year ago. “Since I was told to capture his soul, I was looking at pictures on the Internet too. I saw one particular photograph and I said to myself, this is the one that captures his soul.”

While Zwerger worked in Mumbai, Annabel, Sachin’s wife Anjali and Sachin’s daughter Sara, had gone over to his Bandra studio to see him working. “They were overwhelmed by what they saw,” said Zwerger.

About his meeting with Sachin on March 24 this year, when he presented this painting to the cricketer, Zwerger says, “I just thought he was such a great man. You know many people have dreams but to have that combination of hard work, talent and luck to realise them, that takes something, to dream is one thing, to make it is another.

He is truly worth it. Right now, Sachin is the only Indian who owns a Zwerger, though I have painted Indian celebrities like business barons and Bollywood stars. Those paintings are with me and they are for a book which I am compiling on India.”

Ask Zwerger what struck him most about Sachin and he signs off, “I just felt here is a guy who knows what he wants. He is very, very sure and then he goes ahead and does what he
wants.”

Zwerger is in Mumbai till April 20, after which, he will go back to Innsbruck, “where I have a lot of things waiting for me,” following which, he has an exhibition in Oxford, England.  

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