111 shades of Pralhad Dhond
A retrospective celebrating 111 years of the watercolour maestro traces his journey from Ratnagiri to Bandra through an equal number of artworks
On December 21, 2000, a 92-year-old Pralhad Anant Dhond, ailing from cancer, thought death was imminent. So, he summoned his son and told him to buy three imperial-sized sheets of paper. "I want to draw something till it's physically possible," he said. Dhond lived through that day and three new watercolour paintings emerged out of his Kalanagar studio. Those were the last of his work. He passed away on April 21, 2001.
Those three works, along with 108 others are currently on display at the Jehangir Art Gallery Auditorium to commemorate his 111th birth anniversary. "He worked on those three paintings by using his left hand to support the right," grandson Kedar Kamat, 48, says, standing in front of Dhaval Resha, a pleasant washed out seascape that features Dhond's signature white line.
Kedar and Alhad Kamat. Pics/Atul Kamble
In his lifetime, Dhond took up two notable tasks. In 1958, he became the dean of Sir JJ School of Art (SJSoA), and in the following decade, became the Director of Art, Maharashtra State. Although Kamat doesn't belong to the art fraternity unlike his father Kisan Kamat — the dean of Sir JJ School of Applied Art — he is at the helm of this exhibition with his son Alhad helping him at the gallery. The event was inaugurated by Raj Thackeray earlier this week.
"We met Thackeray last year, who we know well as neighbours, and when we told him that we plan to do an exhibition, he gave us full support. Then we met Achyut Palav, and Karthiayani Menon, the secretary of this gallery, who gave us the dates three months ago," Kamat says.
Jawarharlal Nehru with Dhond at an exhibition at Sir JJ School of Art in the '60s
The displayed works showcase Dhond's journey from Ratnagiri, where he was born, to Malvan, where he was raised, as well as the work he did at his Kalanagar residence in Bandra, where he settled after studying at SJSoA. "He used to tell us that he was so bad at maths, that he took up art. At JJ, he was William Ewart Gladstone Solomon's favourite student," Kamat shares, recalling a watershed moment in Dhond's life. "He went to Elephanta Caves for a study tour and sat down to draw something that was very realistic.
Solomon then asked him, "Do you want to be an illustrator or a painter? If you want to be the former, then you might as well let the camera do the talking. What is your contribution, otherwise?'"
A sketch of Dhond by Raj Thackeray
The change in Dhond's approach is evident in the display, that moves from realism (painting specific structures) to painterliness (his landscape art).
"In the 1960s, there was a boat from Tasmania that came to South Bombay. And there were two artists who drew the countryside of Europe and exhibited their works on the boat. After viewing it, Dhond introspected and moved to landscapes," Kamat says. The catalogues and the artist's autobiography available at the venue have pictures of Dhond with personalities like Jawarharlal Nehru, Morarji Desai and Cowasjee Jehangir. It is reminiscent of an era where a seascape would convey the same amount of serenity that a slo-mo video of the waves do now.
Dhawal Resha was one of Dhond's last works. His signature white line (created by leaving the paper blank) depicts an incoming wave
The Kamats hope to take the exhibition to more locations in the future. For the 17-year-old Alhad, the event is a trip down memory lane and he has invited all his friends. "It feels very nostalgic because I've grown up seeing these paintings at home and being fascinated. I'm not much of an artist but I want people to know what my great-grandfather was as an artist."
Till June 17, 11 am to 7 pm
At Jehangir Art Gallery, Kala Ghoda, Fort.
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