Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

A conversation with Kekoo Gandhi

We explore the avant-garde Progressive Art Group as veteran art collector Kekoo Gandhy unearths its history

Many art veterans believe that the formation of the ‘Progressive Art Group’ is one of the most significant moments in the history of Indian art. The group boasts of people including MF Husain, SH Raza, KH Ara, FN Souza and other masters. The group, when it came into existence, grabbed eyeballs in the art circuits all over the globe. It’s interesting to trace back the birth of this group influenced by an Austrain artist Walter Langhammer.

Art veteran Kekoo Gandhy narrates the story: “Walter Langhammer from Austria came to India during the World War II. He was a contemporary of the famous painter Oskar Kokoschka, who was professor of the Academy in Vienna in the 1930s. A Parsi girl named Silloo Vakil from Mumbai who was Langhammer’s student would invite him over to India and he would dismiss her invitation by saying “Ja, ja.”

According to Kekoo when Hitler invaded Austria, Walter was forced to leave Austria and he wrote to Vakil, expressing his desire to come to India and he took up a job as the art director of a leading publication in 1936.

Kekoo who used to make frames was Langhammer’s favourite who would often get his pictures framed from Kekoo who cannot forget the affection the foreigner developed for the city. “He completely fell in love with colourful Indian art work, especially that of KH Ara and MF Husain.”

Langhammer saw a future in the modern art movement in the country and wanted to tap it’s full blown potential. It was a trend he observed had caught up all over Europe. So people like Ara, Raza, Husain, Souza and Raiba, the great names of the Indian Progressive Art Movement, became his students. Says Kekoo, “Every Sunday, it was open house at his studio on Nepean Sea Road.”

There would be sessions at Langhammer’s house on what exactly makes a good painting. He would share his experiences of Europe and tell them about events in the art world, seen at first hand. They found a windfall in this readymade teacher. And he had so much love and affection for them. Kekoo concludes, “There is no doubt that Langhammer’s teachings influenced the formation of Progressive Art,” signs off Kekoo.

Original article here