DURING the greater part of the year 1923 the School of Art was very much alive. The Workshops rang with the noise of the Craftsmen’s mallets and glowed in the light from its furnaces. The Painters and Modellers were also at work even on holidays, for the Indian Room for the British Empire Exhibition was in the making and every earnest student was contributing his utmost towards the work. One space of respite there was from the strain of efforts long-continued. This occurred when the Excursion Party went on its annual sketching jaunt to Bijapur.
The Indian Room was finished by the end of November, and opened to the Public on December 1st by the retiring Governor. Seated with Lady Lloyd on a dais draped with Indian Saris, Sir George Lloyd was on this last occasion the recipient of a farewell address from the Staff and Students of the School which he had aided so well. Some extracts from this message of gratitude though not here delivered in the resonant tones of the white robed Head Master, Mr. M. V. Dhurandur (who has been connected one way or another with the School for 30 years) will, better than a detailed description, convey an idea at least of the extent by which the School of Art has been benefited in very recent times:—
We, the students and staff, heartily and respectfully welcome Your Excellency and Her Excellency to the Sir J. J, School of Art to-day. The Inspection today of the work of the students for the British Empire Exhibition constitutes the 5th official visit paid to the School of Art, by Your Excellency, a record of which we cannot but feel very proud. Since the occasion of Your Excellency’s first visit, there have been many improvements in the School of Art. In the painting school, the Life Class and the Class of Indian Mural Painting were established under your Excellency’s personal patronage. The latter class assisted by eight scholarships has proved a notable success and during the four years of its existence, it has produced works of public importance among which we may specially menttion the Mural Panels which Your Excellency commissioned for Government House, Bombay, the work for the Red Cross Fȇte, the decorations on the occasion of the visit of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, the Mural Panels in the School of Art, and the painted ceiling, frieze and panels for the British Empire Exhibition.”
After mentioning the addition of two Visiting Professors to the Modelling Class, and of a Drawing Teacher to the Reay Art Workshops, describing the inauguration of a 5th year class in the curriculum of the Architectural School, and the considerable development of the Potteries, the address continued:—
“We have derived an invaluable impetus for work from our visits to the Ajanta caves and Bijapur, on both of which occasions we were speeded by Your Excellency’s personal aid. Your Excellency has also presented a gold and silver medal for Mural Painting, and among innumerable other kindnesses has paid frequent semi-official visits to the School to inspect and encourage the classes at their work; For all the material and moral benefits which have been secured to the School under Your Excellency’s sympathetic and art-loving administration, we express to Your Excellency our deepest and most respectful gratitude. We recognise that the special interest which Your Excellency has taken in our welfare has laid upon us the obligation of meriting it.”
Sir George Lloyd’s speech of farewell is worthy of the closest study on the part of everyone who has at heart the welfare and would grasp the unique problems confronting Indian Art. He said:—
“I have welcomed this opportunity of paying a personal farewell to the staff and students of the School of Art, because I feel that I have acquired in many ways a more intimate acquaintance with their work and their difficulties than has been possible in the case of other educational institutions.
This may have been due to a great extent to the circumstance that the School of Art is more easily accessible than other schools, but I cannot help thinking that it was because you particularly were fighting a disinterested battle for a national and noble ideal, and because I felt that in that battle you deserved all the sympathy and support that could be given to you. I think I may claim also, with all respect to the many artists present, that I have some especial sympathy with the artistic temperament. I know the high courage which it displays; I know, for instance something of the hardships which the winner of the silver medal, Mr. Joshi, has undergone in his devotion to art. And I know also how impatient it is of the restraint and the formulae imposed by what is commonly known as Government red tape.
No one can fail to admire the former, and I myself, after my experience of the last five years, must confess to the fullest sympathy with the latter.
I have been strongly convinced, therefore, that the School of Art, in spite of, or perhaps especially because of it’s being a Government Institution, needs very careful treatment, and especial consideration, if it’s work is to be good; and I have always endeavoured to give it that especial consideration. As long as it remains a Government institution, it is impossible to free it entirely from the shackles of departmental control, but much can be done by care and attention to lighten the weight of these shackles and make them as little irksome as possible.
And this I consider to be especially necessary in the case of the School of Art of Bombay, because ever since its inauguration the Principals who have been selected, have been working Artists. To my mind this is a most salutary tradition for the School, and it is my earnest hope that future Governments will never depart from it. For I venture to affirm that the practice has been largely responsible for the life that has been breathed into the dead bones of Indian Art, so that it is now reviving to exercise and to transmit the inspiration of the great Indian artists of old.
It is possible of course—I speak here subject to correction by your Principal—that the working artist may find his position as a cog in the machinery of Government too cramping and irksome. But I believe, as I have said before, that a liberal and understanding attitude of mind in the authorities will counter-balance that difficulty. And I welcome the occasion offered me to-day of expressing my most earnest hope and wish that the policy which has been followed of late towards the School may be continued after my departure; so that the real success that has been already achieved in the attempt to revive the National Art of India may increase steadily and rapidly, and not be throttled at birth by the application of a rigid machine-made treatment, or by the imposition of any such artificial devices as Advisory Boards or the like.
If the work of the School can be saved from that dreadful fate, then there will be only one thing lacking for the artists trained here, and that is the opportunity for work. Last year at your annual prize gathering I appealed most urgently to the Indian Public to provide that opportunity for the sake of their own national art, and I expressed my strong opinion that in the decoration of New Delhi lay the immediate opportunity, which should not, indeed could not justly, be denied to the students of the oldest Art School in India. That opinion of mine has remained unchanged, and to day it is infinitely strengthened by my inspection of the admirable work that has been prepared for the British Empire Exhibition”
* * * *
The withdrawal from the arena of a brilliant and magnetic personality must always leave the workers chilled and dashed in spirit. But even the depressive dun clouds of parting are often shot with argent auguries for the young! The departure of their loved and trusted Leader was another and a severe test for the School of Art. But omens of hope were already flashing from the horizon. The new Governor of Bombay, Sir Leslie Wilson, and his Lady visited the School of Art but a few weeks after their arrival, and His Excellency expressed his deep interest in the work of the students. The Honourable Mr. Phiroze Sethna is (perhaps even as these pages are written) gallantly voicing in the Council of State the last demand of the retiring Governor for “a place in the Sun” for Indian Artists at New Delhi.
The collection—the first England has seen of Modern Indian Art for the British Empire Exhibition—is now on its way to Wembley Park, and everywhere one feels the vibrations of that Imminent Indian Spirit of Achievement, like the strugglings of the enormous Roc-infant, about to burst its shell.
The Indian is an Idealist. But he has learned to translate thoughts into actions. The pitfalls that beset the Idealist are usually those that have been left unguarded through his own neglect of practical matters, and one of the most treacherous of these pitfalls is that indolence which so often renders his progress abortive. Whether this indolence proceed from the soft-woven spells (more binding and overpowering than chains) of the fascinating Goddess “Thought,” or whether it be due to that lack of energy in the field of real activity which we associate with the Mystic and the Dreamer we cannot ignore the clogging influence which it has exercised over some of the greatest minds of the world, rendering resultless some of the loftiest visions of Freedom ever glimpsed by Man. This we feel assured is not to be the fate of India’s artists.
For the Bombay Art Revival to-day is a Great Sign; a visible Portent; an Oriflamme to awaken India from her apathy, as in ancient times the Fiery Cross carried throughout the country aroused the denizens of the Western glens and mountains to prepare for war. It is a beacon as bright, metaphorically, as that which, lighted on the English Cliffs, was copied and reduplicated by answering bonfires on every peak and promintory, until thousands of blazing pyres spread the news even to the far Scottish Border of the oncoming of the attacking Fleets of Spain. To-day we see signals of such another and just as National an awakening—the awakening of a vast country to a sense of the value of its inherent birthright. One by one all over India to-day the sparks of her reviving art are struggling into brilliance. Everywhere Individuals as well as Institutions are becoming swiftly conscious of a new sense of power, and are striving to give that power the expression which it must have.
One by one the Solitaries have kindled their far-off beacons, and are gazing anxiously towards the Eternal Promintories for that answering light that shall flash to them the Message “All’s Well”; that shall speed Hope with her radiant smile to the City’s inmost dwellers, sick of the soulless struggle, as to the lonely pioneer in the remotest village resisting, though appalled, the Phantoms that invade the soul of the isolated Artist. For not all the terrific truth which inspired the utterances of that Hebrew prophet, when miraculously liberated from the belly of the whale, he came into the Market place of Nineveh crying his unheeded message in the ears of its foolish populace could have been greater than the conviction which animates the Indian Artist of to-day the certainty that he has a story to tell the World of which not he, but a Greater than he is the Author.
The importance to India of her National Arts and Crafts cannot be overstated. It is they that in default of a common language shall interpret to the World at large the multiform aspirations of the thousand-tongued peoples of this great Peninsular. To neglect her Arts and Crafts is suicidal for India, and their encouragement must be first and foremost in any scheme for educational improvement, or for National Realisation. For India’s Art is the Beautifier—the—Healer and who shall limit its power?