Who was artist Ganesh Pyne?

Ganesh Pyne Indian artist

Ganesh Pyne was an Indian painter, an artist from Kolkata, Bengal, best known for his dark imagery that deals with death and dark surrealism. Pyne developed his distinctive painting style through the use of multiple layers of translucent colour applied to the canvas and burnished to create light and shadow. 

‘True darkness gives one a feeling of insecurity bordering on fear but it also has its own charms, mystery, profundity, a fairyland atmosphere.’ 

Ganesh Pyne

Born in 1937, Pyne grew up in Kolkata. In 1946, and at 9 years of age, he was caught in the riots that took over the city and he took shelter in a city hospital. It’s here that Pyne saw bodies being brought through to the mortuary and in his words, “I was shaken by the sight. Since then, I have been obsessed with the dark world.”

In his earlier years, Pyne would listen to folk tales told by his grandmother. His work is very much a combination of the mysticism of the folk tales and the trauma he experienced as a nine-year-old. 

In the 1990s, Pyne said during an interview, “True darkness gives one a feeling of insecurity bordering on fear but it also has its own charms, mystery, profundity, a fairyland atmosphere.”

Working mostly in tempera, his paintings are rich in imagery and symbolism.

He says he doesn’t recall the first time he began to paint but does remember how upset his family were when he told them he intended to become an artist. However, he went on to join the Kolkata College of Arts and Crafts. Here his first painting ‘Winter’s Morning’ was made. 

Ganesh Pyne drawing
Ganesh Pyne

In 1963, Pyne went on to join the Society for Contemporary Artists, along with other artists like Bikash Bhattacharjee, Shyamal Datta Ray, Dharmanarayan Dasgupta and Ganesh Haloi.

Pyne entered a period of strong experimentation working now with water colours highly influenced by the turbulent times in Bengal, with works such as ‘Before the Chariot’ and ‘The Assassin’. It was also this period that leading contemporary artist, M.F. Hussain, was asked to rank the best painter in India. He told Illustrated Weekly of India his answer was 37-year-old Pyne, this was, when Francis Souza, Tyeb Mehta and Syed Raza were leading painters, and his nomination immediately brought him into the forefront of the Indian art scene.

In the ’80s Pyne began more of a reclusive period in his life. Not interested in the commercialism of art at the time, Pyne continued to shun both the limelight and art collectors alike and never held any major exhibition, He did though over his career show in group exhibitions in India, London, Paris, Germany and the US. 

Indian artist
Ganesh Pyne

Pyne eventually moved from watercolour to gouache and finally to tempera, for his subsequent abstract and surrealist work period, in ochre, black and blue shades. The art critic Ranjit Hoskote said of Pyne “a poet of melancholia”, who “explored elements of the subconscious; the mercenary, the demons and the angels were aspects of the self split from his waking reality”, and  Pritish Nandy said his paintings had “a meticulous narrative quality that is taken from the dark innards of his imagination.” 

Indian Art
Ganesh Pyne

The journalist and film-maker Pritish Nandy, remembered a slender man with notebooks full of drawings. “He radiated a mysterious quality.” 

“His paintings have a meticulous narrative quality and come from an extraordinary imagination. They are not evocative of life. They are taken from the dark innards of his imagination,” Nandy said. But Pyne, he added, was “exactly the opposite. Gentle and quiet.”

Prices at auction

According to Mutualart.comGanesh Pyne’s work has been offered at auction many times, with prices ranging from $770 to $441,873, depending on the size and medium of the artwork.

Selected Exhibitions

  • Indian International Triennial, New Delhi-1968 & 71
  • Paris Biennial, Paris-1970
  • International Festival of Art, Cagnes-sur-Mer-1975
  • ‘Modern Indian Painting’, Hirschhorn Museum, Washington DC-1982
  • Contemporary Indian Art’, Festival of India, Royal Academy of Arts, London-1982
  • ‘Chamatkar – Myth and Magic in Indian Art’, curated by CIMA Gallery, Whiteleys Art Gallery, London-1996

Ganesh Pyne in Studio

In 2011, Pyne was awarded the lifetime achievement award by the Indian Chamber of Commerce.

Pyne passed away in on March 12th 2013, he was 76.

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