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The many shades of nature

Naguesh Rao Sardessai

“Nature provides an artist with magnificent expanses. Once you learn to appreciate it, paintings start flowing,” thus said India’s celebrated watercolour artist, Pralhad Anant Dhond, who painted over seven thousand landscapes with the ease of flowing water.

Indeed, hailing from the pristine Konkani region of Ratnagiri in Maharashtra, Dhond was greatly inspired by the natural beauty all around him which found expression in his artworks.

Born on November 11, 1908, Dhond completed his primary and secondary education in Malvan before moving to Mumbai. He received a Diploma in Drawing and Painting from Sir JJ School of Art, Mumbai in 1934 before completing his training in Art Teacher Study Course a year later. Dhond did his art masters in 1937 and stood first in order of merit before having a short stint as a teacher of art at Shri Shivaji Preparatory Military School in Pune. A year later, he was selected to head the Teacher’s Training Department of Sir J J School of Art, then the premier and only art teachers’ training centre in the country. Spanning two decades of service in the department, Dhond introduced psychology as an important subject along with teaching methods like modern American art techniques with a view to upgrade the standard of art trainees passing out of the institute. In the interim period, he received training in arts and crafts from the famed Viswa Bharati’s Shantiniketan.

Always in the mode to introduce innovative methods and infuse freshness in teaching-learning methodology in the college, Dhond, on assuming the position of dean of Sir JJ School of Art in 1958, effected alterations in the syllabus. He broke the stereotype and correlated visual art with performing art; thereby promoting holistic approach. He took this a step forward by organising musical sessions beginning with performance of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. A decade at the helm of this prestigious art school Dhond exhibited his visionary approach. Recognising his calibre, he was appointed the director of art, Maharashtra State before retiring in 1969.

Russel Flint’s watercolour paintings inspired Dhond to take to water colours and seascapes seriously but it was the nature endowed Ratnagiri, his birthplace, which ignited his passion and enlivened his artistic sensibility early on in his career.

Seeing the potential in Dhond, German-born cartoonist and art critic of the thirties, Rudi Von Leyden, advised Dhond to remain committed to watercolours and master the medium. Which he did, and his works are a testimony to that.

His paintings brought out vivid facets of nature to life and captured them for posterity. ‘Watercolours bring out various moods of nature in a fascinating, transparent way,” said Dhond confirming his deep love for nature.

In context of seven decades of committed practice of watercolours Dhond stated: ‘It takes me five minutes and 70 years to complete a painting. I have mastered the medium only after devoting my entire life to it.’ Truly so, Dhond could paint landscapes at few flicks of a brush loaded with pigment even in his nineties.

He remained committed to fundamentals of art and, as a teacher, expected students to experiment without compromising on the basics. Dhond’s commitment to fundamentals can be seen in the way he skilfully exposes the white of the paper, wherever necessary, whilst working on landscapes without using masking elements. ‘Dhaval Resha’ (Silver Lining), the title of the show which will be on exhibition in Goa on November 11, organised by Dhawal Resha Rang Sangaati, Institute Menezes Braganza, Goa Marathi Academy and Goa College of Art, is inspired by Dhond’s mastery over this special facet in art.

Dhond, during his lifetime, had his works displayed in San Francisco, Berlin, Munich, South Africa, Russia, Kabul, Ankara and China whereas, in India, he exhibited at All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society, Delhi; Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai; Lalit Kala Akademi, Delhi; Vidhan Bhavan, Mumbai; Nagpur Central Museum, Nagpur; Baroda Museum, Vadodara.

He participated in several educational seminars including one by Lalit Kala Academi and received accolades, awards, medals and certificate of merit from institutes like Bombay Art Society etc.

He had several successful solo shows as well, at Santiniketan, Jehangir Art Gallery, Artists Centre and Goa Kala Academy. His last solo show was organised at the Art Resource Trust, Mumbai.

He produced a set of paintings during his tour to Kerala, especially on the enchanting backwaters, which he aspired to show to the public, however, fate had different plans. He passed away soon after leaving behind a rich artistic legacy.

Dhond can be best understood through his autobiography titled ‘Raapan’ which received Maharashtra State Award.

(Dhaval Resha – Silver Lining: A Retrospective’ will be inaugurated by noted painter Padma Bhushan, Laxman Pai on November 11, 2019. The paintings will be on view till November 14 at the Institute Menezes Braganza Main Hall.)

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