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Rudolf von Leyden

  • The advertisement expert, Rudolf von Leyden, became a major art critic and art historian in Bombay in the 1940s, advocating an urgent need for modernism in art in post-colonial India.
  • Rudolf
  • von Leyden
  • Rudi von Leyden, Rudy von Leyden

  • 08-08-1909
  • Berlin (DE)
  • 25-03-1983
  • Vienna (AT)
  • GeologistAdvertisement SpecialistJournalistArt CriticArt CollectorCartoonist
  • The advertisement expert, Rudolf von Leyden, became a major art critic and art historian in Bombay in the 1940s, advocating an urgent need for modernism in art in post-colonial India.

    Word Count: 30

  • Rudolf and Nena von Leyden’s farewell party for Francis Newton. Showing all members of the Progressive Artists’ Group. Front from left: PAG = M.F. Husain, S.K. Bakre, H.A. Gade, K.H. Ara, F.N. Souza, S.H. Raza with writer Mulk Raj Anand (1st right front). Back: Käthe Langhammer (with lace collar dress), Rudolf von Leyden with his wife Nena (centre), Walter Langhammer (2nd right), Ebrahim Alkazi (theatre pioneer, 1st right back), Bombay 1949. (© Private Archive James von Leyden, Lewes; All Rights Reserved).
  • On the crossroad! is a private drawing by Rudolf, “Rudi”, “Rudy” von Leyden, which shows him in front of a signpost at a fork in the road (Flora Veit-Wild Archive n.d.). Art is on the left sign; geology is on the right sign. He chooses science. The cartoon was drawn in India and dates back to the first few months, perhaps the first year, when Rudolf von Leyden came to India for political reasons as a member of a German communist student group in May 1933. Observing the political developments in Germany - the forcible dismissal of his father from the ministry; the withdrawal of his parents from the Nazi-overcrowded capital of Berlin to the provincial Garmisch-Partenkirchen due to security considerations for his Jewish mother; and the abandonment of the family house in the noble district of Berlin-Dahlem - he realized that there could be no return to Germany anytime soon. His brother Albrecht, a business manager for Agfa since 1927 and with a good network all over India, tried to find a job for the recent PhD in geology, Dr Rudolf von Leyden, with some Indian mining companies.
    However, Rudolf von Leyden’s life story shows us that he didn’t go one way or the other; his life was a transdisciplinary approach to both art and science, even after he dropped geology. In today’s terms he would be referred to as a hybrid, a practitioner of ArtScience, “whose deep skills and passions bridge several disciplines and who practise at times as artists and at times as scientists“ (Sarukkai/Malina 2020).
    On the other hand, his artistic and scholarly skills opened up his commercial career. When initial efforts to follow his geological ambitions failed, he started pursuing his artistic inclinations. In 1934 Rudolf founded The Hand. Commercial Art Studio Rudolf von Leyden. In 1937, he found employment in the “Art & Layout Section” of the Advertisement Department of The Times of India, the biggest English newspaper in India. There, he later gained a managing position. In 1952, he joined Volkart Brothers, Switzerland’s leading retailer of colonial goods in India, as publicity manager and in 1957 became a general manager of Voltas, a collaboration between Volkart Brothers and Tata Sons, specialising in cooling technology. Working in advertisement, he carried out intensive market research for the respective businesses and products. He followed through with rigorous application of the results to achieve market success (see von Leyden, 1983). As a result, he soon took a leading role in the field of advertising in India, becoming President of the Indian Society of Advertisers.
    Rudolf von Leyden fused art with research and based his writings on art on intensive investigation, including his art reviews. But he also worked as a cartoonist, book illustrator, poetry writer, and actor, and organized performances; he used his drawings and photographs to illustrate his research results on ancient Indian sculptures or Indian playing cards.
    The ‘shifting landscape’ of independence-seeking India underwent dramatic changes in economic and political terms. By 15 August 1947, the process resulted in the modern independent nation-state of India. In post-colonial India under Jawaharlal Nehru, dam building became a symbol of modernization, mechanization and progress. In visual arts, the members of the Progressive Artists’ Group (PAG) became “some of the main architects of Indian modernism, who came to fruition in Nehruvian India” (Mitter 2007, 227).
    Socialist in mind, but successfully integrated in the economic life of Bombay and mixing with the social and business elite of Bombay, were Rudolf von Leyden and the Austrian art couple Käthe and Walter Langhammer. Together with the Viennese entrepreneur Emanuel Schlesinger, Albrecht “Lolly” von Leyden, Indian and Western ex-pat art connoisseurs, like the manufacturer of picture frames and later gallery owner Kekoo Gandhy, the scientist and art patron Homi Bhabha, the writer Mulk Raj Anand, the United States Information Service diplomat Wayne Hartwell and others, they formed an informal group in support of young avant-garde artists united by their vision for a modern Indian art movement. Particularly, they became supportive of members of the Progressive Artists’ Group (PAG) – a group of six young artists from different parts of India and from different social and religious backgrounds, who challenged the British dominated mainstream art perceptions of Bombay in the late 1940s. This informal group of associates were supportive for setting trends to promote international art exchange, art education, art presentation, art reflexion and art sales in Bombay. The late 1940s showed an “undeniable influence of the West and together with this renewed sensitivity to Indian tradition” in arts, “rebelliousness” was in the air; “a quest for new forms” (Dalmia 2003, 191) in the challenge to build a new, modern India.
    “Every Sunday Rudi von Leyden, his brother Lolly and local artists such as Hebbar, Ara, Gaitonde, Husain and Raza met at Walter Langhammer’s residence, where his wife, the hostess, served coffee and delicious cookies to all her guests. The conversation invariably focussed on art” (Mehrotra 2002, 27). Open house events in the form of dinner parties, farewell parties and social gatherings were common in British colonial circles. This too, Leyden adopted to perfection; first at the family residence at 17, Palli Hill in the outskirts of Bandra, later in his residences with his Hungarian-Austrian graphic artist wife Nena von Leyden (née Olga Mafalda Braun Belatini, 1910–1964) at Jaiji Mansion, Belmont and Seabelle, both just one kilometre from the Langhammers.
    As a public relations management employee of The Times of India, Rudolf von Leyden joined hands with The Times of India art director Walter Langhammer to open these newspapers for the young artists: with letters in form of favourable art critiques mainly by Leyden, with photos depicting the paintings of the Indian artists like a virtual show-case. After Rudi began drawing socio-political cartoons in the The Times of India publications by the mid 1930s (to see some, see Arbuthnot), he also began writing art reviews by the end of the 1930s.
    “Rudy Von Leyden was perhaps the first ever art critic in Mumbai who was able to influence opinion in favour of modern art with his regular writings in Mumbai newspapers and journals” (Parimoo 1998, 63) – Professor Ratan Parimoo. On a provisional basis, Rudolf von Leyden focussed on modern and contemporary Indian art, trying to support the avant-garde movement of the PAGs, but wrote also about ancient Indian sculptures, photography and Ganjifa playing cards. He had started collecting the latter meticulously in the late 1930s to become the first international academic expert globally in the 1970s. “Not only will he be remembered for his forthright and insightful criticism but also for ably steering the course of Indian art towards a modernist direction. He imparted an erudition and perspective to his writings, which set parameters for reviewing and assessing art” (Dalmia 2001, 231) – renowned art-historian Yashodhara Dalmia. For Ranjit Hoskote, Leyden used formats of Western modern art criticism to make Indian artists aware of what was internationally intelligible, exposing their reflections to a global art movement (see Hoskote 2018).
    In addition to his prominent role as an art critic – visualized by Walter Langhammer with his painting The Critic (Tata Institute of Fundamental Research under links; see also Bakre’s bust of Leyden and their relationship viewed via art-critiques) – and art historian, he wrote books and essays on Indian art and came to the aid of the young Indian painter Akbar Padamsee as an expert when the painter was on trial for the obscenity of his pictures. Rudolf von Leyden showed great interest in “the conditions under which art was made” (Dhage 2012). He studied art-promoting and art-supporting infrastructures in Europe and India. After traveling to Europe in 1947, he gave a lecture in the salon of the Bombay Art Society on the revival of art in post-war Europe, which sparked great discussions in Bombay. His institution building initiatives include founding membership with the “Cine Society” (1934), “Child Art Society” (1941), the “Artists’ Support Fund” (1948) and the Marg magazine (1946) as contributing editor. He lobbied for the Jehangir Art Gallery, was on the expert committee to set up the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi (1955), and was a member of the Advisory Committee to Homi Bhabha for the art collection at TIFR as well as of the international Jury for the First Triennale of Contemporary Art by the Lalit Kala Akademi in New Delhi in 1968. Immediately after being granted British citizenship, Rudolf von Leyden joined the Bombay Art Society in 1940 where he served as a very active member in various committees for many years.
    With his critical eye and his vision for Indian modern art, combined with systematic research and a broad knowledge of Indian and Western art, he advocated modernism in Indian art and promoted continuous international understanding and exchange in order to bring Indian art to the global level.

    The author is working on a book project of a critical biography of Rudolf von Leyden.

    Word Count: 1463

  • Letterhead of The Hand. Commercial Art Studio Rudolf von Leyden, 1934 (© Private Archive James von Leyden, Lewes; All Rights Reserved).
    Advertisement for Agfa by Rudolf von Leyden (© Private Archive James von Leyden, Lewes; All Rights Reserved).
    Bombay Art Society Committees 1952/53, reprinted in Bombay Art Society 62th Annual Exhibition 1952–53 (at Jehangir Art Gallery), Bombay 1952, n.p. (Photo: Margit Franz 2021).
    Two modernists meet: Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru (left) and Rudolf von Leyden (right), 1950s. (© Private Archive James von Leyden, Lewes; All Rights Reserved).
    The article by Rudolf and Nena von Leyden “Ganjifa, the Playing Cards of India” (Marg, vol. 3, no. 4, 1949, p. 36; reproduced with the permission of The Marg Foundation, Mumbai, India).
    Indian President Zakir Husain (left), President of India, opened the first Triennial for contemporary art on 10 February 1968 in the Lalit Kala Gallery in New Delhi. In the picture on the left with jury member Rudolf von Leyden (right). (© Private Archive James von Leyden, Lewes; All Rights Reserved).
  • Anonymous. “Rudiʼs got mail.” The Times of India, 7 September 2009, p. 4.

    Arbuthnot, Mollie. “Bombay Satire: Rudolf von Leydenʼs Political Cartoons in India in the 1930s and 40s.” 12 December 2018, British Library, Asian and African Studies Blog, Accessed 20 April 2021.

    Dalmia, Yashodhara. The Making of Modern Indian Art: The Progressives. Oxford University Press, 2001.

    Dalmia, Yashodhara. “From Jamshetjee Jeejeebhoy to the Progressive Painters.” Bombay. Mosaic of Modern Culture (3rd ed.), edited by Sujata Patel and Alice Thorner, Oxford University Press, 2003, pp. 182–193.

    Dhage, Vrushali. “P. A. G. and the Role of the Critics.” art etc. news & views, February 2012, Accessed 18 April 2021.

    Franz, Margit. “Transnationale & transkulturelle Ansätze in der Exilforschung am Beispiel der Erforschung einer kunstpolitischen Biographie von Walter Langhammer.” Mapping Contemporary History. Zeitgeschichten im Diskurs, edited by Margit Franz et al., Böhlau, 2008, pp. 243–272. Academia, Accessed 14 March 2021.

    Franz, Margit. “Exile meets Avantgarde: ExilantInnen-Kunstnetzwerke in Bombay.” Going East – Going South. Österreichisches Exil in Asien und Afrika, edited by Margit Franz and Heimo Halbrainer, CLIO, 2014, pp. 403–431. Academia, Accessed 16 June 2021.

    Franz, Margit. Gateway India: Deutschsprachiges Exil in Indien zwischen britischer Kolonialherrschaft, Maharadschas und Gandhi. CLIO, 2015.

    Franz, Margit. “From Dinner Parties to Galleries: The Langhammer-Leyden-Schlesinger Circle in Bombay – 1940s through the 1950s.” Arrival Cities. Migrating Artists and New Metropolitan Topographies in the 20th Century, edited by Burcu Dogramaci et al., Leuven University Press, 2020, pp. 73–90. Project Muse, doi: 10.1353/book.77990. Accessed 30 March 2021.

    Hoskote, Ranjit. “Interview with the Author.” unpublished interview, Mumbai, 17 November 2018).

    Leyden, Albrecht von. Abschied von Rudi. Friedhof Partenkirchen am 13. Mai 1983. (unpublished speech, Flora Veit-Wild Archive, Berlin, 13 May 1983).

    Leyden, Rudolf von, and Nena von Leyden. “Ganjifa, the Playing Cards of India.” Marg, vol. 3, no. 4, 1949, pp. 36­–56.

    Mehrotra, Rahul, and Sharada Dwivedi. The Jehangir Art Gallery. Established 21st January, 1952. Jehangir Art Gallery, 2002.

    Mitter, Partha. The Triumph of Modernism: India’s Artists and the Avant-garde 1922–1947. Reaktion Books, 2007.

    Parimoo, Ratan. “Publications, Magazines, Journals, Polemics: Supportive Critical
    Writing from Charles Fabri to Geeta Kapur.” Fifty Years of Indian Art: Institutions, Issues,
    Concepts, and Conversations. Conference Proceedings 1997, edited by Bina Sarkar
    Ellias, Mohile Parikh Centre for the Visual Arts, 1998, pp. 54–75.

    Sarukkai, Sundar, and Roger Malina. “The Humanities’ Touch: Why ArtScience Matters.” 24 November 2020, The Marg Foundation Blog, Accessed 23 April 2021.

    Singh, Devika. “German-speaking Exiles and the Writing of Indian Art History.” Journal of Art Historiography, no. 17, December 2017. DOAJ, Accessed 24 April 2021.

    Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. “K.H. Ara and the TIFR Art Collection: One fragment of the story of the Institute’s Art Collection with a focus on one of the founder members of the Progressive Artists’ Group – Krishnaji Howlaji Ara.” Google Arts & Culture, Accessed 15 April 2021.

    Word Count: 494

  • Private Archive Margit Franz, Sinabelkirchen.
    Private Archive James von Leyden, Lewes.
    Rudolf von Leyden, On the crossroad!, drawing, n.d., Flora Veit-Wild Archive, Berlin.
    Albrecht von Leyden. Abschied von Rudi. Friedhof Partenkirchen am 13. Mai 1983 (unpublished speech, 13 May 1983), Flora Veit-Wild Archive, Berlin.
    Bombay Art Society exhibition catalogues from 1938 till 1960.

    Word Count: 48

  • Margit Franz
  • Bombay (1933–1960?)

  • Jaiji Mansion, Merewether Road, Colaba, Bombay (now Mumbai)(residence, 1946); Belmont, Nepean Sea Road, Bombay 6 (now 37 D Nepeansea Rd., Dubash Lane, Mumbai) (residence, 1949); Sea Belle, Nepean Sea Road, Bombay 6 (Now Sea Belle Building, Nepeansea Rd, near Pedit Hall, Navshanti Nagar, Malabar Hill, Mumbai) (residence, 1960); Ali Building, 72 Old Customs House Road, Bombay (now 72, Old Custom House Rd, Kala Ghoda, Fort, Mumbai ) (workplace, 1934–1937); Times of India Building, Dhobi Talao, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Area, Fort, Mumbai (workplace, 1937–1952).

  • Bombay
  • Margit Franz. "Rudolf von Leyden." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 14-09-2021.
  • Mulk Raj Anand
    WriterPhilosopherArt PatronCultural Critic

    As a global socialist and modernist, Mulk Raj Anand sought and shaped opportunities for intellectual exchanges between Asia and Europe.

    Word Count: 20

    Kekoo Minochair Gandhy
    Frame Shop OwnerGalleristArt Collector

    Starting from a cosmopolitan milieu for young local artists, Kekoo and his wife Khorshed Gandhy developed a business model that turned the frame shop into Gallery Chemould.

    Word Count: 27

    Magda Nachman Acharya
    ArtistTheatre DesignerIllustratorTeacher

    The political turmoil of the twentieth century took Magda Nachman from St. Petersburg to Moscow to the Russian countryside, then to Berlin during the 1920s and 1930s and, finally, to Bombay.

    Word Count: 31

    Homi Jehangir Bhabha

    Homi Jehangir Bhabha was a world class scientist, institution builder, an artist and art connoisseur. His vision for growth of science and art has had significant impact in post-colonial India.

    Word Count: 30

    Minnette De Silva

    Probably the first Sri Lankan woman architect and a founding member of Marg, Minnette De Silva mediated between tradition and modernity while defying the boundaries of gender, caste and disciplines.

    Word Count: 30

    Marg. A Magazine of Architecture and Art

    Local and exiled creatives formed the Modern Architectural Research Group to publish a progressive journal of art and architecture in Bombay from 1946 onwards.

    Word Count: 23

    Iconic Photo of the Progressive Artists’ Group and Their Associates

    There are two versions of the PAG photo at the opening of M.F. Husain's first solo exhibition in 1950 (published in 1996 and 2003) and two narratives about the opening.

    Word Count: 28

    Schimmel’s Wedding Film 1948

    The film shows Schimmel’s Jewish wedding ceremony at the prestigious Glamis Villa, followed by lunch at the Taj Mahal Hotel. Among the guests were Käthe and Walter Langhammer.

    Word Count: 30

    Picture of Rudi von Leyden’ s Bust by Sadanand K. Bakre

    The picture of the previously lost and recently located sculpture by Sadanand K. Bakre reflects the relationship between the artist Bakre and the art critic Rudi von Leyden.

    Word Count: 28

    The Leydens: Sculpture, Paintings, Cartoons

    In 1948 Albrecht and Rudi von Leyden sold their personal works of art in order to set up an “Artists' Aid Fund”, which became an institution in the following years.

    Word Count: 29

    One Man exhibition and subsequent trial, Akbar Padamsee
    Court Case

    Akbar Padamsee’s solo exhibition in Bombay in 1954 was overshadowed by his arrest on charge of displaying obscene pictures. The subsequent court case drew support from across the art world.

    Word Count: 30

    The Feldberg Art Collection. A Series of Three Exhibitions of European Artworks collected by the Feldberg Family

    In 1950 the Institute of Foreign Languages organised three exhibitions of paintings from the collection of the exiled Jewish manufacturer Siegbert Feldberg and his wife Hildegard from Stettin.

    Word Count: 27

    University / Higher Education Institute / Research Institute

    The TIFR is one of India’s premier scientific institutions. Inside its buildings, scientists ponder over path-breaking ideas. Also, within its hallowed walls is a fine collection of modern Indian art.

    Word Count: 31

    Institute of Foreign Languages
    Language SchoolExhibition SpaceLibraryTheatre

    With its wide range of cultural activities, the Institute of Foreign Languages − founded in 1946 by the Viennese emigrant Charles Petras − became a glocal contact zone in Bombay.

    Word Count: 27

    Bombay Art Society

    One of the oldest art societies in India founded by colonial rulers, Bombay Art Society showcased art students and professional artists from all over India, including the Progressive Artists of Bombay.

    Word Count: 31

    Air India

    Air India was one of the largest art collectors in Bombay. Indian art was used as branding for Air India in international competition right from the start.

    Word Count: 27

    Jehangir Art Gallery
    Art GalleryAuditorium HallLibrary

    Efforts to create spaces for the democratic presentation, discussion and reflection of art in Bombay after independence led to the establishment of the Jehangir Art Gallery in 1952.

    Word Count: 27

    Emanuel Schlesinger
    Factory OwnerTechnical DirectorArt CollectorArt Critic

    The art collector Schlesinger provided primarily financial aid by creating working opportunities for young artists in post-independence Bombay, and initiated the corporate culture of buying art.

    Word Count: 26

    Open Studio Evenings by Käthe and Walter Langhammer

    The painter Walter Langhammer and his wife Käthe built an informal infrastructure to promote local avant-garde artists and regularly invited them to Open Studio Evenings at their studio.

    Word Count: 29