Start Over

Magda Nachman Acharya

  • 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.
  • Magda
  • Nachman Acharya
  • Magda Nachman

  • 20-07-1889
  • Saint Petersburg (RU)
  • 12-02-1951
  • Mumbai (IN)
  • 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

  • Photo of Magda Nachman Acharya in front of her house on Malabar Hill, n.d., detail (Courtesy of Sophie Seifalian, All Rights Reserved).
  • The political turmoil of the twentieth century took Magda Nachman (1889–1951) from St. Petersburg to Moscow to the Russian countryside, then to Berlin during the 1920s and 1930s and, finally, to Bombay.

    After a privileged childhood in the capital of the Russian Empire, artistic studies with Léon Bakst and Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin at St. Petersburg’s Zvantseva Art Academy, and participation in the dynamic modernist art world of prerevolutionary Russia, Magda Nachman was forced to lead a peripatetic life in the provinces during the Russian Civil War. In 1921, she married the prominent Indian nationalist M. P. T. Acharya, moved to Berlin with him, and suffered the hardships of émigré life there before moving with her husband to Bombay. In the 1930s, while modernism in Europe fell victim to the forces of Nazism and Soviet Communism, art in India, and in particular in Bombay, was attracting the fervour of new discovery, in which European emigrants played a significant role. Magda Nachman was among those who introduced new ideas on art, encouraged artistic experiments, and supported young Indian artists. She also became recognized as an important and successful painter.
    Soon after arriving in Bombay in 1936, Magda became a member of the Bombay Art Society (BAS) and began exhibiting. Her pictures appear in all BAS catalogues starting with the 1937 edition. One catalogue sketch is of a street scene in Malabar Hill, where Magda and Acharya settled in 1937 and remained for the rest of their lives.

    Magda Nachman also exhibited at the Institute of Foreign Languages, in Chetana, and at other venues in Bombay and Pune. The Baroda Art Museum owns four of her works. She became a close friend and colleague of Hilde Holger, painting sketches of Hilde and her young daughter Primavera, and creating costume designs for Holger’s School of Art for Modern Movement. The whereabouts of most of Magda’s paintings are unknown. Many works from her Indian period are known only as illustrations in exhibition catalogues or books. The originals of some commissioned portraits have, however, been located. Several paintings from this period reside in private collections in America, Great Britain, and Israel.
    Magda’s interest in street life and in the poor, simple people who surrounded her manifested itself from her first days in Bombay and would be noted by critics as a characteristic feature of her work. Reviewers called her a “connoisseur of the Indian soul,” an artist who had seen and expressed the human dignity of the destitute and the neglected.

    Magda Nachman was a versatile artist. She painted group portraits, rural and urban landscapes, and still lifes, and made sketches of dancers. She worked in oil, watercolour, pastels, coloured pencil, and charcoal.

    Magda Nachman-Acharya died on February 12, 1951, in Bombay, a few hours before the opening of a solo exhibition of her work. The following day, Rudolf von Leyden wrote in The Times of India:
    The great little lady of the Bombay art world is no more. As an artist she died in harness. All those who take one of her pictures home from this exhibition will take with them a small part of this friendly, generous, and tragic figure that was Magda Nachman. One of Europe’s countless persecuted, she instinctively understood those who stand by the road-side when life passes by and she painted them not so much with pity but with a feeling for the tragic condition and dignity of the simple and the poor. […]
    The younger generation of artists in Bombay had in her a faithful friend and understanding critic […] They will remember her for her gentleness and for the strength with which she lived through a life that was all but kind to her. And these two qualities, gentleness and strength, speak to us from every painting in this exhibition, which is a fitting memorial to her life’s work.

    Magda Nachman’s story is that of a woman forced to flee from revolution, civil war, and Nazism while remaining an artist in spite of everything. She was not a striver after fame or greatness. Her natural inclinations were in the direction of modesty and sensitivity. She was a quiet woman, who did not push herself forward. What she strove for was to create an art that animated the spirits of her subjects, and throughout all the years of tribulation and life on the run, she continued to paint. Despite her success and recognition as a Bombay artist, appreciation of her work faded after her death. Today, alas, when the world is ready to look back and reevaluate her work, it appears that her prolific output has not only been scattered all over the world, but in large measure lost and, in many cases, destroyed.

    Word Count: 783

  • Magda Nachman Acharya, City landscape, around 1937, exh. cat. The Bombay Art Society, Bombay, 1937, p. 13 (Photo: Lina Bernstein 2014).
    Magda Nachman Acharya, A portrait of Kamal Wood, around 1944 (© Private collection, USA, All Rights Reserved).
    Magda Nachman Acharya, A Young Man, 1945 (© Private collection, Israel, All Rights Reserved).
    Magda Nachman Acharya, Landscape in Matheran, 1945 (© Roshan Cooper collection, Pune, All Rights Reserved).
  • Bernstein, Lina. Magda Nachman: An Artist in Exile (Modern Biographies). Academic Studies Press, 2020.

    Word Count: 13

  • For more images of works by Magda Nachman and a more detailed account of her life, please visit the online exhibition in the State Museum of Oriental Cultures in Moscow, Russia (open through September 2023).

    Word Count: 34

  • Lina Bernstein
  • Bombay, India (1936–1951)

  • 56 Ridge Road, Malabar Hill, Bombay (now Mumbai); 63 Walkeshwar Road, Malabar Hill, Bombay (now Mumbai).

  • Bombay
  • Lina Bernstein. "Magda Nachman Acharya." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 06-09-2021.
  • Hilde Holger

    Hilde Holger brought her expressionist dance practice from Vienna to Bombay, collaborating with local and exile artists, and opening a dance school.

    Word Count: 22

    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

    Rudolf von Leyden
    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