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  • 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.
  • TIFR
  • Tata Institute for Fundamental Research, The TIFR Art Collection

  • 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

  • The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), one of India’s premier scientific institutions, stands at the southernmost tip of the sprawling metropolis of Bombay, overlooking the vast expanse of the Arabian Sea. Inside its grand buildings, every day, scientists ponder over path-breaking ideas and discoveries in physics, mathematics, biology and computer science. Also within its hallowed walls and corridors is housed one of the most magnificent collections of modern Indian art.
    The TIFR art collection represents the culmination of the wide interests and ideas of its founder Homi Jehangir Bhabha. With over 250 artworks, the collection was built between the early 1950s and the early 1970s.
    In his bid to bring about this beautiful synthesis of art and science, Bhabha sought out significant works of the Progressive Artists Group (PAG). The PAG, founded in 1947, heralded a new movement in Indian art, promising to overthrow the conservative artists of the 1940s. The founding members included K.H. Ara, Sadanand Bakre, H.A. Gade, M.F. Husain, S.H. Raza and F.N. Souza. V.S. Gaitonde, Krishen Khanna, Akbar Padamsee, Tyeb Mehta, Ram Kumar and Bal Chavda were also members of the group.
    An avid lover of art and an artist himself, Bhabha was an insider within Bombay’s art world. The works were bought either directly from the artists or from art shows. Kekoo Gandhy, who built one of independent India’s first galleries, started holding special previews for Bhabha in his frame shop, Chemould Frames. Gandhy recalls Bhabha’s visits to his shop, “We had an unwritten agreement with Dr Bhabha that we would call him the day before the exhibition, and that he be given the first pick. The other part of it was that Dr Bhabha would drop in from his home at Kenilworth and Roshan [Kalapesi] would introduce young artists to him. He would ask for the frames to be held against the paintings and our chap would have to hold it. Sometimes Bhabha would forget that it was being held for a long time.” (Chatterjee/Gandhy 2010, 11).
    The TIFR art collection was perhaps the result of one man’s vision and interests. However, Bhabha also sought advice from a small group of art-insiders. Among them was Rudi von Leyden, who had a crucial impact on Bhabha’s choice of art. Von Leyden also exhibited great affinity for the works of the PAG. Among the major paintings adorning the TIFR walls is The Critic (1943) by the Austrian-born artist Walter Langhammer. The subject of the painting is von Leyden, admiring a classical Indian stone sculpture. Langhammer had also found refuge in Bombay shortly before the Second World War. He was one of PAG’s leading patrons.
    Von Leyden was also part of the selection committee for a mural competition funded by the TIFR. In late 1962, Bhabha invited several artists, both young and established, to submit entries for a mural covering the 40-foot long space in the entrance foyer of the institute. The other members of the committee were Bhabha’s companion Phiroza Wadia, the mathematician K. Chandrasekharan, the art historian Karl Khandalavala and Bhabha himself. The competition saw submissions from Jamini Roy, K.H. Ara, N.S. Bendre, Satish Gujral, M.F. Husain, R.D. Raval, K. Hebbar, B. Narayan, B. Prabha and G. Solegaonkar. The final shortlisted artists were Husain and Raval. Finally, Husain’s Bharat Bhagya Vidhata was chosen. All the other canvasses from the competition still adorn the walls of the institute.
    Bhabha’s vision for the future of science as well as art in India was decidedly inclusive. In 1951, he had found a position in the institute for the cosmic ray physicist Bernard Peters. Polish-born Peters had first fled Nazi oppression in Germany for the United States, where he encountered new persecution because of his leftist ideas during the McCarthy era. Bhabha had welcomed him to TIFR and Peters went on to spend nine years working in Bombay.
    In 1947, Bhabha wrote a letter to the minister of education, Maulana Azad. In the letter, he argues the case of Magda Nachman Acharya, a Russian painter in exile in Bombay. Nachman Acharya’s works had been rejected by a selection committee, citing her nationality, for an exhibition of Indian art in London in 1947. He writes, “Art like Science knows no frontiers and we should not only put any impediments in the way of foreign artists coming to this country but should rather encourage them to do so provided they are people of eminence and have a contribution to make to our cultural and intellectual life. We all hope that with its newly achieved freedom, India will become the leading country of Asia and one of the leaders of the world in cultural matters, and it can achieve this in the artistic sphere not by a mere repetition of its ancient forms but by the creation of new art forms, possibly through a synthesis of the ancient Indian and European traditions in art.” (Letter to Maulana Azad 1947, n.p.)

    Word Count: 832

  • 1 Homi Bhabha Road, Navy Nagar, Colaba, Mumbai.

  • The TIFR building (Photo: Ananya Dasgupta, 2021).
  • The TIFR premises and gardens (Photo: Ananya Dasgupta, 2021).
    Colonnade on the way to the TIFR entry (Photo: Ananya Dasgupta, 2021).
    Outside view of the TIFR foyer with the mural Bharat Bhagya Vidhata by M.F. Husain, 1963 (Photo: Ananya Dasgupta, 2021).
  • Chatterjee, Mortimer. “Interview of Kekoo Gandhy.” The TIFR Art Collection, edited by Mortimer Chatterjee and Tara Lal, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research / Marg Foundation, 2010, p. 11.

    Chatterjee, Mortimer, and Tara Lal. The TIFR Art Collection. Tata Institute of Fundamental Research / Marg Foundation, 2010.

    Chowdhury, Indira, and Ananya Dasgupta. A Masterful Spirit: Homi J. Bhabha 1909–1966. Penguin Books, 2010.

    Word Count: 54

  • Letter to Maulana Azad, July 24, 1947, © TIFR Archives, Mumbai.

    Word Count: 8

  • Ananya Dasgupta
  • 01-06-1945
  • Homi Jehangir Bhabha, M.F. Husain, Rudi von Leyden, Walter Langhammer

  • Bombay
  • No
  • Ananya Dasgupta. "TIFR." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 27-08-2021.
  • 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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    GalleryFrame Shop

    Chemould’s history stretches from its beginnings as a manufacturer of chemical mouldings and frames in 1941 over to a hub for art circulation displaying a variety of artists in Bombay.

    Word Count: 30

    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

    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

    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