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Institute of Foreign Languages

  • 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.
  • Institute of Foreign Languages
  • IFL, I.F.L.

  • 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

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

    As its name suggests, the focus of the Institute of Foreign Languages (IFL) was initially foreign language courses. Needing to find paid employment after his internment as an "enemy alien" during the Second World War, Petras decided to make use of his knowledge of several languages. The addition of a translation agency, a bookstore specialising in European literature and a travel advisory bureau would subsequently provide further sources of income for the institute, following the motto “Languages − Key to International Understanding”.

    Another of Petras’s goals was to promote international understanding, world peace and equal communication. Starting from the local level, in May 1949 he founded the IFL Club in Bombay, offering membership “unrestricted in the matter of race, caste and creed and open to every citizen of the world” (New Club 1949, 3). The socialist Petras held up a mirror to the fine society of Bombay, that was given access to elite clubs based on money, networks and family background, and opened spaces for interaction, dialogue, communication and presentation for everyone, in a democratic manner.

    The IFL logo, which depicts the globe from a southern perspective, conveys Petras’s vision of society, around whose political and social realisation he oriented the activities of the IFL. The message was that the transfer of knowledge, opportunities and networks should be opened up for every citizen of the world, including for every citizen of the divided city that was Bombay in the aftermath of India's independence. In all of the IFL’s diverse activities, a desire to democratise contacts and promote freedom of expression between different people can be seen.

    For Bombay’s art scene the opening of the IFL hall and the corridors as exhibition rooms from the late 1940s were a turning point. Only the Photographic Society’s showroom and the Bombay Art Society’s salon offered modern lighting and could be used all year round. In the Menkwa building on Outram Road in the Fort area, the IFL was also able to offer young artists suitable lighting and exhibition facilities. After October 1950, in the Jehangir building in Khala Ghoda, opposite the university and in the immediate vicinity of other artist institutions such as the Bombay Art Society Salon and the India Coffee House, tube lighting was offered to exhibitors and a large, modern exhibition area.

    The display of art in the rooms of the language school generated a lot of attention. For example, the exhibition of self-portraits from the collection of the exiled Feldberg couple meant the first contact with European modernism for a large part of the local public. Other exhibitions pursued decidedly charitable goals in addition to art-related ones. In February 1951, an exhibition of paintings by Magda Nachmann, a painter who had emigrated from Russia, was held there to raise funds for her medical treatment. Over 500 people came to Outram Road to attend the exhibition although the artist tragically died shortly before the opening. The press reviews and number of visitors testify to the high degree of networking between local and emigrant artists.

    Exhibitions of Asian artists were also held at the IFL There are press reports from the spring of 1950 about a progressively conceived show of more than 300 objects of so-called “Child Art” from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). On the initiative of the artist couple Walter and Käthe Langhammer, the art critic Rudi von Leyden and the collector Emanuel Schlesinger, some members of the so-called Bombay Progressive Artists also held much-discussed solo exhibitions there, including H.A. Gade in January 1951 and M.F. Husain in September 1954. S.H. Raza’s farewell exhibition of September 1950 was also held there. The culturally interested Bombay society came together at the IFL cultural centre, even after Petras’s untimely death in 1952.

    In October 1950 Petras expanded the IFL to Delhi and founded the IFL Little Theatre, which was to rewrite theatre history with its avant-garde performances. Innovative treatments of plays by Jean-Paul Sartre, George Bernard Shaw and Ibsen were performed. The audience was not very appreciative of these experiments, but the IFL opened up spaces for innovative as well as more traditional theatre lovers and amateur actors.

    The IFL International Club and IFL News created a real and a virtual platform for intercultural understanding. National weeks, multilingual art presentations, poetry and literary translations, personal presentations and exchanges contributed to a tolerant and friendly atmosphere at the institute and promoted the transcultural project of the IFL.

    When Petras moved to Delhi, the structure of the IFL changed. The IFL International Centre became a society and the IFL Institute became a private limited company in 1951, headed by Hariprasad B. Andich. After Petras’s death, Harinder Singh became the director and diversified the courses on offer. Dance classes were introduced in 1954 and a plan for a two-year course at the IFL’s New Academy of Theatre and Cinema Art was announced in June 1953. However, language teaching remained the main activity over the years with 14 000 students in 1954.

    Current research points to the last traces of the IFL in 1959. In the meantime, the restrictive trade climate following the industrial policy resolution of 1948 led to an exodus of foreign investors from India. The country turned to the “license raj”, import substitution industrialisation in the 1950s and increasingly isolated itself economically, with cosmopolitan culture and transnational activity decreasing significantly.

    Word Count: 906

  • Menkwa Building, Outram Road, Fort, Bombay (now Buddha Bhavan, Purshotamdas Thakurdas Marg, Fort, Mumbai) (1946–1950).
    Jehangir Building, 133 Mahatma Gandhi Road, Kala Ghoda, Fort Bombay (now Mumbai) (1950–1959).

  • Invitation to IFL International Club, 1949 (IFL News, vol. 1, no. 2, June–July 1949, p. 2. Archive Margit Franz © Musée Ianchelevici La Louviére, Archive).
  • Former site of IFL, Jehangir Building, 1950–1959, entrance (Photo: Margit Franz, 2018).
    Former site of IFL, Jehangir Building, 1950–1959, street view (Photo: Margit Franz, 2018).
    Press images of Gade’s solo exhibition at the Institute of Foreign Languages, January 1951. Photo left: H.A. Gade (from left), Albrecht von Leyden, Margit von Leyden, unknown. Photo right: unknown woman (from left), Walter Langhammer, Khorshed Gandhy (© Private Archive James von Leyden, Lewes).
    Cover of the first edition of IFL News, April-May 1949 (IFL News, vol.1, no. 1, April-May 1949, p. 1. Private Archive Margit Franz © Musée Ianchelevici Archive, La Louviére).
    Advertisement for the IFL Language Bureau, 1949 (IFL News, vol. 1, no. 2, June–July 1949, p. 8. Private Archive Margit Franz © Musée Ianchelevici Archive, La Louviére).
  • Anonymous. “New Club in Bombay: Unrestricted Membership.” The Times of India, 26 May 1949, p. 3.

    Art Critic. “Child Art From Ceylon.” The Times of India, 25 April 1950, p. 3.

    Bernstein, Lina. Magda Nachman: An Artist in Exile (Modern Biographies). Academic Studies Press, 2020.

    Chatterji, R. “Raza’s Farewell Show.” The Times of India, 17 September 1950, p. 11.

    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 (especially chapter: 6.1. Kunstvermittlung: Das Institute for Foreign Languages von Charles Petras als interkulturelles Kultur- und Kunstzentrum, pp. 248–265. Academia, Accessed 17 June 2021.)

    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.

    Word Count: 186

  • Hilde Holger Archive, by Primavera Boman-Behram, London.
    Musée Ianchelevici Archives, La Louviére.
    Private Archive Margit Franz, Sinabelkirchen.
    Private Archive James von Leyden, Lewes.
    The Times of India (Mumbai) Archive, via Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin: Accessed 30 March 2021.

    Word Count: 43

  • Margit Franz; Mareike Schwarz
  • 1946
  • 1959
  • Charles Petras, H.A. Gade, M.F. Husain, Idel Ianchelevici, Walter Langhammer, S.H. Raza, Magda Nachmann, Rudolf von Leyden.

  • Bombay
  • No
  • Margit Franz; Mareike Schwarz. "Institute of Foreign Languages." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 05-08-2021.
  • 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

    Charles Petras
    JournalistDirectorLanguage TeacherWriterTheatre MakerArt ManagerTranslator

    Charles Petras was the founder and director of the international cultural centre Institute of Foreign Languages, an avant-garde theatre director and a very active promoter of international understanding and world peace.

    Word Count: 31

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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