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Institute of Foreign Languages

  • Name:
    Institute of Foreign Languages
  • Alternative names:

    IFL, I.F.L.

  • Kind of Organisation:
    Exhibition SpaceLanguage SchoolLibraryTheatre
  • Introduction:

    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

  • Content:

    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

  • Known addresses in Metromod cities:

    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).

  • Signature Image:
    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).
  • Media:
    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).
  • Bibliography (selected):

    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, www.academia.edu/49079321/Exile_meets_Avantgarde_ExilantInnen_Kunstnetzwerke_in_Bombay. 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, www.academia.edu/49273939/6_1_Kunstvermittlung_Das_Institute_for_Foreign_Languages_von_Charles_Petras_als_interkulturelles_Kultur_und_Kunstzentrum. 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

  • Archives and Sources:

    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:
    http://erf.sbb.spk-berlin.de/historical-newspapers/. Accessed 30 March 2021.

    Word Count: 43

  • Author:
    Margit Franz; Mareike Schwarz
  • Date of Founding:
    1946
  • Date of Disbandment:
    1959
  • Participants (selection):

    Charles Petras, H.A. Gade, M.F. Husain, Idel Ianchelevici, Walter Langhammer, S.H. Raza, Magda Nachmann, Rudolf von Leyden.

  • Metropolis:
    Bombay
  • Entry in process:
    no
  • Margit Franz; Mareike Schwarz. "Institute of Foreign Languages." METROMOD Archive, 2021, https://archive.metromod.net/viewer.p/69/2951/object/5145-8100804, 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

    Photo of Magda Nachman Acharya in front of her house on Malabar Hill, n.d., detail (Courtesy of Sophie Seifalian, All Rights Reserved).
    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).
    Bombay
    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

    The only existing portrait of Charles Petras, 1947 (The Indian Listener, vol. XII, no. 3, 1947, p. 77 © All India Radio, New Delhi. Photo: Margit Franz 2021).
    Final departure from Europe: Charles Paron and Charles Petras leaving Brussels, 5 June 1935 (Balteau, Bernard, and Luc Norin, Helmi Veldhuijzen. Ianchelevi ou la matire transfigure. La Renaissance du livre, 2003, p. 54 © Musée Ianchelevici La Louviére, Archive).Report on IFL exhibition featuring Iden Ianchelevici, a Belgian friend of Petras, July 1949 (IFL News, vol.1, no. 3, August–September 1949, p. 3. Private Archive Margit Franz © Musée Ianchelevici La Louviére, Archive).French amateur theatre, spring 1949 (IFL News, vol. 1, no. 1, April–May 1949, p. 3. Private Archive Margit Franz © Musée Ianchelevici La Louviére, Archive).
    Bombay
    Marg. A Magazine of Architecture and Art
    Magazine

    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

    Cover of the first issue, detail (Marg, vol. 1, no. 1, 1946, reproduced with the permission of The Marg Foundation, Mumbai, India).
    Cover of the first issue (Marg, vol. 1, no. 1, 1946, reproduced with the permission of The Marg Foundation, Mumbai, India).Advert MARG means Pathway (Marg, vol. 1, no. 2, 1947, p. 110; reproduced with the permission of The Marg Foundation, Mumbai, India).Editors’ page of the first Marg issue (Marg, vol. 1, no. 1, 1946, p. 1; reproduced with the permission of The Marg Foundation, Mumbai, India).Excerpt from “Architecture and You” (Marg, vol. 1, no. 1, 1946, p. 10; reproduced with the permission of The Marg Foundation, Mumbai, India).A collage of exiles’ contributions to Marg (All images reproduced with the permission of The Marg Foundation, Mumbai, India).Editorial “Planning and Dreaming.” (Marg, vol. 1, no. 1, 1946, p. 4f).
    Bombay
    The Feldberg Art Collection. A Series of Three Exhibitions of European Artworks collected by the Feldberg Family
    Exhibition

    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

    Michel Fingesten, Selbstbildnisse Deutscher Maler – Dr. Siegbert Feldberg Stettin, around 1933, coloured pencil and watercolour on paper, 56,6 x 43,5 cm, Berlin (Courtesy of Berlinische Galerie. Museum für Moderne Kunst).
    Extract from the University of Toronto’s Feldberg Collection 2002 poster; with a collage of the self-portraits from left to right by Josef Oppenheimer, 1933, Friedrich Winkler-Tannenberg, 1930, Conrad Felixmüller, 1929, Willi Jaeckel, 1929 (© Ryan Massiah; All Rights Reserved).Stylistic variance in the Feldberg Collection. Self-Portrait by Willi Jaeckel (left), 1929, Pastel on black watercolour bütten paper, 51 x 35,5 cm, Berlin. Self-Portrait by Ines Wetzel, 1930, Watercolour, gouache and pencil on drawing cardboard, 47 x 38,4 cm, Berlin (Courtesy of Berlinische Galerie. Museum für Moderne Kunst).Menkwa Building, Outram Road, site of the three exhibitions of the Feldberg Collection, 2018 (Photo: Margit Franz; All Rights Reserved).Exhibition review (© Marg, vol. 4, no. 1, 1950, p. 59; reproduced with the permission of The Marg Foundation, Mumbai, India; All Rights Reserved).The reunited Feldberg family in India: Siegbert Feldberg (left), Hildegard Feldberg (seated in front of her husband), Heinz Günter Feldberg (with glasses), Hans Jürgen Feldberg (standing next to his seated brother). The other four people are unknown, 1942 or 1943. (© John Feldberg; All Rights Reserved).
    Bombay
    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

    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).
    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).
    Bombay
    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

    Opening of the Raza exhibition, first row from left: Unknown, S.H. Raza, Käthe Langhammer, Rudolf von Leyden, second row from left: Walter Langhammer, K.H. Ara, Emanuel Schlesinger, 1948 (Digital Photo Archive Margit Franz, authorized by the late S.H. Raza © Raza archive; All Rights Reserved).
    Letter from Emanuel Schlesinger (Bombay) to S. H. Raza (Paris), September 1956, on official INDON letterhead paper (Reprinted from: Vajpeyi 2013, 96; Image courtesy: The Raza Foundation).Emanuel Schlesinger (far left, seated in the first row) at the opening of the Chemould Gallery at Jehangir Art Gallery Main Hall, September 1963 (Digital Photo Archive Margit Franz © Gandhy Archive, Mumbai; All Rights Reserved).Early Raza painting Street Scene in Bombay from Schlesinger Collection as a calendar print (Photo: Margit Franz 2010; All Rights Reserved).
    Bombay
    Bombay Art Society
    Association

    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

    Title page of the catalogue for the Golden Jubilee Exhibition, exh. cat. Bombay Art Society, Bombay, 1939 (© Bombay Art Society, Photo: Partha Mitter 2021).
    Francis Newton [Souza], Prosperity, Cat. no. 17, n.d. and S.H. Raza, Bori Bunder, Cat. no. 65, n.d. Detail of an inside page, exh. cat. The Bombay Art Society, 1947, 21 (© Bombay Art Society, Photo: Partha Mitter 2021).Walter Langhammer, Portrait of Mrs. Shirin Vimadalal, 1939, Detail of an inside page, exh. cat. The Bombay Art Society, 1939, Frontispiece (© Bombay Art Society, Photo: Partha Mitter 2021).Title page of the catalogue for the 57th Annual Exhibition, exh. cat. The Bombay Art Society, December 1947 (© Bombay Art Society, Photo: Partha Mitter 2021).A.J. Patel, Sabita, cat. no.727, n.d. and J.N. Unwalla, Screened, cat. no. 721, n.d. Detail of an inside page, exh. cat. The Bombay Art Society, 1939, 46 (© Bombay Art Society, Photo: Partha Mitter 2021).
    Bombay
    Iconic Photo of the Progressive Artists’ Group and Their Associates
    Photograph

    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

    The iconic photo of the Progressive Artists’ Group and their associates, 1950 (Digital Photo Archive Margit Franz © Gandhy Archive, Mumbai; All Rights Reserved). First row: (seated, from left) Dr. Mulk Raj Anand, Siloo Bharucha, Renu Khanna, K.H. Ara, M.F. Husain (in black headgear, seated in front of everyone else), Bal Chhabda, unknown, G.M. Hazarnis (holding folder). Second row: (seated, from left) unknown, unknown, Laxman Pai, Käthe Langhammer (black dress with white framed collar), Emanuel Schlesinger. Third row: (standing, from left) Dr. Percy Brown, Khorshed Gandhy, T.A. Schinzel (behind Mrs. Gandhy), Krishen Khanna (in striped tie), Sadanand Bakre (with glasses, just behind Khanna), D.G. Kulkarni (with glasses, near Bakre), V.S. Gaitonde (to Kulkarni’s left), A.A. Amelkar, Tyeb Mehta, Shiavax Chavda (with hands folded), Walter Langhammer (in dark tie), Kekoo Gandhy, Manishi Dey. Last row: (standing) all four men are unknown.
    First publication of the iconic photo of the Progressive Artists’ Group and their associates in the catalogue for the inauguration of the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) Mumbai, 1996 (Photo: Yashodhara Dalmia, 2020).Another moment from the same lineup: the historic snapshot from Khorshed and Kekoo Gandhy’s archive on the front-page of their book The Perfect Frame. Presenting Modern Indian Art. Stories and Photographs from the collection of Kekoo Gandhy (Zitzewitz 2003, front page).Dr. Percy Brown, Käthe Langhammer and M.F. Husain in front of Husain´s ground-breaking painting Man during the evening of the opening on 3 February 1950 (Dalmia 2001, 103; authorized by Yashodhara Dalmia).
    Bombay
    Open Studio Evenings by Käthe and Walter Langhammer
    Salon

    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

    Open evening at the Langhammer’s, from left: Walter Langhammer, unknown woman, Kekoo Gandhy, Wayne Hartwell (American cultural affairs diplomat) n.d. (© Digital Photo Archive Margit Franz; authorised by the late Kekoo Gandhy; All Rights Reserved).
    Dinner party at the Langhammer’s studio amidst his paintings (© Digital Photo Archive Margit Franz; authorised by the late Kekoo Gandhy; All Rights Reserved).Käthe and Walter Langhammer (far left) attending an Indian dinner, late 1930s/early 1940s (© Digital Photo Archive Margit Franz; authorised by the late Kekoo Gandhy; All Rights Reserved).Opening of the annual Langhammer exhibition by Sir Cowasjee Jehangir in the Convocation Hall, 27 November 1949 (from left: Mr. C.V. Oak, Rani Maharaj Singh, Walter Langhammer, Sir Cowasjee Jehangir, Käthe Langhammer) (© Digital Photo Archive Margit Franz; authorised by the late Kekoo Gandhy; All Rights Reserved).Photography Morning in the Great Mosque in Ajmer (translation by the author) by Käthe Langhammer, Rajasthan, 1940s (© Archive Margit Franz: Langhammer Photo Archive; All Rights Reserved).Käthe Langhammer in South India. They toured all of India for The Times of India Annual. Photo by Walter Langhammer (© Archive Margit Franz: Langhammer Photo Archive; All Rights Reserved).Invitation card for the Langhammers’ farewell party, April 1957 (© Digital Photo Archive Margit Franz; authorised by the late Kekoo Gandhy; All Rights Reserved).Entrance to Langhammer’s residence at 20 Nepean Sea Road (Photo: Margit Franz, 2007; All Rights Reserved).
    Bombay