JAMINI ROY (1887-1972)
THE ESTATE OF KEKOO AND KHORSHED GANDHY Property from the Collection of Rashna Imhasly-Gandhy and Behroze Gandhy

Untitled (MURART - Prisoners of War)

Untitled (MURART - Prisoners of War)
oil on canvas laid on panel
34¾ x 45¾ in. (88.3 x 116.2 cm.)
Painted circa 1940s
Kekoo Gandhy, 'And then came the Progressives', the little magazine, March-April 2001, p. 43 (illustrated)
K. Zitzewitz, The Perfect Frame: Presenting Modern Indian Art, Mumbai, 2003, p. 14 (illustrated)

Lot Essay

Kekoo Gandhy's most initial forays into the art world can be traced back to the early 1940s, following the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe. Just as he was not able to return to college in Cambridge from a summer vacation at home in Bombay, many Europeans were unable to return to their homes from business trips to India. Among them was the Belgian Roger van Damme, the son of a respected framer and restorer. "He had heard a news story back home about the many gods and goddesses that Indians kept in their homes. He knew that India would be a captive market to sell frames. Our acquaintance led to the establishment of the Chemould framing factory in 1940. He gave me know-how, we got the finance together and my brother Rusi and I set up the factory." (Kekoo Gandhy, 'The beginnings of the art movement', Seminar, no. 528, August 2003, accessed on 22 October 2013)

Around the same time, the barracks next to Kekee Manzil, the Gandhy family home, had been converted into a prisoner-of-war camp to house several Italian soldiers who had been captured by the Allies in their North African campaigns. "Captain Dust, an Englishman, decided that these able-bodied men should be put to some work. Among them were car mechanics, painters and waiters. He selected those who could use a brush and formed a separate unit in the army called MURART. The idea was to get them to paint and use their work across all army establishments in South Asia. Dust went to Mountbatten with a proposal and, imaginative as he was, Mountbatten accepted the idea and put him in charge." (Kekoo Gandhy, 'The beginnings of the art movement')

The Italian soldier-painters soon became well known in the neighbourhood, and at Kekee Manzil in particular. Additionally, the ground floor of the Chemould framing factory in Chakala was requisitioned by the British to house the MURART project. Kekoo recalls that this worked out well for both Chemould and MURART, as "Wood was scarce because it was requisitioned for the war effort. We did not know how to continue with our business. Luckily, MURART said they needed frames for all these paintings they were churning out and they started supplying us with wood." (Kekoo Gandhy, 'The beginnings of the art movement') Repurposing crate wood from shipments of amunition and upplies to make frames for their paintings, for a short period the Chemould framing factory worked exclusively for MURART.

This painting, a group portrait of the Italian prisoner-of-war artists of MURART, is likely one of Kekoo Gandhy's first art acquisitions, and has hung in Kekee Manzil for more than six decades. It also marks the very beginning of his career in the art trade, which has always been animated by a spirit of generosity and good-will. "For soldiers, the Italians were really good artists. They would come home on Sundays. We handed the kitchen over to them and they would prepare all these risottos. They were lonely people, far from home, so we tried to help them by selling the private work they did, not the ones they made for MURART. Food was rationed at the time, but they were soldiers and had everything. They used to bake lovely cookies. We began to invite over our friends and other Indian artists. Everyone had a good time and after dinner a hat was passed around. For Rs 100 or 200, you could pick up one of the finest paintings of the time and everyone was happy." (Kekoo Gandhy, 'The beginnings of the art movement')

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