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Untitled (Landscape)

Untitled (Landscape)
signed 'W Langhammer' (lower right)
oil on canvas
23 ½ x 31 ½ in. (59.6 x 80 cm.)
Painted circa early 1940s
Acquired in Bombay circa early 1940s
Thence by descent

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Alicia Churchward
Alicia Churchward

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Lot Essay

Artist, teacher, mentor and patron, Walter Langhammer was born in 1905 in Graz, Austria. Alongside his own artistic career, Langhammer played a vital role in the evolution of modern art in India, where he lived from the late 1930s to the early 1960s.

Langhammer grew up in Austria and studied and taught painting with celebrated artists like Oskar Kokoschka. Anticipating the outbreak of World War II, Langhammer and his wife Käthe travelled east to China and India to escape the spread of the Nazi empire. With the assistance of Shirin Vimadalal, a student of his at the Viennese Academy, they eventually settled in Bombay and he was appointed the first Art Director for the Times of India newspaper.

Along with fellow emigres Rudolf von Leyden and Emanuel Schlesinger, Langhammer advised, critiqued and encouraged young artists in India, writing about their work and very often buying it to support them financially as well. His own paintings, vivid expressionistic portraits, landscapes and Indian pastoral scenes, were exhibited on several occasions at the Bombay Art Society, and in the late 1940s, he was famously commissioned by the Tata Group to create a series of paintings of their steel plants in Jamshedpur.

Apart from an artist who found great inspiration in the people, light and colours of India, Langhammer became a mentor to many young Indian artists, most notably Syed Haider Raza. His South Bombay apartment was a legendary meeting spot where artists and intellectuals, including the founder-members of the seminal Progressive Artists’ Group like Raza, would gather. It was at these convivial Sunday salons that artists like Hebbar, Raiba, Ara and Husain first saw reproductions of the works of Western modernists and learned about current artistic trends in Europe.

Describing these meetings, pioneer gallerist Kekoo Gandhy wrote, “[Langhammer] would tell them what makes a good painting. He would share his experiences of Europe and tell them about events in the art world, seen at first hand. They found a windfall in this readymade teacher. And he had so much love and affection for them. It was not just the artists alone – the people around them too were responsible, in a way, for the birth of the Progressives.” (K. Gandhy, ‘The beginnings of the art movement’, Seminar, No. 528, August 2003)

Owing to his failing health, Langhammer returned to Europe in the 1960s, and passed away there in 1977. Celebrating the life of this major figure in the history of Indian modernism 40 years later, we present two of his idyllic rural landscapes.

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