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The Bombay Art Society – A Brief History

History of Indian Art is as old as the Indian civilization itself and every major period of history has given India newer modes of expression and newer forms of art. The influence of modern art was felt long before Independence in cities like Mumbai, Calcutta, Madras, where school of art were established by the British. The Bombay Art Society was founded in 1888, which was the most crucial phase when India was approaching Independence from the colonial rule when the Indian Art was pregnant with discontinuities, conflicts and high points. The shifting positions of revivalist and anti-revivalist stands shared by the artists of from various parts of the sub-continent further enhanced the complexity of the evolution of art during that time. The Bombay Art Society, originally founded to encourage the artistically inclined British in India, later began to include Indian participants in their exhibitions. The Annual Art Exhibitions of the society were important social events and were written about in local news papers. Eminent artists like Raja Ravi Varma, Ganapathi Mhatre, and MF Pithawala submitted their entries for the competitions and won prizes. Since then, the Society has played a seminal role as an organization promoting art in India.

At the time of independence, a new beginning of artistic impulse was felt with the dawn of a new era. The impact of the Second World War, science, the changing social environment, economic scenario and political thinking had its influence in the Indian Art scene. Contemporary artists inspired a new line creating a synthesis between the east and the west. Since the last two decades, the Contemporary Art scene of India is rapidly evolving, among other catalysts, owing to economic growth, new media, technological advancements, and simultaneously seething social as well as cultural tensions. From domestic market the Indian Art is now traveling internationally to fetch often astronomical prices. At home, however, a gap between arts creation and appreciation still exists. Contemporary Art remains an elite closed door affair limiting its access to few.

In the midst of this widening gap, there is undoubtedly a sea-change taking place in the Indian contemporary art scene. Since its inception, The Bombay Art Society is engaged in bridging this gap at this intersection, traversing the global and the local by engaging the arts and its audience. The Bombay Art Society is a space for contemporary art devoted to examining the exchange of ideas focusing on mounting exhibitions and hosting stimulating observation engaged in collective and aesthetic discourses. The Bombay Art Society was one of the first art society’s that were established in India. If an art institution which is founded by art lovers, run by artists, and receives little help from the State can run for more than 127 years then the institution’s importance at the helm of the art scene in India and internationally cannot be overlooked.

Twenty two years after it was set up in 1888, the Bombay Art Society published its first journal. Titled as "A Brief Historical Sketch of the Bombay Art Society, with special reference to the period — 1906-1910", this is perhaps the earliest available document that defined its purpose and functions. . The text written by Prof. 0. V. Muller, Bombay Art Society's then secretary, reads "The Bombay Art Society was founded in 1888 for the purpose of encouraging art, especially amongst amateurs, and of educating the native public to a true appreciation of its merits. By affording opportunities of exhibiting work done, submitting it to criticism, winning medals, prizes and certificates, and at time disposing of surplus productions, the Society endeavors not only to keep alive but to develop this artistic sense. The various Arts Schools of the country are putting forth an ever increasing number of students, and these would be artists also find in the Society's Exhibitions one of their chief supports.”