Also known as the Baroda Group of Artists, the Baroda School is an artist group founded in 1956 by NS Bendre, comprising artists associated with the Faculty of Fine Arts, MS University, Baroda (now Vadodara). The School marked a move away from the Revivalist inclinations of groups such as the Bengal School as well as the academic realism practised by European schools.
The Faculty of Fine Arts was established in 1949 and developed a pedagogy that encouraged Modernist ideologies and individual self-expression among artists. Bendre joined the Faculty in 1950 and headed the Department of Painting. The School was formed when he and some of his senior students came together with Shanti Dave, GR Santosh and Triloke Kaul to exhibit their works in a group show held in Baroda in 1956. Early members of the group comprised Bendre, KG Subramanyan, Balkrishna Patel, Himmat Shah, Jyoti Bhatt and Ratan Parimoo, among others. They were later joined by Gulammohammed Sheikh, Vinodray Patel and Vinod Shah.
Developing simultaneously with Postmodernism in Western art, the Baroda artists were located at the crossroads of tradition and contemporaneity. The group flourished in a multicultural, secular space where art was not restricted to the studio or the curriculum, and the artists developed their skills and artistic language through sketching from life as well as experimenting with the stylistic aspects of movements such as Cubism and abstraction, pop art and Bauhaus. In 1969, the School began publishing Vrischik, a journal edited by Gulammohammed Sheikh and Bhupen Khakhar, which featured essays and debates on contemporary Indian art. They also held a number of exhibitions, the first of which was at the Artists’ Centre, Mumbai (1956). Subsequent exhibitions were held at the Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai (1957, 1959); and the Sanskar Kendra, Ahmedabad (1967).
The artists drew on many visual sources and incorporated styles and techniques from indigenous and folk art in India with an aim to both document and preserve these styles, as evident in Jyoti Bhatt’s photographs of indigenous communities across western and central India. Bendre’s work combined Asian traditions with Western modernism using various media such as charcoal, crayon, watercolour and oil. He emphasised the three-dimensionality of his subject matter when painting, and his experiments eventually led to a Cubist style. Sankho Chaudhuri was similarly drawn towards the Cubist tendency to deconstruct and reorder form.
By the 1960s, the artists had begun experimenting with the limits of representation and form, becoming drawn to abstraction, most evident in the works of Gulammohammed Sheikh, Jeram Patel and Raghav Kaneria, who began working with scrap metal to create junk sculpture. The 1980s saw a divergence from abstract modes of expression to the incorporation of narrative, figurative and allegorical elements, primarily in the works of Bhupen Khakhar, Vivan Sundaram and Nalini Malani.
Members of the group changed over the years, with most members later teaching at the Faculty of Fine Arts while continuing their artistic practice. The Baroda School was a significant presence in Indian art history until the late 1990s, when the Indian art market began to expand and a wider array of artists, many trained by members of the School, began to shape the direction of Indian art in ways that extended beyond the practices at the Faculty. Incidents such as the 2007 controversy are considered to have negatively impacted the Faculty’s autonomy and influence on Indian art.
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