BN Goswamy (b. 1933)
Born in a Bengali family in Sargodha, present-day Pakistan, Brijinder Nath Goswamy is considered one of India’s foremost art historians and critics. After the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, Goswamy’s family migrated to Amritsar, Punjab, where he has spent most of his life. His areas of expertise include the history of pre-modern Indian art, particularly pahari, miniature and the various traditions of court paintings in India. He has authored over twenty books, including Painters at the Sikh Court (1975), Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India (1992) and Masters of Indian Painting 1100-1900 (2011).
Goswamy obtained his master’s in history from Panjab University in 1954, after which he was employed as an officer of the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) in 1956. He left the service two years later to pursue a career in art and art history, enrolling for a PhD at the Panjab University to study the social context from which the Kangra painting practice emerged. He has also taught at the Universities of Heidelberg and Zurich in Germany and the Universities of California, Berkeley and Los Angeles, in the United States. He is also former vice chairman of the Sarabhai Foundation, Ahmedabad.
One of Goswamy’s most prominent contributions to the field of art history has been his ability to highlight the role of family and lineage in the development and continuation of miniature painting. He first introduced the idea in his essay “Pahari Painting: The Family as Basis of Style” (1968) as well as his book Nainsukh of Guler: A Great Indian Painter from a Small Hill-State (1997), in which he traced the family history of the eighteenth-century Indian painter family of Pandit Seu and his sons Nainsukh and Manaku, using inscriptions on the back of miniatures and records from the era. Eventually, he broadened his research scope by including more regions from northern to southern India, arguing that even though styles of court painting could vary significantly with artists, families employed in the art across generations demonstrated identifiable traits and techniques. In 2010, he published his first art book for young readers, Ranga Roopa: Gods, Wars, Images, with the aim of introducing them to religious poetry and iconography through art. Goswamy’s next book, The Spirit of Indian Painting: Close Encounters with 101 Great Works, 1100–1900 (2014) was directed at a non-specialist reader, introducing them to a broad scope of painting methods and traditions in Pre-Modern India, with particular emphasis on the Mughals and the Rajputs.
Goswamy has been the recipient of numerous awards and honours, including the Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship in 1969; the Rietberg Award for Outstanding Research in Art History; the Padma Shri in 1998 and the Padma Bhushan in 2008, both conferred by the Government of India; and the Punjab Gaurav Sanmaan (2018). He also curated the 2011 exhibition The Way of the Masters: The Great Artists of India, 1100-1900 — along with art historians Milo C Beach and Eberhard Fischer — on Indian miniatures at the Museum Rietberg, Zurich, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. As of writing, Goswamy continues to live in Chandigarh and work as the Professor Emeritus of Art History at the Panjab University, where he has been teaching since the 1960s.
Dalrymple, William. “The Spirit of Indian Painting by BN Goswamy Review – An Out-and-Out Masterpiece.” The Guardian, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/24/the-spirit-of-indian-painting-by-goswamy-review-william-dalrymple.
Dutt, Kartik Chandra. Who’s Who of Indian Writers, 1999: A–M, 413. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1999.
Gupta, Trisha. “The Art of Seeing: BN Goswamy Illuminates a Lost World of Indian Painting.” The Caravan, 2015. https://caravanmagazine.in/reviews-and-essays/art-seeing.
Jaipur Literature Festival. “BN Goswamy.” Accessed September 27, 2020. https://jaipurliteraturefestival.org/speaker/bn-goswamy-3037.
Kalidas, S. “Zurich Exhibition Showcases the Great Masters of Indian Art Spanning 800 Years.” India Today, 2011. https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/society-the-arts/story/20110606-exhibition-in-zurich-showcases-great-masters-of-indian-art-746245-2011-05-27.
Ministry of Home Affairs. “Padma Awards Directory (1954-2013),” 2015. https://www.webcitation.org/6U68ulwpb?url=http://mha.nic.in/sites/upload_files/mha/files/LST-PDAWD-2013.pdf.
Sethi, Sunil. “Lunch with BS: B N Goswamy.” Business Standard, December 06, 2014. https://www.business-standard.com/article/opinion/lunch-with-bs-b-n-goswamy-art-historian-114120600015_1.html.
Singh, Roopinder. “Rejecting Babudom for the Love of Art.” The Tribune, 2003. https://www.tribuneindia.com/2003/20030809/cth1.htm#8.
Times of India. “Historian Goswamy conferred with Punjab Gaurav Sanmaan,” 2018. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chandigarh/historian-goswamy-conferred-with-punjab-gaurav-sanmaan/articleshow/62811821.cms.