Dhanraj Bhagat (b. 1917; d. 1988)
A Modernist sculptor known for his distorted and elongated figurative compositions, Dhanraj Bhagat is considered to be one of the first Indian artists to deviate from the artistic practice of academic realism. He was also one of the founding members of the Delhi Silpi Chakra.
Born in Lahore, undivided Punjab (in present-day Pakistan), Bhagat studied sculpture at the Mayo College of Art, Lahore. From 1947–77, he served as a faculty member and later, Head of the Department of Sculpture at the Delhi Polytechnic. Along with Kanwal Krishna, BC Sanyal, PN Mago and KS Kulkarni, Bhagat founded the Delhi Silpi Chakra in 1949.
While his early works, primarily his paintings, were realistic depictions of rural life and landscapes, he soon developed a more individualistic style that incorporated the use of multiple materials and geometrical shapes. Bhagat began working in clay but, finding it insufficiently tactile, switched to working with wood, creating works such as the Monarch series (1966). He also experimented with materials such as cement, plaster of Paris, iron filings, papier mache, wood, wax, aluminium, copper, brass and steel. In addition to his paintings and sculptures, he also made several drawings of figures and scenes from Indian mythology. His work also highlights the political conflicts of the time; whereas his early sculptures featured highly polished surfaces, those created after Partition were characterised by roughness, raw chisel marks and crude techniques depicting the conflict and violence of the period.
In 2018, the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai, organised a retrospective titled Dhanraj Bhagat (1917–1988): Journey from the Physical to the Spiritual to mark Bhagat’s birth centenary. The exhibition showcased a collection of over four hundred drawings and sculptures by Bhagat, notably Burden (1953), Siva Dance (1956), Cosmic Man (1962) and Musical Construction (1967). His works have also been shown at various other exhibitions in India and abroad, including at the 6th Sao Paulo Biennale (1961) and the India Triennale (1968, 1971, 1975). He received the National Award by the Lalit Kala Akademi in 1961 and the Padma Shri in 1977.
Bhagat died in 1988 at the age of seventy-one.
Chattopadhyay, Pallavi. “Sculpting a Melody.” The Indian Express, January 24, 2018. https://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/art-and-culture/sculpting-sculptor-dhanraj-bhagat-art-forms-5036648/.
Chaudhury, Shreya. “An Ode to the Master: Dhanraj Bhagat (1917-1988).” Critical Collective, 2018. https://criticalcollective.in/ArtistInner2.aspx?Aid=842&Eid=1090.
Fabri, Charles. Bhagat. New Delhi: Lalit Kala Akademi, 1986.
Mishra, Pradosh. “A Journey from Mundane to Metaphysical: Revisiting Dhanraj Bhagat,” 2018. Academia. https://www.academia.edu/38387008/A_journey_from_mundane_to_metaphysical_revisiting_Dhanraj_Bhagat.pdf.
Nair, Uma. “Sculptor of Melodies.” The Pioneer, April 17, 2018. https://www.dailypioneer.com/2018/vivacity/sculptor-of-melodies.html.
Prasad, Sujata. “NGMA Delhi Breathes New Life into Dhanraj Bhagat’s Trailblazing Work with a Retrospective.” Firstpost, February 05, 2018. https://www.firstpost.com/living/ngma-delhi-breathes-new-life-into-dhanraj-bhagats-trailblazing-work-with-a-retrospective-4335879.html.
Sharma, Manik. “Delhi: Dhanraj Bhagat Retrospective is a Rare Chance to Admire His Love for Sculpting.” Hindustan Times, January 28, 2018. https://www.hindustantimes.com/art-and-culture/delhi-dhanraj-bhagat-retrospective-is-a-rare-chance-to-admire-his-love-for-sculpting/story-b9K33sITIIuU3JtstwgRAL.html.