Richard Bartholomew (b. 1926; d. 1985)
An art critic, painter, poet and photographer, Richard Lawrence Bartholomew was known for his body of writing on modern Indian art and his personal and critical engagement with emerging Modernist artists in post-Independence India. Throughout his career, he strongly advocated the need to foster dialogue with and among artists and challenged orthodoxies of art production, consumption and arbitration. Bartholomew’s critical writing underscored his belief that balanced and constructive criticism springs from an understanding of the creative process and its role in shaping artistic vision. His photography, largely a personal project during his lifetime, recorded moments from his private life, travels, interactions with artists and their interactions with art. His artistic encounters in studios and exhibition spaces, poetic sensibilities and conviction in the authenticity and intimacy of creative expression formed the wellspring of his work.
Bartholomew was born in Tavoy, Burma (now Myanmar) and schooled at the capital, Rangoon (now Yangon), until he and his family fled the country during the Japanese occupation in 1945. He arrived in Ledo in northeastern Assam, India and shortly after resumed his education in New Delhi. He went on to receive bachelor's and master’s degrees in English literature from St. Stephen’s College in 1948 and 50, respectively. He then taught English for seven years from 1951 at Modern School, New Delhi, during which time he also began work for Thought (as an art critic) and The Statesman (as a feature writer) in New Delhi. Between 1958-62, he contributed to and worked as an editor for newspapers and magazines such as Indian Express, Times of India and Vak. He was the director of Kunika Art Centre (later Kunika-Chemould) for three years from 1960, before working at the Tibet House museum, New Delhi as a curator. As a senior Rockerfeller Fellow in 1970, he spent a year in New York immersing himself in its many and varied Modernist expressions. From 1977 on, he served as the Secretary of Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, trying to bring about systemic changes in the way art was produced and received.
Bartholomew was not just an observer and commentator on the developing milieu of modern art in India, but a participant who sought a community within which to nurture the freedoms of identity and individuality that the newborn nation promised. His critical work – known equally for its linguistic flair, insight and artistic discernment – was informed by his experiences as a painter and writer. Among the earliest professional critics of post-Independence art, he documented the modernist trajectories of emerging artists, predominantly of the Progressive Artists Group (PAG) such as FN Souza, SH Raza, Bhupen Khakhar, Krishen Khanna, Tyeb Mehta, Ram Kumar, Akbar Padamsee, Manishi Dey and Biren De; and others such as Bhupen Khakhar, Jyoti Bhatt, Somnath Hore and Satish Gujral. His writing, which included catalogues, monographs, anthologies, and journals such as the Lalit Kala Contemporary, deeply influenced how modern Indian art was viewed by local and global audiences. His essay on MF Husain in the 1971 monograph titled Husain is considered one of his most significant, as it was, at the time, one of the earliest international publications on an Indian artist. Beyond art criticism, his literary contributions included poetry and short stories, which appeared in publications such as Thought and Illustrated Weekly. Some of his most notable work as a curator included the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) exhibition celebrating the silver jubilee of independence; the National Exhibition of Art (1983) and the Festival of India exhibition Contemporary Indian Art (1982) at the Royal Academy of Art, London.
Bartholomew’s camera was a companion through much of his adult life. His photography explored aspects of public life such relationships with artists and art spaces, as well as private life, such as his home and family, especially his wife Rati Batra and sons Pablo and Robin. It recorded the working conditions and the exhibitionary practices in the artistic avant-garde of the sixties and seventies and, less consciously, served as a window into his passionate yet contemplative life. A characteristic feature in his images is the interplay of light and shadow, used both aesthetically and as an invitation to explore meaning and metaphor. He is known to have spent hours in the dark room, developing film and manually masking and feathering his prints to enhance its affective qualities, on which he placed great emphasis.
When he died unexpectedly at the age of 57, he left behind a vast trove of photographic material that his son, photographer Pablo Bartholomew, assembled into an archive. This archive includes photographs of artists such as VS Gaitonde, MF Husain, Bhupen Khakhar, Nasreen Mohamedi and Jeram Patel. In these revealing-yet-unobtrusive portraits of artists – at parties, at work, in repose and in thought — we see a glimpse of what it was like to be an artist then. His photographs were first brought to public with a small collection that was exhibited in 2008 at Sepia, New York, in an exhibition titled A Critic’s Eye. Subsequent to the restoration of several other more photographs from the corpus of sixteen thousand negatives, two other exhibitions were held, first at PHOTOINK, New Delhi in 2009 and then at Chatterjee and Lal, Mumbai in 2010, reintroducing his work to the Indian art world.
D’mello, Rosalyn. 2010. “Fighting the Commonplace.” The Caravan, 1 February 2010. http://www.richardbartholomew.info/pdf/Fighting_the_Commonplace_Caravan.pdf
D’mello, Rosalyn, ed. 2012. Richard Bartholomew The Art Critic. Noida: BART.
Jhaveri, Shanay. 2013. “Time Regained”. Frieze. March 14, 2013. https://www.frieze.com/article/time-regained.
Richardbartholomew.info. n. d. “A CRITIC’S EYE a photobook and exhibition.” Accessed 9 April 2021. http://www.richardbartholomew.info/photobook/
Rahman, Ram. 2008. “A Critic’s Eye.” India International Centre Quarterly 35 (1): 140–144.