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    Rudolf von Leyden

    Map Academy

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    A German art critic who rose to prominence in Bombay (now Mumbai), Rudolf von Leyden is best known for championing the works of experimental Indian artists, especially those associated with the Progressive Artists Group. Von Leyden worked as an art critic for the Times of India, associate editor for the magazine Marg and adviser for acquisitions and art commissions by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR).

    Born in Berlin, Germany, von Leyden obtained his PhD in geology from the University of Göttingen in 1932 before moving to Bombay (now Mumbai) in order to escape the Nazi regime. He joined his brother Albrecht von Leyden, who had been working in the city since 1927 as a representative of the Agfa Company. After his attempts to carve out a career in the field of geology proved unsuccessful, he began to pursue his interest in art. In 1934, Leyden established the “Leyden Commercial Art Studio,” while also establishing himself as an advertising and publicity expert. He joined the Times of India in 1937 as manager of the advertising department, but soon took to reviewing and critiquing art for the newspaper, which he continued to do until the 1950s. Von Leyden also created several cartoons satirising political events during and after World War II, such as the Cold War tensions between the USA and Russia, which were published in The Illustrated Weekly of India and other periodicals in India.

    Along with other German expatriate art critics and collectors, such as Emanuel Schlesinger and Walter and Kathë Langhammer, as well as Indian art connoisseurs, such as Kekoo Gandhy, Homi Bhabha and Mulk Raj Anand, Leyden helped promote and mobilise support for Indian avant-garde artists. He contributions and support were sometimes financial — as in the case of KH Ara — and most often took the form of rhetoric and publicity. Von Leyden was a central fixture in the social networking circles that exerted considerable influence on the discourses around and direction of modern art in India. In his writing, he often stressed the importance of providing a state policy for patronage and support that would reflect not only the past of independent India but also the progressive aspects of its visual and cultural arts. He was also a collector of and expert on antique board games and playing cards. His collection of ganjifa playing cards, on which he has also written a book, was exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London in 1982.

    Von Leyden was on several juries and panels involved in the curation of Indian art for national and international events and shows. These included the first National Art Exhibition (1955), New Delhi and the Triennale India exhibition (1968), for which he served as a jury member along with Mexican ambassador and poet Octavio Paz and Tate museum director Norman Reid.

    He returned to Vienna in 1968, where he spent the later years until his death in 1983.



    Arbuthnot, Mollie. “Bombay satire: Rudolf von Leyden’s Political Cartoons in India in the 1930s and 40s” Asian and African Studies Blog, British Museum. December 12, 2018. Accessed July 28, 2021.

    Franz, Margit. “From Dinner Parties to Galleries: The Langhammer-Leyden-Schlesinger Circle in Bombay — 1940s through the 1950s.” In Arrival Cities: Migrating Artists and New Metropolitan Topographies in the 20th Century, edited by Bucru Dogramaci, Mareike Hetschold, Laura Karp Lugo, Rachel Lee, and Helene Roth. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2020.

    Leyden, Rudolf von. “Art in Independent India.” Times of India, August 15, 1949. Republished in Critical Collective. Accessed July 28, 2021.

    Maddox, Georgina. “The Wanderlust of Art Writing.” MASH, June 24, 2020. Accessed July 28, 2021.

    Shah, Gayatri Rangchari. “Not Just Modern Art, but Indian.” The New York Times. March 03, 2011. Accessed July 28, 2021. 


    Singh, Devika. “German Speaking Exiles and the Writing of Indian Art History.” Journal of Art Historiography, vol. 1, no.17 (December 2017): 1–19.

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