Stella Kramrisch (b. 1896; d. 1993)
A teacher, curator and art historian, Stella Kramrisch is regarded as a pioneering scholar of ancient Indian art and architecture as well as folk arts of the Indian subcontinent. Produced over six decades, her body of work covers subjects such as religious iconography, temple architecture, Indian painting and sculpture, and textiles.
Kramrisch was born in Nikolsburg, Austria (now Mikulov, Czech Republic). As a student at the University of Vienna, she studied art history and Sanskrit, and received a doctorate degree in 1919, writing a dissertation on early Buddhist sculpture. The same year, she was invited to lecture at the University of Oxford, UK. In 1921, she met Rabindranath Tagore in England. Tagore invited her to teach at Kala Bhavana, the fine arts institute of the Visva-Bharati University in Shantiniketan – an offer she accepted.
At Kala Bhavana, Kramrisch taught art history, introducing art movements of the western world, such as impressionism and modernism, to its teachers and students. As curator of the 14th annual exhibition of the Indian Society of Oriental Art – of which she was a member – she organised a showing of Bauhaus art. More than 200 works, including watercolours, etches and woodcuts, by artists such as Johannes Itten, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Lyonel Feininger were exhibited alongside works by Abanindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Gaganendranath Tagore and Sunayana Devi. Along with Abanindranath, she also co-edited the Society’s journal between 1923 and 1950.
In 1923, Kramrisch began teaching at the University of Calcutta as its first professor of Indian Art. She taught at the University until 1950, during which time she published works such as Principles of Indian Art (1924), Indian Sculpture (1933), A Survey of Painting in the Deccan (1937), and the seminal two-volume study The Hindu Temple (1946) to name a few. While there, she also published The Vishnudharmottara Part III, the first English translation of the Chitrasutra, an ancient treatise on the methods and concepts of Indian painting. Between 1937 and 1940, she travelled and taught at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, UK for a few months each year.
In 1950, Kramrisch moved to the United States of America and joined the University of Pennsylvania as a professor of Indian art. A few years later, she also took up the position of curator of Indian art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. From 1972 until her death, Kramrisch was Curator Emeritus at the Museum. She also taught Indian art from 1964 to 1982 at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University.
As a curator, Kramrisch helped the Philadelphia Museum of Art expand its collection of Indian and Himalayan artworks. She also organised and presented several exhibitions on Indian art. In 1968, the exhibition Unknown India: Ritual Art In Tribe and Village – displaying nearly 500 objects – opened at the Museum. For this exhibition, she collaborated with the Indian artist and scholar of folk art, Haku Shah. In 1981, the exhibition Manifestations of Shiva opened at the Museum. The result of a decade of research, it featured 129 sculptures and 64 paintings of the Hindu god. In 1986, she curated Painted Delight, an exhibition of Indian paintings from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century. In 1982, she was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India.
Apart from being a scholar, Kramrisch was also an art collector. Her personal collection – which she bequeathed to the Philadelphia Museum of Art – included a painting by Rabindranath Tagore, an array of textiles including kantha pieces and baluchari sarees, scroll paintings and religious art. Some of the kantha pieces from her collection were displayed in the exhibition Kantha: The Embroidered Quilts of Bengal (2009–2010) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Kramrisch passed away in Philadelphia in 1993.
Obituaries. “Stella Kramrisch, Indian-Art Expert And Professor, 97.” The New York Times, September 2, 1993. https://www.nytimes.com/1993/09/02/obituaries/stella-kramrisch-indian-art-expert-and-professor-97.html?searchResultPosition=7.
Otto, Elizabeth. “Bauhaus and India.” Google Arts and Culture. Accessed on August 24, 2021. https://artsandculture.google.com/story/bauhaus-and-india/cAXBuNF0R1tPNw?hl=en.
Philadelphia Area Archives Research Portal. “The Stella Kramrisch papers.” Accessed on August 24, 2021. http://dla.library.upenn.edu/dla/pacscl/ead.html?q=Stella%20Kramrisch&id=PACSCL_PMA_PMA001&.
Sozanski, Edward J. “Art: Delicate, Seductive Bengal Embroidery.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 10, 2010. https://www.inquirer.com/philly/entertainment/20100110_Art__Delicate__seductive_Bengali_embroidery.html.
Visva-Bharati. “Stella Kramrisch.” Accessed on August 24, 2021. http://www.visvabharati.ac.in/StellaKramrisch.html.