Bikash Bhattacharjee (B. 1940)
Bikash Bhattacharjee (B. 1940)

A Social Gathering

Bikash Bhattacharjee (B. 1940)
A Social Gathering
signed and dated 'Bikash '79' (lower right)
oil on canvas
48 x 48in. (121.9 x 121.9cm.)
Painted in 1979
Chester and Davida Herwitz Collection. Sotheby's New York, 5 December 2000, Contemporary Indian Paintings from the Chester and Davida Herwitz Collection, lot 136.
Manasij Majumder, Works of Bikash Bhattacharjee, Close to Events, New Delhi, 2007, p. 171 (illustrated).


Bikash Bhattacharjee is one of India's premier Surrealist artists. He utilizes a photo realistic technique in creating macabre and often chimerical depictions of life in India. Bhattacharjee brilliantly transforms the connotation of a painting by juxtaposing varied and incongruous objects in a scene, accomplishing this through tone, light and shade variations to his benefit. His works are characteristically dark and somber in mood. Making Calcutta's subaltern culture the central subject of his paintings, street boys, men, women, beggars performers and prostitutes often find their way on to his canvases. He states 'I see myself as a sort of painter journalist, using paint and canvas as a photo-journalist might use his camera. What I have to say is right there on the canvas.' (Indian Painting Today, Jehangir Art Gallery, Bombay, 1981, p. 17.)

Most remarkable about Bhattacharjee's body of work are his studies and deliberate painting technique. "I prefer to lay the dark colors first and then build up the lights and the highlights. This process has helped me to give dimension to my pictures to say what I want to, and also to give the canvas the texture and characters that I desire." (A. Banerjee, 'Conversations with Artists: Bikash Bhattacharjee', Lalit Kala Contemporary 15, New Delhi, 1973, p. 18.)

The female is one of the artist's favorite themes. "Most of the time, I live with my woman. She is not my wife, nor my daughter. But it is she I have fashioned out of my dreams, nurtured with my tears. She comes into my art, with my capabilities and shortcomings. I do not do anything to dishonor her, for she is not very different from me." (B. Bhattacharjee, Bikash Bhattacharjee Recent Works, Exhibition Catalogue, CIMA Gallery, Calcutta, 1994.)

A Social Gathering, painted in 1979 is a work borne of this phase in the artist's painterly career when his focus landed on the theme of women and the social injustices heaped upon them. The austere manner in which he has executed the central figure of the mature woman in white widows' sari, surrounded by loyal women folk, their eyes shadowed and blackened out and seated around an officious desk suggest a mood of insurgence.
While many of Bhattacharjee's compositional elements are untraditional, his formal abilities at painting and sheer technical skill are impressive and rare in the contemporary art world. Bikash Bhattacharjee's meticulous handling of paint and color finds his archetype in the work of Northern renaissance artist Jan Van Eyck, as he imbues his works with a naturalistic perfection that is remarkably beautiful.

"Sometimes the target of his caustic comment is often a class of women, plump and bejeweled ladies of high society, slick socialites, office girls with the heavily made-up synthetic faces they put up to attract male attention, whether for status in the elite social spheres or for the upward mobility in job or profession, demeaning in each case their real self as women. One may recall The Office Girl (1979), At the Opening Ceremony (1979) At a Social Gathering (1980) and Stenographer(1984)." (M. Majumder, Works of Bikash Bhattacharjee, Close to Events , New Delhi, 2007, p. 171 (illustrated)