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Remembering Jehangir Nicholson

Jehangir Nicholson - A Collector and a Gentleman
" I bought art because it did something for my soul. I never thought of it in terms of value appreciation.' Jehangir Nicholson Jehangir Nicholson's name was synonymous with contemporary Indian art. His enormous and meticulously built up collection of paintings and sculptures is one of the most comprehensive collections of contemporary Indian art in the country. The octogenarian collector, who, until his last days thought of little else then expanding and preserving his collection, died on October 31, 2001, in Mauritius.

The National Gallery of Modern Art in Mumbai and New Delhi recently paid a tribute to him by organising an exhibition titled 'A Collector's Eye', of over 100 works from his exquisite collection.

Jehangir Nicholson started collecting art with no specific purpose or definite pattern. In fact, it was only after his wife's death in 1967 that he began to focus on this activity. Nicholson worked at Breul & Company, the family cotton business, and spent his spare time in art galleries, looking at paintings or discussing them with artists and critics. His artistic sensibilities were fine-tuned after he came in touch with the likes of M. F. Husain, S. H. Raza and Akbar Padamsee. Over a period of time, he developed a keen insight and an expertise in the subject of Indian art. Gradually, a pattern emerged. Works by artists like Ram Kumar and Krishen Khanna, Gaitonde and Akbar Padamsee started being inducted in greater numbers into his collection.

In the nineteen seventies he consented to the suggestion of a permanent display of his collection at the National Centre for Performing Arts, located in South Mumbai. It had been his desire for some time to set up a museum of modern art. He gave a part of his collection to the NCPA in 1976 at the request of the then NCPA director V. K. Narayana Menon. Industrialist and art patron J.R.D. Tata too supported the idea, and suggested that the collection be housed in a building in the NCPA and called 'The Jehangir Nicholson Museum of Modern Art'. Artist Bal Chhabda also encouraged and assisted Nicholson in setting up the museum.

In the late seventies he came in contact with Laxman Shreshtha and abstract art. Fascinated by the artist and his style, Nicholson began collecting many of his works. Gaitonde, Ram Kumar, Krishen Khanna, Husain, Ara, Ganesh Pyne, Bhupen Kakkar, Atul and Anju Dodiya were also among his favourite artists. His collection featured most of the leading Indian artists who produced work over the last century, ranging from Rabindranath Tagore and Jamini Roy, to Anjolie Ela Menon, Nalani Malani and Jitish Kallat.

Jehangir Nicholson then began to collect works with the intention of documenting stylistic developments in an artist's career. The idea was to trace and document the milestones of their development as an artist. This he did meticulously and his collection now serves as an important record of the evolution and progress of contemporary Indian art and artists, over the years.

Nicholson was concerned about the fate of his collection after his time. He was keen that his collection not become an inheritance to be enjoyed by just a few. Hence he requested the government of Maharashtra to provide him with a piece of land in South Mumbai where he could build another museum of modern art that would house his collection in its entirety. This was his greatest dream and desire; one he often mentioned to his close friends. Unfortunately he passed away before his dream materialized. Today the fate of the Jehangir Nicholson Collection remains undecided. Who knows if somebody will take the initiative to house the priceless collection in a museum, where it belongs...and make the dream of a pioneer and true lover of Indian art come true.

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