The fading popularity of the incredible Mysore art


Mysuru: Use of organic pigments for tonal gradation, gold foils as embellishments, imprints of gesso and fine lines drawing mythological characteristics from ancient epics is what the age-old Mysore art is all about.

However, this extravagant sounding art form, having its roots in the Vijayanagar Empire, is dying a slow death and is in the danger of being forgotten.

Reasons behind fading popularity

Expensive raw material combined with extreme patience and time required to brush up one’s skills and become accomplished in this art form are the major factors contributing to its fading popularity.

Moreover, the advent of modern art forms and increased interests of buyers and artists in them is another crucial factor.

Gangadhar H. of the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath exclaimed, “The arrival of modern art about 20 years ago or so was the beginning of the slowdown for the traditional form,” pointing towards the extremely low figure of ten students enrolling for the Mysore Traditional Art course. “This was about 60 per cent less compared to enrolment rates a decade ago.”

Students themselves are observed showing lukewarm response towards the art owing to the two long years it takes to master it. “Modern art gave more scope for youngsters to wield their brush of individualism and subjective expressions,” Mr. Gangadhar added.

“One needs the patience to study it and discover its minuscule and diminutive facets,” said Prabha Mallesh who is associated with the art form for the last 30 years. “Even as a hobby, it is expensive. A 2ft x 2ft painting will set you back by Rs. 5,000 for gold foils, gesso lead powder, frame, board, paper or cloth and colours.”

Due to a significant decline of buyers for traditional paintings, there are fewer learners now, with old paintings gaining more value.

According to expert artists in Bengaluru and sources in galleries, a new 1ft x 1ft painting sells for nothing less than Rs. 15,000, while 10ft x 10ft or 15ft x 15 ft paintings are sold for anywhere between Rs. 30 lakh to Rs. 40 lakh.

This led to a rapid restoration of paintings. “They now reach restoration galleries to have their heritage tag intact,” said Madhu Rani K.P, director, ICKPAC Bengaluru, a unit of INTACH’s Conservation Institutes. “For the past 20 years, our centre has been conserving and restoring Mysore paintings by the hundreds. Some require minimal intervention but the more badly maintained ones need intensive restoration to credit the piece with its bygone value.”

A rich past

Often mistaken for being the Thanjavur art, the Mysore art, which adorned the palace pavilions, wealthy homes and bhajan mandiras with its mythical themes, was never instantly recognized.

Contemporary artist Rani Rekha, a 13th generation member of the Mysore art family practitioners whose forefathers were court artists at the palace said, “Its subdued aristocracy with a restrained and flat outlook is what differentiates it from the more opulent and flamboyant Thanjavur art that had generous gold foils and gems for ornamentation.”

Ms Rekha is the daughter of late S. Visweswara Raju, who created a niche for himself in Mysore art and trained thousands of artists in Karnataka.

The walls of Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath museum have displays of the old Mysore paintings in abundance with the City Central Library boasting of a 22-carat gold-leaf ornamentation.

Mysore art has its roots in the Vijayanagar Empire. Substantial development of the Mysore art began under the patronage of Krishnaraja Wadiyar III of Mysore, where several artists took homage after Vijayanagar’s fall in the 17th century.

Gradually, the subsequent maharajas nurtured it to assume an affluent art form.

Present situation and gender shift

With each passing year, the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath (which conducts classes) and other senior artistes have noticed a drop in the number of students. The evidence further proves that this decline has accelerated in the last five years.

Moreover, a clear gender shift can be observed here. Ninety per cent of the classes are now dominated by women. It’s quite a contrast to the past where the art form was dominated by men, said experts.

(With inputs from The Hindu. Picture Courtesy: )