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Back from oblivion

Lalit Mohan Sen (1898-1954) was once a reputable and distinguished artist from this part of India but he is all but forgotten today.

He was a versatile talent who painted on canvas with oils, with poster colours and tempera on paper, sketched and drew with pencil, pen and ink, and dry pastel, produced linocuts, woodcuts and etchings, practised photography and created sculptures and designs for textiles, one of which was selected to be displayed at the All India Art in Industry Exhibition, 1944.

One of his photographs was selected for the third All India Salon in 1943, and his paintings are in the collections of the V&A Museum in London and Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi.

An exhibition of this forgotten artist’s works titled Unravelling a Modern Master opened in the Portrait gallery of the Victoria Memorial Hall on February 17 to revive interest in him and make people aware of his work.

Jayanta Sengupta, secretary and curator of the Victoria Memorial, said at the inauguration that this was the first of the three-part series of exhibitions on some of the iconic figures of the Bengal School of art. Next in line is an exhibition of Asit Kumar Halder, followed by a major show of Abanindranath.

The exhibition was only possible because of the efforts of Prabartak Sen, a descendant, who, like the artist, lives in Santipur in Nadia district. His wife had discovered a huge collection of Lalit Mohan’s work under a bed and some other places and she insisted that people must see it. Devdutta Gupta, who has curated the exhibition, said Lalit Mohan’s Western women were very different from those from Himachal. The latter have a more isolated look.

Art historian Tapati Guha-Thakurta said in her address that Lalit Mohan’s work had been extensively digitised at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences of which she is director.

Information on the artist is limited and she stressed the importance of “recovering and re-establishing such artists who worked in different media.” Lalit Mohan did not belong to any particular category like Bengal School and “fell into nooks and crevices”.

Which is why he was perhaps forgotten despite his successful career. A lot of his work is not known.