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Pran Nath Mago was an artist of recognised eminence and created several significant works of art such as The Bengal Famine, Catching Fish, Rumours and Mourners (both on Partition) and Siesta. His painting Farewell (Collection Punjabi University, Patiala) is a fine document on art and life. It captures the tragedy of thousands of Punjabi soldiers who laid down their lives in the first and second world wars on foreign battle fronts. Amarjit Chandan has a written a moving essay on the painting in his book Nishani (Navyug, 1997). Though Mago spoke Punjabi fluently but could not read or write it, he took the book to a Punjabi writer and requested him to read it for him. He was moved to tears hearing the words Chandan had written. Many a time he expressed his immense praise for Chandan’s writing to me. In my knowledge both of them never met each other. His two oil paintings are poignant testimony to Punjab’s partition: “Rumours” (artist collection) and the other “Mourners” (National Gallery of Modern Art).
In 1957, the Lok Sabha House Decoration Committee asked Mago to design a panel on the theme of Jallianwala Bagh Massacre. It was a pencil sketch depicting the spirit of ‘meeting violence by non-violent means, to face the bullets fearlessly with a death-in-life attitude of detachment, to stand at one’s post rock-like. Such was Mago’s conception of the field of encounter, the lyrical expanse of which was deeper than the perspectival field would admit.’ However the Committee found his sketch unsuitable for the Jallianwala Bagh panel inspite of the fact that Mago did everything within the limits of his style to accommodate the whims of his patrons.
He had varied experience as a Professor in Painting, College of Art, New Delhi; Advisor to the Government of Malta on setting up an Art and Crafts School; and Director of Design Development Centre, All India Handicrafts Board, New Delhi.
His works, exhibited in India and abroad since 1946, were critically acclaimed and are in prestigious national and private collections. He was a recipient of a Ford Foundation Grant and honoured as Eminent Artist by the Punjab Art Heritage Society, Jalandhar Punjab. The Department of Culture, Government of India awarded an Emeritus Fellowship to him. He travelled extensively and delivered lectures in reputed universities, art colleges and museums in India and abroad.
He curated some important exhibitions for the National Gallery of Modern Art, Lalit Kala Akademi (Indian National Academy of Fine Arts), Indian Council for Cultural Relations, British Council and the Indira Gandhi Centre for the Arts. He had also written monographs on sculptor Amar Nath Sehgal and potter Gurchraran Singh published by the Lalit Kala Akademi. He was on the design committee of the Time Capsule embedded in the samadhi –tomb– of Jawahar Lal Nehru in 1972.
His book Contemporary Art In India: a Perspective (National Book Trust, India. 2001) is an honest attempt to trace the history that brought about an awareness of modernity in art in our country, and the directions it has taken during the last 150 years or so.
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