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Richard Barthalomew

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1926, Tavoy, Myanmar
Died 1985, New Delhi
Lives and works in New Delhi

Myanmar born Richard Bartholomew fled his native country during the World War II. But he found a new home in Delhi and got deeply involved in the Indian contemporary art scene. His close relations with many of the pioneering artists allowed him to critique and chronicle the Indian contemporary arts through a series of writings which were accompanied with his own photographs that capture those artists at work


M.A. English, St. Stephen's College, Delhi

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UNDERSTANDING Richard Barthalomew

His association as a photographer with the Progressive Art Movement

The turmoil in both his native and adopted nation did not dent his creative pursuits. He was at the right place at the right time. With independence, Indian art scene was also going through a sea change and future legends were beginning to make their mark. He got involved with the Progressive Art Movement that was shaping the contemporary Indian art. His close relations with those artists helped him blossom as a photographer. His portraits of MF Hussain, FN Souza, Ram Kumar and other such names remained some of his best works in photography along with the intimate portraits of his own family members.

Richard Bartholomew, M.F. Hussain, Old Delhi, 1958, photograph

Chronicling Indian Art as a Critic as well as Photographer

Bartholomew grew in stature as an art critic. He started publishing art criticism in the mid-50s and became the chief critic of The Times of India within a few years. He contributed to several catalogues, anthologies and journals. Many of these works are enriched with illustrated reproductions of his subjects as well his own photographs of those artists and events. He chronicled the fledgling field of Indian contemporary arts with such detail and personal attention that his works can be considered ultimate resource for studying the growth and evolution of the field. His photographs have been published as a collection called A Critic's Eye, which appropriately sums up his nature of work.

Richard Bartholomew, M.F. Hussain, Old Delhi, 1958, photograph

Rediscovering Richard through Pablo and personal photography

The enormity and importance of Richard’s works were not fully realized even by the 1980s. For most part Richard remained art critic until Pablo rediscovered his 35000 negatives and digitised them for a more personal conversation with his father and to understand the man of few words better. But he gained more posthumous prominence in the 90s after Pablo’s attempts to restore them to not only reveal the personal history of the family as well as a social history of those that lived through the 50s, 60s and the 70s. His portraits of his wife as well as eminent artists reveal a certain invasion that the camera makes without being intrusive and violent in the 60s. Pablo in an essay mentions how back in the day people were not camera conscious like they are today. Cameras therefore did not create posed photographs but caught them in more natural poses of sleeping, reading etc.

Richard Bartholomew, Rati Sleeping, New Delhi, 1971, photograph

A Refugee in a Torn Land

Richard Bartholomew is an interesting figure in the Indian art scene. He was a Burmese who made India his home. He was born in Tavoy, Myanmar in 1926. The World War II interfered with his education and he fled to India to save his life. It was also a tumultuous period in India which achieved independence but had to go through a violent partition. Later on, he achieved master’s degree from St Stephens College where he met his future wife Rati Batra, another refugee, from newly carved out Pakistan. Military dictatorship in Myanmar prevented his return and he lived in India as a stateless person for a long time before finally getting Indian citizenship in the 60s. Amit Chaudhuri, the novelist, claims that there is a sense of in-betweenness, homelessness based on the cosmopolitanism of the 60s.

Richard Bartholomew, Thunder Storm, Old Delhi, 1959, photograph