Born: 15 February 1924
Died: 29 June 2016

KG Subramanyan - Art Works


Eminent artist, art teacher, designer, writer and philosopher of art, Kalpathi Ganpathi “KG” Subramanyan, also called Manida, is a major presence on the Indian art scene. Born in 1924 into a Tamil Brahmin family at Kuthuparambu in north Kerala. His father, Ganapati Iyer was a surveyor in the revenue department and like many others of his community he was a connoisseur of Carnatic music. He took young Subramanyan to concerts, and at one point he even hoped that his son would become a musician. His mother, Alamellu, was also fond of the performing arts and would often be accompanied by Subramanyan to the performances of harikatha singers and the plays of itinerant theatre groups. As a child, Subramanyan was irresistibly drawn to art objects and events without knowing them to be such. “I saw the painting and sculpture in the temples, temple chariots or houses with great relish; I marveled at the spectacular rigs of ritual dancers, and the painting and paraphernalia of ritual worship.” Some of them like the painted reliefs of the local temple were a part of his everyday environment. These inspired him to try his hand at painting, make small laterite carvings and indulge in other artistic activities, without harbouring any ambition of becoming professional artist. But they did make a deep impression on him.

Subramanyan has grown to be an artist whose perspectives on art and life carry resonances of an early engagement with the nationalist movement in which Gandhi and Rabindranath loomed large. As an artistteacher closely associated with the art colleges at Baroda and Santiniketan and as a designer-consultant associated for long years with the Handloom Board and the World Crafts Council, he has had shipping influence on art and design practice in India. With his myriad interests and varied oeuvre, he is an artist who carries forward the encyclopedic vision and legacy of his mentors into the present. Subramanyan’s versatility comes partly from the diverse materials he works with as a painter, muralist, printmaker, relief-sculptor, and designer, and partly from the flexibility and layered richness of his visual language. The latter allows him to move from one level of communication or expression to another with great ease and without compromising on his individuality. The ease with which he does this - be it an illustrated book or a mural that wraps a whole building - is truly phenomenal. Progressively coming under the influence of his brothers who had literary and cultural interest, one of them a school teacher, Subramanyan began to take advantage of the town’s public library and became a voracious, precocious reader. He familiarized himself with Malayalam and English poetry and made acquaintance with the larger world of professional art. However, art was still not his main interest. In 1942, a time when the Quit India movement reupted, Subramanyan became a leading student activist and led protests which got him arrested and sent to jail for six months in 1943. To save him from this fresh detention, his brother who was a police officer and lived in Mangalore took him under his wings and wrote a letter to Nandalal Bose, having noticed Subramanyan’s continued interest in art. He wanted to find out if Bose would be willing to take Subramanyan on as a student and in 1944 received a response welcoming him. Though he had been deeply involved with political activism, he reached a point in his life where he realized that politics was not cut out for him, Subramanyan then heeded to Nandalal’s call and went to Santiniketan to study art at Kala Bhavan.

Subramanyan defies bracketing and stands a little apart on the Indian art scene. Drawn to the nationalist movement early in life he developed an ideological perspective on culture even before he went to art school. Educated at Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan, one of the nerve centers of pre-independence cultural resurgence under artists who were exercised about the larger questions of cultural practices, he was geared to take a broader view of life and art. This separated him from his contemporaries in post-independent India who were largely guided by a passionate commitment to European modernist styles and modernist individualism. Working in intellectual isolation it took him time to shape his ideas and give them visual articulation. But once he spread his wings, his stature grew and it has, as it seldom does in art, kept growing with age.

Subramanyan did further studies at Slade School of Art, London. He continued painting and teaching over the next few decades, and was appointed a fellow of the National Lalit Kala Akademi in 1985, and a Christensen Fellow at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, in 1987-88. Subramanyan also served as Dean at the Faculty of Fine Arts, M. S. University, Baroda, and in 1989 was appointed Professor Emeritus at Santiniketan. He has had numerous solo and group exhibitions, and participated in several major Biennales and Triennales. In 1966 Subramanyan was awarded the John D. Rockfeller III Fund Fellowship. In recognition of his varied contributions to the development of Indian art he was awarded the Shiromani Kala Puraskar by the Government of India in 1994. A retrospective exhibition of his work was held in 2003 at the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi and Mumbai. Subramanyan was awarded the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Vibhushan by the Government of India in 2006 and 2012 respectively. At the age of 92, he passed away in Vadodara in June 2016.

Text Reference:
Excerpt from K.G. Subramanyan “The Painted Platters”. R. Siva Kumar, jacket overleaf text -do- Excerpt from the book K.G. Subramanyan “A Retrospective” by R. Siva Kumar published by the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi in 2003 -do-


  • Bombay Art Society Award, 1957
  • Bombay Art Society Award, 1959
  • Maharashtra State Award, 1961
  • Medallion of Honourable Mention, Sao Paulo Biennale, Brazil, 1963
  • National Award, Lalit Kala Academy, New 1968 Gold Medal, The First International Triennale, New Delhi, 1965
  • Padma Shri, Government of India, 1975
  • Kalidas Samman, 1981
  • Fellow, Lalit Kala Akademi, 1985
  • Gagan-Aban Puraskar, Visva Bharati, Santiniketan, 1991
  • D.Litt (Honoris Causa), Rabindra Bharati University, Calcutta, 1992
  • Fellow, Kerala Lalit Kala Akademi, 1993
  • Shiromani Puraskar, Calcutta, 1994
  • D.Litt (Honoris Causa), Benaras Hindu University, Benaras, 1997
  • Kala Ratna, All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society, New Delhi, 1999
  • Jadunath Sarkar Gold Medal, Asiatic Society, Calcutta, 2000
  • Abanindra Puraskar, Calcutta, 2000
  • Gana Krishti Puraskar, Government of West Bengal, 2001
  • Manaviyam Ravi Varma Award, Government of Kerala, 2001
  • Lalit Kala Ratna awarded by the Lalit Kala Akademi on the occasion of its Golden Jubilee, 2004
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata, 2005
  • Aditya Vikram Birla Kalashikhar Puraskar, 2006
  • Padma Bhushan, Government of India, 2006
  • Dishikottam, Visva Bharati University, Santiniketan, 2009
  • D.Litt (Honoris Causa), Assam University, Silchar, 2011
  • Padma Vibhushan, Government of India, 2012


  • K.G. Subramanyan (Recent Works)
  • New Works - K.G. Subramanyan
  • Sketches, Scribbles, Drawings
  • Moving Focus “Essays on Indian Art”
  • K.G. Subramanyan
  • K.G. Subramanyan “A Retrospective”
  • K.G. Subramanyan “The Painted Platters”
  • The Living Tradition
  • The Creative Circuit
  • The Magic of Making: Essays on Art and Culture

Top 10 Auction Records

Title Price Realized
Pastoral INR 12,000,000
Mask, Icon, Mount, Mascot USD 185,000
Spring Interior INR 5,405,000
Untitled INR 4,682,700
Studio INR 4,352,749
Untitled INR 4,025,000
Padmini USD 80,500
The Sniper and the Rain Cloud INR 3,339,600
Untitled INR 2,750,000
Inayat Khan Looking at Pastoral Landscape INR 2,173,500