Born: 30 July 1941
Died: 29 December 2008

Manjit Bawa - Famous Paintings


A modernist master of the figurative genre, Manjit Bawa was one of the few artists who took figuration right from the outset. His focus was always on the expressive nature of painting; the translation of line and colour into poetry and freedom1. Manjit was born on July 30, 1941 in Dhuri, Punjab, India. He draws inspiration from India’s perennial spirit, music, literature and poetry. He always felt that beneath his country’s cosmetic changes, India remains in many ways unchanged. Music in particular, has always been an alienable facet to his life, from the tabla he played while his wife Sharada was learning the Sitar, to the Pahari love songs he plays on the bamboo flute at his cherished studio at Dalhousie. Manjit’s childhood memories remain, the Himachali shepherd as he saw him in his travels across the state, the cows bulls, goats which are an integral part of the Indian metropolis, and now of his works. That visual reference and the recollection of it remains on the periphery of his subconscious, one which reveals itself in Manjit’s work. Manjit has been called by some a Sikh artist, but his sheer range makes categorization redundant. To Manjit, activism is intrinsic to a belief in life. He once organized a peace march during anti-Sikh riots in Delhi in 1991, and has been a foundermember of the Committee for Communal Harmony in New Delhi.

Manjit, who has been the commissioner of Bharat Bhavan at Bhopal and a jury member for the Sanskriti awards and the Kalidas Samman, has exhibited his work nationwide and at venues as diverse as London, Japan, China, New York, Amsterdam and Singapore. He works mainly at his studio spaces in New Delhi and Dalhousie. Today, while his canvases command the highest bids on the Indian art market at between 2.5 to 10 lakhs, Manjit remains his simple, unassuming self. He never paints for the financial benefits that he’s getting from doing so, he said, “I don’t paint for money. If I did, I should be doing many more paintings. Nor do I sell every work before the show opens. Sometimes I spend months and months just doing drawings for each painting. I never worried about commerce. I was 38 or 39 when I sold for the first time at my show. Till then, I didn’t think of selling. When you do that, you automatically start selling." The Zen element, which is largely observed in his works came into him indirectly. Very few colours are in his paintings but many others sought out their colors in painting after him and Swaminathan used them. With heart and courage, he applied more and more unusual colors and very few forms where there remains a lot of space.

After spending 8 years in England, which has been a good time for Manjit, making sets for theatre and working as a painter, he came back to India and turned some property into a guest house with his brother who was running it. He lived comfortably on their earnings and he can paint to his maximum perfection.

In the course of Manjit’s life, five people shaped the artist’s life — his older brother who encouraged him to do the sketches and landscapes and even gave him art materials; Abani Sen, his master babu who didn’t just teach him how to draw but also showed him that art is an attitude, what is art and what is life; Ranjan Sen, his son and friend who he said was his age - they studied literature and poetry together and discusses it; Jagdish Mehra, a faculty member who he met when he joined art school in Delhi and J. Swaminathan who he worships like his guru or an older brother. They all created a collective consciousness in him through their efforts.

Manjit studied at the College of Art, New Delhi, and then at the London School of Printing. During his stay abroad, from 1967 to 1971, he held his first solo exhibition in London and Spain. His last solo shows were in Nehru Centre and in galleries in London, 2005; New Delhi, in 2005, Mumbai, Hong Kong, in 2002; and New York, in 2000. Bawa’s works have also been part of many group shows including ‘Freedom 2008’ at the Centre for International Modern Art (CIMA), Kolkata, in 2008; ‘In Transit III’ Berlin, in 2005; ‘The Margi and the Desi’, New Delhi, in 2004; ‘Four Contemporary Artists’ New Delhi in 1998; ‘Wounds’ at CIMA, Kolkata and the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), New Delhi, in 1993; New York, in 1985; the Royal Academy, London, in 1982; and the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington DC, in 1982. Exhibitions that have included his work posthumously include ‘Kalpana: Figurative Art in India’ presented by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), London; ‘Tracing Time’ Mumbai and ‘In Memorium’ at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), New Delhi, all in 2009. Bawa lived and worked in New Delhi, till he passed away in 2008.

Manjit Bawa - Artworks

Text Reference:
Excerpts from the book Let’s Paint the Sky Red by S. Kalidas, Foreword, Arun Vadehra, published by Vadehra Art Gallery, 2011 and; Readings Manjit Bawa Ina Puri and published by the Lalit Kala Akademi in 2010


  • Sailoz Prize, New Delhi, 1963
  • National Award, Lalit Kala Academy, New Delhi, 1980
  • All India Exhibition of Prints and Drawings, Chandigarh, 1981
  • First Bharat Bhavan Biennale, Bhopal, 1986
  • National Award for Best Documentary ‘Meeting Manjit’, 2002


  • Pocket Art Series: Manjit Bawa in His Own Words
  • Readings - Manjit Bawa by Ina Puri
  • Let’s Paint the Sky Red
  • In Black and White: The Authorized Biography of Manjit Bawa

Top 10 Auction Records

Title Price Realized
Untitled (Krishna and Cow) USD 780,500
Untitled (Gaja Lakshmi) INR 38,625,000
Untitled INR 32,400,000
Untitled (Figure with Bull) GBP 428,750
Untitled (Krishna) INR 29,025,000
Untitled USD 434,500
Untitled (Durga) USD 425,000
The Black Devi USD 389,000
Untitled INR 21,600,000
Untitled (Acrobat) INR 20,400,000