Standing Woman by Leela Mukherjee

Wood, 50 x 12 x 9 cm, Undated

Zeenat Nagree Published Jun 25, 2024 18:05:13 IST
Standing Woman by Leela Mukherjee photo: Courtesy of Mrinalini Mukherjee Foundation and Vadehra Art Gallery

Leela Mukherjee (1916 to 2002)—whose work did not receive much notice in her lifetime outside a close circle of friends and admirers—was recently the subject of a retrospective exhibition organized at Vadehra Art Gallery in New Delhi, with a catalogue published by the foundation managing the estate of her daughter, sculptor Mrinalini Mukherjee (1949 to 2015), that delves further into her oeuvre through essays by friends and scholars.

During Leela Mukherjee’s lifetime, it was the art practice of her husband, legendary modernist Benode Behari Mukherjee (1904 to 1980), that took precedence. In the late 1940s, when the couple moved to Nepal because he was appointed curator at the government museum, Leela Mukherjee trained in sculpting in wood from master craftsman Kulasundar Shilakarmi. This skill would help her make her most dynamic work.

Standing Woman is a powerful example of how contour and movement was central to her execution. Artist Ranbir Kaleka, who lived with Leela Mukherjee in her later years, notes that she was committed to daily observation of ordinary people around her, which she then distilled into her drawings and paintings.

In this sculpture, we seem to have caught a woman emerging mid-conversation, striking a pose with the suppleness of her limbs, perhaps scoffing at what was said and looking away, as if there is something else waiting ahead in the future. Mukherjee’s work moves between the abstract and the figurative with a restrained yet deliberate use of mallet and chisel, near impossible to locate in time or place.

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