Rembrandt of the East : António Xavier Trindade

António Xavier Trindade was a master portraitist from Goa whose paintings are famous for depicting the free-spirited, and uninhibited women of India in the 19th-20th century. He was one of the five most important artists of his time, and was aptly termed ‘Rembrandt of the East‘ by art critics.

Self-Portrait in Green, 1912 by António Xavier Trindade (C) Fundação Oriente

The trend of oil-portraitures was introduced to India by 18th-century European painters (like Tilly Kettle, Thomas Hickey, Johann Zoffany and others) who were visiting the subcontinent. After the Great Exhibition of 1851, the British sought to establish art schools (like the Mayo College in Lahore, J.J School of Art in Bombay) where an instruction in this medium transformed the Indian painters’ subjects and style completely! With time, artists graduating from these schools found new patrons in the Bombay and Calcutta elite. The early 20th Century thus witnessed several painters from the J.J. School of Art gain prominence through their portraits. António Xavier Trindade was one of them.

António Trindade: Early Days

Trindade grew up in Goa in the 1870s and joined the J.J School of Art in Bombay at the age of 19. His contemporaries included M.F Pithawalla, Pestonji Bomanjee, Fyzee Rahamin, and M.V Dhurandhar – but Trindade stood out for the unique portrayal of his subjects. While a student, he participated in the Bombay Art Society’s exhibitions, winning considerable recognition. By the turn of the 20th century, he had become famous for his realist (and slightly unglamorous) portraits that merged European technique and Indian influences. Trindade later joined the J.J School of Art as a faculty member.

The Fundação Oriente in Panjim is hosting an exhibition to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of António Xavier Trindade.

The exhibition features a considerable number of recently restored paintings that have never been displayed before. While the first three sections of the exhibition look at several aspects of António Xavier Trindade’s legacy, the last one is dedicated to his daughter, Ângela Trindade’s work. In the statement about the exhibition, the Fundação Oriente says:

“The legacy of António Xavier and Ângela Trindade spans across more than a hundred years of intense political and social change in the Indian Subcontinent and, to a great extent, represents the diverse influences and remarkable artistic tendencies found in the 20th century Indian arts”.

On the side, we’d just say that exhibition or not, a visit to the Fundação Oriente Art Gallery is a must when you’re in Goa!

The Rembrandt of the East : the portraits of António X Trindade

Whether you’re seeing Trindade’s art for the first time, or the fiftieth, you will be struck by his imitation of texture (especially all the sarees & dresses!), and the use of light to convey emotion, drama and mood. It is perhaps this, that made him the Rembrandt of the East!

Trindade’s paintings seem to draw you in for a conversation. His subjects are dignified, and there’s a sense of intimacy in the paintings.

Here’s a selection of some paintings we absolutely love:

The intimate world of António Trindade

Family by Lamplight (1916): It is rare to spot a painting from this time that offers you such a ‘private’ view of the interiors. This dramatic painting shows the artist’s children crowding around a table studying in the light of a lamp. One of them even turns to look at you – the viewer – as you step in, probably unannounced. Does your presence matter? What is the mood of this composition?

Family by Lamplight,1916 by António Xavier Trindade (C) Fundação Oriente
Family by Lamplight,1916 by António Xavier Trindade (C) Fundação Oriente | Activity Sheet

Take a deeper look into the painting : can you identify the elements that convey this mood?

Esther Reclining(n.d.): Trindade’s youngest daughter Esther features in this painting – and as a viewer, the eye goes straight to her face. In a way, Trindade has created a ‘focal’ point by contrasting the foreground and background. If, like a Mughal style miniature painting, everything was detailed, you wouldn’t know where to look, and the painting would appear flat instead of having a ‘real’ effect.

Esther Reclining, n.d. by António Xavier Trindade (C) Fundação Oriente

Dolce Farniente (1920):  This painting, which won him the Bombay Art Society’s gold medal features his wife Flora. The detail on the skin, the signs of age, the lines of the face are strikingly real and incredibly intimate. Do you notice how the skin colour contrasts with the background? There’s a certain air of reluctance in the scene (in comparison to Esther Reclining) – and if that indeed was the case, Trindade makes no effort to hide it.

Dolce Farniente, 1920 by António Xavier Trindade (c) Fundação Oriente

Trindade also painted family friends: Miss Ferns (1925) and John, the Family Cook (1930)

The artist and his world: António Trindade’s paintings of everyday life and people around

The Armenian Sisters (1932) : This is one of Trindade’s most striking paintings! As a viewer, it also helps one understand his art better. In this portrait of refugees, Trindade doesn’t paint victimhood, or poverty; he simply focuses on the sisters (notice how the human component is proportionately larger than the environment they’re in) introducing you to their reality. That’s Trindade’s skill in composition. This portrait was painted in 1932 – yet it feels as if the scene was unfolding right in front of you and that you’ve just met the subjects! This sense of intimacy & realism probably stems from Trindade’s use of layered, multiple glazes of colour.

Armenian Sisters (1932) by António Xavier Trindade (c) Fundação Oriente

Forsaken (n.d.) : There are countless miniatures showing the Nayika’ (heroine) waiting for her lover who never comes. With the revivalist art of the Bengal school painters, the pining heroine made a comeback but Trindade’s “Nayika” is different. His poignant portrayal helps the viewer make a connection with the subject. This painting is one of the many indicating Trindade’s sensitive use of western techniques to represent an inherently Indian subject.

Forsaken, n. d. by António Xavier Trindade (C) Fundação Oriente

It wasn’t just the ‘academic realism’ style that Trindade mastered. The real measure of Trindade’s success as an artist is evident in his capacity to immerse himself in a variety of styles.

The third section of the exhibition features his watercolours. Any artist who works with the medium will agree that it’s not a forgiving medium. One can’t really colour over mistakes and most paintings have to be planned. Take a look at how he creates shadows, reflections and adds details to his watercolours in the Nasik series.

In his paintings of Nasik, he captures the bustling townscape, featuring landmarks, costumes and the environs of the Godavri river.

From his time making portraits of family and friends to a time when he was creating extraordinary watercolours of Nasik, it is clear that Trindade never lost sight of his fascination with the everyday life of his country-people.

Angela Trindade (1909-1980): her father’s daughter!

In a conversation about women artists from India, Angela Trindade’s name rarely crops up. Born in Bombay, she took to painting at the age of 5. By 15, she had joined the J.J School of Art. As one of the first women in India to pursue art as a profession and the first woman painter to be granted a fellowship by the JJ School of Art, it is unfortunate that her story is confined to Goa.

In the last section of the exhibition, you get to discover the art of Angela Trindade. Her Indian style-Christian art became quite popular and as her art practice grew, she formed her own style, “Trindadism” : from the Trinity inspired-triangle art. 

The exhibition runs from 10 am to 6pm Monday-Saturday, and is free for visitors.

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