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Elizabeth Brunner: Her Life-Her Words
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About the Book

 

As the title suggests, Elizabeth Brunner: Her Life-Her Words, is a delightful collection of stories written by the Hungarian artist who came to India in 1930 with her mother, Elizabeth Sass Brunner, and made it her home. The book, with an introduction by Dr Imre Lazar, contains her experiences in this country. It also contains rare photographs and beautiful paintings that the Brunners created.

 

The talented artist are well known in India and Hungry. Their art reflects their experiences in various parts of the world, highlighting their encounters with personalities such as Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Jwaharlal Nehru and the Dalai Lama, among others.

 

Published on the occasion of the birth centenary of Elizabeth Brunner, this book is a treasure, both in words and images. It is all the more special because of the deep love the mother and daughter had for India.

 

About the Author

 

Dr. Imre Lazar is a scholar of international studies and a specialist in cultural diplomacy. At present he is Director of the Hungarian information and Cultural Centre in New Delhi. He studied diplomacy and international relations at the University of Economic Science of Budapest and received the Degree ‘Doctor Oeconomicus’. Later Jawaharlal Nehru University, School of International studies, New Delhi, obtaining a Ph.D. for his thesis on Indo-Hungarian cultural diplomacy.

 

He met Elizabeth Brunner for the first time in 1988 in New Delhi and became one of her closest associates. Dr. Lazar was permitted to study her and her mother’s paintings and the various documents of their life. After Elizabeth’s death he worked with the executors of her will, distributing her bequest to several Indian and Hungarian museum. He has curated seven exhibitions of the Brunners, including ‘The Call of India’ a centenary retrospective held at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in 2010. He has also worked on several catalogues, papers and articles on the Brunners.

 

Foreword

 

These lines of Gurudeva Rabindranath Tagore forever reverberate in many hearts beyond the confines of time and place. No matter on how many 'alien doors' we have knocked and how many 'outer worlds' we have wandered through, at the end we arrive to our own to reach our 'innermost shrine'.

 

There were two frail Hungarian women who dared to challenge the world and set for an arduous journey through many countries to find a place on Earth that can be called 'home'-to find their own self. More than eighty years ago, unpremeditated came a call to Elizabeth Sass Brunner and her daughter Elizabeth Brunner, to visit India. Then began the journey and the search for finding a 'home beyond home'. For them India represented a haven of peace and tranquillity beyond the rational mind. No doubt there had been Hungarians who had been drawn to India for other reasons. The journey of Tibetologist Alexander (soma de Koros was a journey of exploration which took him far and wide from the western to the eastern Himalayas. Ervin Baktay explored another dimension-he gave up painting to study eastern religions and art and became a renowned Indologist.

 

Elizabeth Sass Brunner and Elizabeth Brunner were looking for a place on Earth which would fulfil their idyllic dreams. Elizabeth Sass Brunner had mystic visions :-these were her callings. Elizabeth Brunner was not only her daughter but her other inseparable self. Their physical journey to India was understandably fraught with many problems-linguistic, monetary, health, etc., etc. All these the mother and the daughter overcame with stoic determination.

 

Like some other contemporaries, the Brunners were welcomed with open arms in the sylvan surroundings of Gurudeva's abode, Santiniketan, with his warm and generous embrace. He recognised their creativity, sensitivity and sincere search and nurtured it. The Brunners found a home beyond home in Santiniketan. For decades both together, and later Elizabeth separately, travelled to different parts of India, particularly the Himalayas. Of course, they continued to visit other parts of Asia, especially Japan. The large corpus of their paintings is evidence of their ability to grasp and identify themselves with the land and naturally the human landscape. They absorbed the culture with extraordinary empathy and insight. This experience they captured in line and colour through a variety of pictorial genres.

 

As has often been remarked, few Indians and fewer artists would have had an opportunity to interact, to portray an array of Indians who were the makers of India-Gandhi, Tagore, Nehru and Mrs. Indira Gandhi alike. Even fewer would have had an opportunity or the magnetic charm to make His Holiness the Dalai Lama to be the subject of her portrait. Elizabeth's encounter with Buddhism was at a very deep level. For a decade or more this engagement resulted in a body of work which speaks of the intensity of her experience, the depth of her involvement and the extraordinary capacity to communicate it through the art. Elizabeth had travelled a long, long way from the first callings of India to her involvement with the life of the people. She had known the ordinary, the villager and the farmer, the young mother, the ripeness of old age. She had communicated with royalty as also with saints and mystics, but the internal sacred and spiritual experience was the gift of her engagement with Buddhism. This and much more can be said, and has been said, about the paintings of the mother and the daughter and the incomparable legacy which they have left behind-now the pride of many institutions in India, Hungary and elsewhere.

 

However, there have been few artists who have matched their creativity with an equal ability to record their encounters with the subjects which they painted. In short, the creative artist and the critical observer fused into one. Elizabeth Brunner was not keeping notes the way one has found in case of Leonardo de Vinci or some other painters. She was writing consistently from 1937 to 1994 recording precisely her encounters, engagements with places, with people, with personalities. The present volume, which holds together her writing from 1937 to 1994, is that testimony of her journey and her own observations on that journey. Dr. Imre Lazar, the young and dynamic Director of the Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre, has undertaken a difficult task of compiling her writing of over six decades and has also written a brilliant and very informative introduction. This has been a challenge. Assiduously he has collected and organised her writings over a long period of time and a vast canvas of myriad experience. This ranges from Elizabeth's poignant essay entitled 'Tagore reminded me of Moses' or when she records with sincerity and a touch of humour 'When Gandhiji challenged me to paint 'his soul", or when she communicates with Sarojini Naidu, or with a piercing insight speaks of Nicolai Michoutouchkine, and many others. The result of this effort and devotion is self-evident. Dr. Lazar's dedication to Elizabeth Brunner is exemplary. Dr. Lazar's involvement with the legacy of Elizabeth Sass Brunner and Elizabeth Brunner and his valuable role in ensuring that the paintings reach their diverse destinations of institutions has been invaluable. The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts was one major recipient. There were others. Dr. Lazar has worked tirelessly to organise a series of exhibitions in the IGNCA, Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre, India International Centre and in other institutions in Hungary. We are grateful for his devotion. Paintings, the catalogues and now this volume constitute a fitting tribute for an extraordinary artist and human being who traversed many worlds of the West and the East and experienced an outer visual phenomenon only to enrich her inner sacred experience of the soul.

 

For me reading through this book was as educative as nostalgic, and a touching reminder of a generation of human beings who transcended boundaries of time and space, nationalities and single identities. Elizabeth Brunner shares with us a variety of experience. Of course, in her paintings the Himalaya occupies an important space. It was the vision of the Himalaya, its forests and flowers, which both mother and daughter capture in their paintings. In this volume we get a glimpse of their communication with people-painters, political leaders and artists alike. These skills are a counter-point to her paintings. This is evident when she describes her conversations with Rabindranath Tagore, when she narrates her meeting with the French artist Nicolai Michoutouchkine, or when she meets and describes her conversations with the German Buddhist, Anagarika Govinda; or when she paints Gandhiji (Gandhiji had teased her, 'Can you paint my soul in half-an-hour?'); or when she meets with that nightingale Sarojini Naidu.

 

Elizabeth describes with disarming sincerity her experience of participating in different events, curating her own exhibitions and the enthusiastic responses she received in some of the first exhibitions, particularly in Kolkata. She was no stranger to Stella Kramrisch. Her account of Stella Kramrisch's response to the paintings is illuminating for more reasons than one. Stella had also come to India to search for a mystic India. She became the foremost art historian. Elizabeth Sass Brunner and Elizabeth Brunner's journey of exploration is different but complementary. This brief account of the exhibition and Stella Kramrisch's and Percy Brown's responses are sincere vignettes into the historiography of Indian art history.

 

Elizabeth left no stone unturned to meet anyone who mattered-political, intellectual or spiritual. She wanted to paint Annie Besant. This did not happen but she certainly could sketch J. Krishnamurti in Adyar. Along with some others her mother thought that J. Krishnamurti was ahead of his times. Elizabeth has very sensitively captured Krishnamurti in her sketch.

 

The volume concludes with two more essays, viz., 'Remembering the spiritual awakening of my mother' and 'Eternal challenge'. These are indeed pen sketches through words of very deep experience. As I said, for me this was a nostalgic journey, because I too belonged to that generation who has had the privilege of seeing, knowing, being inspired by these men and women of extraordinary stature and being attracted by the Himalayas, and, more, the sources of the perennial wisdom of India. Elizabeth Brunner and her monumental artistic legacy belongs to the world. India became her 'home beyond home', both physically and spiritually. I had the privilege of knowing her for many decades. This for me was an enriching experience as for some others who were her closest friends. I have shared the poignant moments of her last years. Along with others I have tried to fulfil her wishes in the matter of the distribution of her paintings to many institutions, including the IGNCA.

 

The IGNCA and the Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre had collaborated to celebrate Elizabeth Brunner's birth centenary throughout the year 2010 in India and Hungary. Several functions were held. In Delhi there were exhibitions of her paintings in the Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre and in the India International Centre. A major exhibition was held in the IGNCA and a catalogue was brought out. The present volume is the culmination of the centenary celebrations. The volume bears testimony to the life and work of Elizabeth Brunner and her extraordinary creativity. Through paint and brush, line and colour, she has internationalised the spirit of India, which will continue to emanate from these works.

 

Introduction

 

Who can ever forget the tales we heard as small children from our grandmother? Stories of a past world, of distant lands, of what happened over the glass hills and the seas where the giants live ... We present here the stories of Elizabeth Brunner, an artist who was born in Hungary one hundred years ago, who wandered around the world with her mother and finally chose India as her second home. Her writings are as fantastic as the fairy tales of our childhood. Stories about a brave Hungarian woman, who, together with her little daughter, discarded all conventions and astonished the world with her adventurous voyage from Hungary to remote lands and her search for truth and realisation, similar to the smallest brother of the Hungarian fairy tales, who left behind his home and went into the world to try his fortune. The art of Elizabeth Brunner and her mother, Elizabeth Sass Brunner, is well-known to the Indian and the Hungarian public. Their works are regularly exhibited;' several films," books and articles" analyse and praise their artistic achievements. However, it is not commonly known that Elizabeth Brunner was also a prolific writer with great talent in story-telling and in capturing our attention. This book contains a selection of writings by Elizabeth Brunner, partly left behind in manuscripts and published here for the first time and partly taken from rare old books, periodicals and newspapers, now mostly unavailable. From these writings we get a panoramic view, a large canvas painted by words. We see portraits of her mother, Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Sarojini Naidu, Iawaharlal Nehru and the Dalai Lama, and, of course, her self-portrait.

 

The Life of Elizabeth Brunner

 

Elizabeth Brunner was born into a family of artists in 1910 in Nagykanizsa. Her father, Ferenc Sass Brunner' and her mother, Elizabeth Sass Brunner,' were talented painters and she inherited their skills. Elizabeth revealed her artistic flair at an early age; her first portrait was made in 1919. In 1928 she joined the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, aiming to become a sculptor. She was a student of Zsigmond Kisfaludi Strobl," one of the finest Hungarian sculptors.

 

 


It was at that time that her mother, guided by a dream, decided to leave behind her settled life in Hungary. She was certain that she could find the object of her desire in India. Elizabeth, too, felt an irresistible urge for enlightenment and decided to join her mother. Since she was still very young, her parents, especially her father, vehemently opposed her desire to embark on such a journey before completing her education. She was, however, determined not to falter in her quest. She threatened that if she was not permitted to accompany her mother she would enter a convent and they would never see her again.

 

Mother and daughter left like two pilgrims, barefoot and clad in hand-woven clothes. They took a train to Italy on 29 May 1929. They travelled through Flume, Venice, Florence, Bologna, Rome, Naples, Sorrento and Capri. At the end of June they arrived in Sicily. From Palermo they moved to a calm seaside village, Santa Agata, where they found ideal conditions for their artistic activity. Here Elizabeth Brunner painted a series of portraits of the people of that region. On her nineteenth birthday, 1 July 1929, Elizabeth dreamt she was in a cellar in Nagykanizsa where she saw an old man with a white beard holding a candle in his hands. When the light was about to go out, she stepped forward and the light came back. The old man gave her the candle with the words: 'Take this light to every nook and corner of the world!' Next morning she narrated her dream to her mother who exclaimed that she had seen Rabindranath Tagore.

Her mother went on to interpret this dream as a sign to travel to India and began preparations for a journey that was to mark their lives in many ways. Her mother wrote to Tagore in Hungarian, asking him to receive them in Santiniketan, In the letter she enclosed some photographs of their paintings. Not knowing the address of the poet, she wrote on the envelope the following words: 'Rabindranath Tagore, India'. Interestingly, the letter reached Tagore. Fortunately, the Hungarian professor, Gyula Germanus; was staying in Santiniketan at that time and could translate the letter.

 

The poet answered and though he regretted not being able to help them to get to India, he expressed his hope that their dream will come true." The mother interpreted the encouraging words as an invitation and decided to start the journey immediately. However, they had to cover the cost of the expensive boat tickets on their own. They could only get together enough money to sail to the nearest port in Africa, Tripoli. With the help of family and friends in Hungary, they managed to get to Egypt, but running out of money, it seemed hopeless to continue their trip by sea. While in Cairo, they visited the Pyramids and were enchanted by the Sphinx. Both mother and daughter made sketches of the mysterious monument. In Alexandria their trip took an unexpected turn for the better. They met a Hungarian businessman who traded in Indian tea. Learning of their financial problems, he offered to pay for their passage to India.

 

Elizabeth and her mother arrived in Bombay (now Mumbai) on 17 February 1930. As they were dressed in hand-woven clothes the British authorities mistakenly thought they were followers of Gandhi and almost sent them back. A Sikh gentleman, however, offered them his protection and helped them to contact the Hungarian Consul. The Consul put them up for a few days and then bought them a train ticket to Calcutta (now Kolkata). From there they proceeded by the first connecting train to Santiniketan, to the Visva-Bharati University, founded by Tagore. Unfortunately they learnt on arrival that Tagore had just left for Calcutta. Without his permission it was not possible for them to stay in Santiniketan, so they returned to Calcutta to meet the poet there. With the help of a Hungarian economist Laszlo Nemenyi," and his Austrian wife, the prominent art historian Stella Kramrisch,':' they finally met Tagore who offered them all support.

 

Their first journey in India led them to Darjeeling, to the grave of the great Hungarian scholar, Alexander Csoma de Koros. Csoma, who came to India in search of the ancient homeland of the Hungarians, became one of the pioneers of Buddhist studies there. His last resting place has become a kind of pilgrimage for all Hungarians visiting India. The strong character of (soma, who is considered by many Buddhists to have been a Bodhisattva, served as an example and a source of inspiration for them. Elizabeth made sketches of the tomb immediately. This was the first encounter with the Himalayas for both mother and daughter. The mighty mountains were later to become an important source of inspiration for their art. In Ghoom, near Darjeeling, they visited a Buddhist monastery and witnessed the ritual dance of the lamas. Tibetan culture became a lifelong interest for Elizabeth.

 

The first two years spent in Santiniketan witnessed the flourishing of the art of the Brunners. There they found peace of mind, something they had been longing for. Santiniketan was the beginning of a new journey of discovery, during which they learnt and experienced all aspects of the ancient traditions of India. They worked feverishly. Together, they depicted the life of the university, the professors and students.

 

Elizabeth studied art in the university and tried to penetrate the Indian psyche in her portraits. From the very beginning she developed a method of absorbing the achievements of Indian traditions into her art. She made several portraits of Tagore and his family, depicted the life of the people living around, besides painting the landscape and the changes in the monsoon clouds. The customs of the Santals and the colourful melas (fairs) in neighbouring Bolpur also found expression in her art.

 

Contents

 

Foreword

7

Introduction: Elizabeth, the Story-teller

11

Mystic India through Art

37

Autobiography

43

Tagore Reminded Me of Moses: Through an Artist's Eyes

247

When Gandhiji Challenged Me to Paint 'His Soul'

263

Sarojini Naidu: Love of Beauty Was Her Ruling Passion

277

Nehru is Every Indian's Better Self: A Spiritual Portrait

285

A Sixty-Eighth Birth Anniversary Tribute Nicolai Michoutouchkine: Man and Artist

293

The Kingdom of Heaven

301

How I Painted the Dalai Lama

305

Remembering the Spiritual Awakening of My Mother

313

Eternal Challenge

319

Bibliography of the Brunner Family

325

Acknowledgments

351

Index

352

 

Sample Page


Elizabeth Brunner: Her Life-Her Words

Item Code:
NAJ915
Cover:
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2011
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ISBN:
9788189738921
Language:
English
Size:
11.5 inch x 8.5 inch
Pages:
356 (Throughout Color Illustrations)
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Weight of the Book: 1.7 kg
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About the Book

 

As the title suggests, Elizabeth Brunner: Her Life-Her Words, is a delightful collection of stories written by the Hungarian artist who came to India in 1930 with her mother, Elizabeth Sass Brunner, and made it her home. The book, with an introduction by Dr Imre Lazar, contains her experiences in this country. It also contains rare photographs and beautiful paintings that the Brunners created.

 

The talented artist are well known in India and Hungry. Their art reflects their experiences in various parts of the world, highlighting their encounters with personalities such as Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Jwaharlal Nehru and the Dalai Lama, among others.

 

Published on the occasion of the birth centenary of Elizabeth Brunner, this book is a treasure, both in words and images. It is all the more special because of the deep love the mother and daughter had for India.

 

About the Author

 

Dr. Imre Lazar is a scholar of international studies and a specialist in cultural diplomacy. At present he is Director of the Hungarian information and Cultural Centre in New Delhi. He studied diplomacy and international relations at the University of Economic Science of Budapest and received the Degree ‘Doctor Oeconomicus’. Later Jawaharlal Nehru University, School of International studies, New Delhi, obtaining a Ph.D. for his thesis on Indo-Hungarian cultural diplomacy.

 

He met Elizabeth Brunner for the first time in 1988 in New Delhi and became one of her closest associates. Dr. Lazar was permitted to study her and her mother’s paintings and the various documents of their life. After Elizabeth’s death he worked with the executors of her will, distributing her bequest to several Indian and Hungarian museum. He has curated seven exhibitions of the Brunners, including ‘The Call of India’ a centenary retrospective held at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in 2010. He has also worked on several catalogues, papers and articles on the Brunners.

 

Foreword

 

These lines of Gurudeva Rabindranath Tagore forever reverberate in many hearts beyond the confines of time and place. No matter on how many 'alien doors' we have knocked and how many 'outer worlds' we have wandered through, at the end we arrive to our own to reach our 'innermost shrine'.

 

There were two frail Hungarian women who dared to challenge the world and set for an arduous journey through many countries to find a place on Earth that can be called 'home'-to find their own self. More than eighty years ago, unpremeditated came a call to Elizabeth Sass Brunner and her daughter Elizabeth Brunner, to visit India. Then began the journey and the search for finding a 'home beyond home'. For them India represented a haven of peace and tranquillity beyond the rational mind. No doubt there had been Hungarians who had been drawn to India for other reasons. The journey of Tibetologist Alexander (soma de Koros was a journey of exploration which took him far and wide from the western to the eastern Himalayas. Ervin Baktay explored another dimension-he gave up painting to study eastern religions and art and became a renowned Indologist.

 

Elizabeth Sass Brunner and Elizabeth Brunner were looking for a place on Earth which would fulfil their idyllic dreams. Elizabeth Sass Brunner had mystic visions :-these were her callings. Elizabeth Brunner was not only her daughter but her other inseparable self. Their physical journey to India was understandably fraught with many problems-linguistic, monetary, health, etc., etc. All these the mother and the daughter overcame with stoic determination.

 

Like some other contemporaries, the Brunners were welcomed with open arms in the sylvan surroundings of Gurudeva's abode, Santiniketan, with his warm and generous embrace. He recognised their creativity, sensitivity and sincere search and nurtured it. The Brunners found a home beyond home in Santiniketan. For decades both together, and later Elizabeth separately, travelled to different parts of India, particularly the Himalayas. Of course, they continued to visit other parts of Asia, especially Japan. The large corpus of their paintings is evidence of their ability to grasp and identify themselves with the land and naturally the human landscape. They absorbed the culture with extraordinary empathy and insight. This experience they captured in line and colour through a variety of pictorial genres.

 

As has often been remarked, few Indians and fewer artists would have had an opportunity to interact, to portray an array of Indians who were the makers of India-Gandhi, Tagore, Nehru and Mrs. Indira Gandhi alike. Even fewer would have had an opportunity or the magnetic charm to make His Holiness the Dalai Lama to be the subject of her portrait. Elizabeth's encounter with Buddhism was at a very deep level. For a decade or more this engagement resulted in a body of work which speaks of the intensity of her experience, the depth of her involvement and the extraordinary capacity to communicate it through the art. Elizabeth had travelled a long, long way from the first callings of India to her involvement with the life of the people. She had known the ordinary, the villager and the farmer, the young mother, the ripeness of old age. She had communicated with royalty as also with saints and mystics, but the internal sacred and spiritual experience was the gift of her engagement with Buddhism. This and much more can be said, and has been said, about the paintings of the mother and the daughter and the incomparable legacy which they have left behind-now the pride of many institutions in India, Hungary and elsewhere.

 

However, there have been few artists who have matched their creativity with an equal ability to record their encounters with the subjects which they painted. In short, the creative artist and the critical observer fused into one. Elizabeth Brunner was not keeping notes the way one has found in case of Leonardo de Vinci or some other painters. She was writing consistently from 1937 to 1994 recording precisely her encounters, engagements with places, with people, with personalities. The present volume, which holds together her writing from 1937 to 1994, is that testimony of her journey and her own observations on that journey. Dr. Imre Lazar, the young and dynamic Director of the Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre, has undertaken a difficult task of compiling her writing of over six decades and has also written a brilliant and very informative introduction. This has been a challenge. Assiduously he has collected and organised her writings over a long period of time and a vast canvas of myriad experience. This ranges from Elizabeth's poignant essay entitled 'Tagore reminded me of Moses' or when she records with sincerity and a touch of humour 'When Gandhiji challenged me to paint 'his soul", or when she communicates with Sarojini Naidu, or with a piercing insight speaks of Nicolai Michoutouchkine, and many others. The result of this effort and devotion is self-evident. Dr. Lazar's dedication to Elizabeth Brunner is exemplary. Dr. Lazar's involvement with the legacy of Elizabeth Sass Brunner and Elizabeth Brunner and his valuable role in ensuring that the paintings reach their diverse destinations of institutions has been invaluable. The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts was one major recipient. There were others. Dr. Lazar has worked tirelessly to organise a series of exhibitions in the IGNCA, Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre, India International Centre and in other institutions in Hungary. We are grateful for his devotion. Paintings, the catalogues and now this volume constitute a fitting tribute for an extraordinary artist and human being who traversed many worlds of the West and the East and experienced an outer visual phenomenon only to enrich her inner sacred experience of the soul.

 

For me reading through this book was as educative as nostalgic, and a touching reminder of a generation of human beings who transcended boundaries of time and space, nationalities and single identities. Elizabeth Brunner shares with us a variety of experience. Of course, in her paintings the Himalaya occupies an important space. It was the vision of the Himalaya, its forests and flowers, which both mother and daughter capture in their paintings. In this volume we get a glimpse of their communication with people-painters, political leaders and artists alike. These skills are a counter-point to her paintings. This is evident when she describes her conversations with Rabindranath Tagore, when she narrates her meeting with the French artist Nicolai Michoutouchkine, or when she meets and describes her conversations with the German Buddhist, Anagarika Govinda; or when she paints Gandhiji (Gandhiji had teased her, 'Can you paint my soul in half-an-hour?'); or when she meets with that nightingale Sarojini Naidu.

 

Elizabeth describes with disarming sincerity her experience of participating in different events, curating her own exhibitions and the enthusiastic responses she received in some of the first exhibitions, particularly in Kolkata. She was no stranger to Stella Kramrisch. Her account of Stella Kramrisch's response to the paintings is illuminating for more reasons than one. Stella had also come to India to search for a mystic India. She became the foremost art historian. Elizabeth Sass Brunner and Elizabeth Brunner's journey of exploration is different but complementary. This brief account of the exhibition and Stella Kramrisch's and Percy Brown's responses are sincere vignettes into the historiography of Indian art history.

 

Elizabeth left no stone unturned to meet anyone who mattered-political, intellectual or spiritual. She wanted to paint Annie Besant. This did not happen but she certainly could sketch J. Krishnamurti in Adyar. Along with some others her mother thought that J. Krishnamurti was ahead of his times. Elizabeth has very sensitively captured Krishnamurti in her sketch.

 

The volume concludes with two more essays, viz., 'Remembering the spiritual awakening of my mother' and 'Eternal challenge'. These are indeed pen sketches through words of very deep experience. As I said, for me this was a nostalgic journey, because I too belonged to that generation who has had the privilege of seeing, knowing, being inspired by these men and women of extraordinary stature and being attracted by the Himalayas, and, more, the sources of the perennial wisdom of India. Elizabeth Brunner and her monumental artistic legacy belongs to the world. India became her 'home beyond home', both physically and spiritually. I had the privilege of knowing her for many decades. This for me was an enriching experience as for some others who were her closest friends. I have shared the poignant moments of her last years. Along with others I have tried to fulfil her wishes in the matter of the distribution of her paintings to many institutions, including the IGNCA.

 

The IGNCA and the Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre had collaborated to celebrate Elizabeth Brunner's birth centenary throughout the year 2010 in India and Hungary. Several functions were held. In Delhi there were exhibitions of her paintings in the Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre and in the India International Centre. A major exhibition was held in the IGNCA and a catalogue was brought out. The present volume is the culmination of the centenary celebrations. The volume bears testimony to the life and work of Elizabeth Brunner and her extraordinary creativity. Through paint and brush, line and colour, she has internationalised the spirit of India, which will continue to emanate from these works.

 

Introduction

 

Who can ever forget the tales we heard as small children from our grandmother? Stories of a past world, of distant lands, of what happened over the glass hills and the seas where the giants live ... We present here the stories of Elizabeth Brunner, an artist who was born in Hungary one hundred years ago, who wandered around the world with her mother and finally chose India as her second home. Her writings are as fantastic as the fairy tales of our childhood. Stories about a brave Hungarian woman, who, together with her little daughter, discarded all conventions and astonished the world with her adventurous voyage from Hungary to remote lands and her search for truth and realisation, similar to the smallest brother of the Hungarian fairy tales, who left behind his home and went into the world to try his fortune. The art of Elizabeth Brunner and her mother, Elizabeth Sass Brunner, is well-known to the Indian and the Hungarian public. Their works are regularly exhibited;' several films," books and articles" analyse and praise their artistic achievements. However, it is not commonly known that Elizabeth Brunner was also a prolific writer with great talent in story-telling and in capturing our attention. This book contains a selection of writings by Elizabeth Brunner, partly left behind in manuscripts and published here for the first time and partly taken from rare old books, periodicals and newspapers, now mostly unavailable. From these writings we get a panoramic view, a large canvas painted by words. We see portraits of her mother, Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Sarojini Naidu, Iawaharlal Nehru and the Dalai Lama, and, of course, her self-portrait.

 

The Life of Elizabeth Brunner

 

Elizabeth Brunner was born into a family of artists in 1910 in Nagykanizsa. Her father, Ferenc Sass Brunner' and her mother, Elizabeth Sass Brunner,' were talented painters and she inherited their skills. Elizabeth revealed her artistic flair at an early age; her first portrait was made in 1919. In 1928 she joined the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, aiming to become a sculptor. She was a student of Zsigmond Kisfaludi Strobl," one of the finest Hungarian sculptors.

 

 


It was at that time that her mother, guided by a dream, decided to leave behind her settled life in Hungary. She was certain that she could find the object of her desire in India. Elizabeth, too, felt an irresistible urge for enlightenment and decided to join her mother. Since she was still very young, her parents, especially her father, vehemently opposed her desire to embark on such a journey before completing her education. She was, however, determined not to falter in her quest. She threatened that if she was not permitted to accompany her mother she would enter a convent and they would never see her again.

 

Mother and daughter left like two pilgrims, barefoot and clad in hand-woven clothes. They took a train to Italy on 29 May 1929. They travelled through Flume, Venice, Florence, Bologna, Rome, Naples, Sorrento and Capri. At the end of June they arrived in Sicily. From Palermo they moved to a calm seaside village, Santa Agata, where they found ideal conditions for their artistic activity. Here Elizabeth Brunner painted a series of portraits of the people of that region. On her nineteenth birthday, 1 July 1929, Elizabeth dreamt she was in a cellar in Nagykanizsa where she saw an old man with a white beard holding a candle in his hands. When the light was about to go out, she stepped forward and the light came back. The old man gave her the candle with the words: 'Take this light to every nook and corner of the world!' Next morning she narrated her dream to her mother who exclaimed that she had seen Rabindranath Tagore.

Her mother went on to interpret this dream as a sign to travel to India and began preparations for a journey that was to mark their lives in many ways. Her mother wrote to Tagore in Hungarian, asking him to receive them in Santiniketan, In the letter she enclosed some photographs of their paintings. Not knowing the address of the poet, she wrote on the envelope the following words: 'Rabindranath Tagore, India'. Interestingly, the letter reached Tagore. Fortunately, the Hungarian professor, Gyula Germanus; was staying in Santiniketan at that time and could translate the letter.

 

The poet answered and though he regretted not being able to help them to get to India, he expressed his hope that their dream will come true." The mother interpreted the encouraging words as an invitation and decided to start the journey immediately. However, they had to cover the cost of the expensive boat tickets on their own. They could only get together enough money to sail to the nearest port in Africa, Tripoli. With the help of family and friends in Hungary, they managed to get to Egypt, but running out of money, it seemed hopeless to continue their trip by sea. While in Cairo, they visited the Pyramids and were enchanted by the Sphinx. Both mother and daughter made sketches of the mysterious monument. In Alexandria their trip took an unexpected turn for the better. They met a Hungarian businessman who traded in Indian tea. Learning of their financial problems, he offered to pay for their passage to India.

 

Elizabeth and her mother arrived in Bombay (now Mumbai) on 17 February 1930. As they were dressed in hand-woven clothes the British authorities mistakenly thought they were followers of Gandhi and almost sent them back. A Sikh gentleman, however, offered them his protection and helped them to contact the Hungarian Consul. The Consul put them up for a few days and then bought them a train ticket to Calcutta (now Kolkata). From there they proceeded by the first connecting train to Santiniketan, to the Visva-Bharati University, founded by Tagore. Unfortunately they learnt on arrival that Tagore had just left for Calcutta. Without his permission it was not possible for them to stay in Santiniketan, so they returned to Calcutta to meet the poet there. With the help of a Hungarian economist Laszlo Nemenyi," and his Austrian wife, the prominent art historian Stella Kramrisch,':' they finally met Tagore who offered them all support.

 

Their first journey in India led them to Darjeeling, to the grave of the great Hungarian scholar, Alexander Csoma de Koros. Csoma, who came to India in search of the ancient homeland of the Hungarians, became one of the pioneers of Buddhist studies there. His last resting place has become a kind of pilgrimage for all Hungarians visiting India. The strong character of (soma, who is considered by many Buddhists to have been a Bodhisattva, served as an example and a source of inspiration for them. Elizabeth made sketches of the tomb immediately. This was the first encounter with the Himalayas for both mother and daughter. The mighty mountains were later to become an important source of inspiration for their art. In Ghoom, near Darjeeling, they visited a Buddhist monastery and witnessed the ritual dance of the lamas. Tibetan culture became a lifelong interest for Elizabeth.

 

The first two years spent in Santiniketan witnessed the flourishing of the art of the Brunners. There they found peace of mind, something they had been longing for. Santiniketan was the beginning of a new journey of discovery, during which they learnt and experienced all aspects of the ancient traditions of India. They worked feverishly. Together, they depicted the life of the university, the professors and students.

 

Elizabeth studied art in the university and tried to penetrate the Indian psyche in her portraits. From the very beginning she developed a method of absorbing the achievements of Indian traditions into her art. She made several portraits of Tagore and his family, depicted the life of the people living around, besides painting the landscape and the changes in the monsoon clouds. The customs of the Santals and the colourful melas (fairs) in neighbouring Bolpur also found expression in her art.

 

Contents

 

Foreword

7

Introduction: Elizabeth, the Story-teller

11

Mystic India through Art

37

Autobiography

43

Tagore Reminded Me of Moses: Through an Artist's Eyes

247

When Gandhiji Challenged Me to Paint 'His Soul'

263

Sarojini Naidu: Love of Beauty Was Her Ruling Passion

277

Nehru is Every Indian's Better Self: A Spiritual Portrait

285

A Sixty-Eighth Birth Anniversary Tribute Nicolai Michoutouchkine: Man and Artist

293

The Kingdom of Heaven

301

How I Painted the Dalai Lama

305

Remembering the Spiritual Awakening of My Mother

313

Eternal Challenge

319

Bibliography of the Brunner Family

325

Acknowledgments

351

Index

352

 

Sample Page


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