Sunday 6th July 1997
first five years Elizabeth spend with her mother in India
must have been the most educative, inspiring and informative
years for Elizabeth. As I was privileged to look at and read
the following book, which is no longer available, I would
like to reproduce her talk about this time and her deep love
for India. I believe these words are applicable for her
entire life in India. In the Preface of the book 'Mystic
India Through Art' reproduction of paintings by Mrs. Sass
Brunner Elizabeth Farkas and Miss Elizabeth Brunner,
published at the end of their stay in Japan in 1937,
am writing in Japan, seven years after my mother and I left
our homeland for India, the land of ancient philosophy and
culture, where history has been written on stone, and where
we spent five most interesting and fruitful years.
From childhood I have always been interested in
different places, different things, different faces
different persons, whose character reveals, through the
sparkling of the eyes, spiritual depth. I have always sought
for monumental strength, harmonious colour composition and
dramatic power -
the qualities in art which arouse in me that satisfying
sense of ecstasy.
Trimurti by Elizabeth Brunner, Bombay 1930
I have spent many years in serious study. I have had
many rich, unforgettable experiences which come in the life
of a young artist whose heart burns with the spiritual
fervour of life. And as I review those experiences in
retrospect my heart unconsciously goes back to India, to my
beloved Santiniketan, where, under the blooming mango trees
which spread their arms towards the heavens, the great
Tagore has made a home for students of art. Santiniketan,
surrounded by a pure Indian atmosphere,
is the place where my eyes were opened to the beauties of
human love and compassion, where I found my life's guiding
spirit. Santiniketan made me a devout admirer of India, so
much so that words are not sufficient to express my
admiration. I can only feel it, but I feel it so strongly.
The first portrait I made in India was that of
Rabindranath Tagore. In studying his face and understanding
his character, I watched him everyday for a whole year. He
was the most interesting, fascinating character when I found
him alone, concentrating, writing, composing or painting.
There was something so indefinably great around his entire
being that I felt keenly as I watched him and reached for my
brush to draw his perfect forehead or the shade of his pale
Tagore's face was a profound study, for it was from
him that I caught the true spirit of India. His keen,
eyes, his curly hair and long, white beard inspired my hand,
just as he would inspire the hands of all artists.
My first paintings of Indian ladies were also made in
Santiniketan. Beautiful girls, most of them Bengali, with
'lotus eyes', dark, long hair, delicate features and
lithesome figures, I painted them as they studied poetry,
painting, classical Indian music, drama or dance. I made a
study of different types and selected the most typical faces
for my various subjects.
We travelled in India from one end to the other, from
Bengal to Gujarat, from the Himalayas to Rameswaran, in
search of materials, ideas and inspiration. To my great joy
I found many things to paint, I saw a new world opened
before my eyes when we went to Benares (Varanasi) and saw
Brahmin ladies bathing in the sacred Ganges. A different
series of paintings was born from our trips to Behar
(Bihar), to colourful Rajputana (Rajasthan), Punjab,
Kashmir, Hyderabad, Madras (Chennai) and other places.
I can never forget the rhythmic tinkling of the bells
on the heels of Hindu ladies as they walked back from the
well, nor those millions of black diamond-like eyes that
stared at me in India.
One of my special studies was made of the Santali
people, the Todas and other tribals of India with their
primitive ways of living, interesting quiet and rustic faces
which are full of expression. The Todas of the Nilgiris
recalled the people of the Bible, and many of them looked
like the wise men.
We also visited sacred places, old temples and caves,
and felt ourselves back two thousand years as we mingled
among religious Indian saints
- Gurus, Sadhus, Yogis and Sanyasis -
the same now as they were in the beginning.
I was in India a considerable time, but not until
that memorable day, 8th January 1934, after long years of
impatient waiting, was my great desire to paint Mahatma
Gandhi fulfilled. An eventful day in my life in Bangalore,
when Gandhiji had just made a Round Tour of India. My heart,
pent up with three years of expectation, cried with joy when
I was permitted to paint his portrait. Gandhiji gave me only
thirty minutes, all that he was able to afford out of this
day of silence. But they were thirty inspiring minutes.
It was a cold afternoon, for it was January and
winter. But despite it Gandhiji was sitting on an open
veranda, seriously writing with only a thin Kashmiri shawl
around him. He graciously smiled when he noticed my arrival
and then glanced at his watch. Then he wrote on a piece of
papier, 'why do you want to paint me? What is the use?' And
continued writing and sorting papers on his knees, not
noticing, all the while, that I was waiting, burning with
the desire to paint him. His clear, brown sparkling eyes
were for a moment hidden behind his shining spectacles.
What was I to paint? What was going to happen to my
dreams? Where is Gandhiji? I nearly burst into tears.
Perhaps Gandhiji felt what I was feeling so tensely. He
glanced at me over his glasses and showed those
unforgettable eyes of his. He was telling me to go ahead
with my work.
All of a sudden I gained a clear perspective and lost
myself in work. I quickly took my brush and endeavoured to
transfer Gandhiji's forceful personality, his soft warm
mouth onto my canvas. For thirty fleeting minutes all the
strength I had in my body, and all the spirit I had in my
heart were concentrated on him. They were thirty hard
minutes, which gave me one of the greatest thrills of my
life. My ambition was fulfilled.
After I had completed the portrait and showed it to
Gandhiji, he looked it over with an expression so profound
that I can recall his face as vividly today as I saw it
then. There was such depth of meaning and spirit in it.
After he had finished looking the portrait over, he took my
brush and wrote his signature on it.
Thanks to him -
to all - my
life has been so rich and so wonderful."