Born: 17 July 1940

Anjolie Ela Menon - Paintings


One of India’s best known and leading contemporary artist, Anjolie was born on July 17, 1940 in Burnpur, Bengal to a Bengali and American parentage. Over the years, her work has evolved in a manner entirely distinctive, instantly recognizable and seemingly without parallel in contemporary Indian art. Variously described as “magical”, “enigmatic” or “mysterious”, Anjolie’s paintings often elicit extraordinary empathy in their viewers, an empathy that on occasion approaches the mystical. Anjolie stubbornly remained a figurative painter through the years when abstraction was in vogue. Even in her landscapes, cityscapes and interiors, traces of the missing human being are evident by their very absence. Anjolie has been painting in the mid-1950s. Her work reveals that many of the qualities and motifs that are now being ascribed to her have their genesis in the paintings of the early years - basically in the 1950s. In these years, she painted with strong intuitive conviction but little formal schooling, which was to come later. An endearing energy and enthusiasm characterize the oils she did as a teenager. At the very outset, even as a child painter, Anjolie emerged as a colourist of rare virtuosity. Her early work was marked by strong contrasts in tone, colour and

composition. It is unlikely that at that stage in her life, Anjolie knew very much about genres and styles in the visual arts, though she acknowledges the strong influence of her art teacher Sushil Mukherjee at Lawrence School, Lovedale, and a rudimentary knowledge of Western art as gleaned from books. Yet within the constraints of this basic schooling, she was veering towards the visual motifs and spatial arrangement that were to later become synonymous with the larger body of her work. If the form and technique were unschooled, Anjolie’s subject matter was drawn from the intense and innocent personal experience of a sensitive teenager. This may explain the preponderance of portraits of friends and relatives, though one intriguing gap is the absence of portraits of her immediate family. Her mother, Eunice, died in childbirth when the artist was fourteen. In this catastrophic event lay the seeds of that anguish and loneliness that are to appear like the tragic refrain over the next forty years.

Anjolie Ela Menon - Artworks
Souza - Indian Artist

People, animal and things from her life appear in her paintings. She liked the shape of the windows she bought for her new house and painted windows looking into mystery spaces. In Bombay, she painted in the balcony of her home, where a crow would often visit. She painted the crow into several of her works. Now that she has grandchildren, she paints their faces. She also paints the faces of children in her basti or neighbourhood of Nizamuddin, Delhi where her studio is located.

The celebrated painter M.F. Husain took her under his wing and organized her first exhibition in a Delhi garden. He later introduced her to art circles in Mumbai, orchestrating and promoting her work in this period — the late 50s and early 60s — which was characterized by a youthful verve and assimilation of many obvious influences. From Husain, the young Anjolie learnt to carry a small bag of paints and brushes, to sit on the floor and work in any available space. These traits were to stand her in good stead in the years ahead, where a peripatetic lifestyle and constant travels denied her the luxury of a studio. Anjolie went to New York in 1959, a visit which had a profound and lasting impact on her exposure to and understanding of art. Upon her return from New York, she won a scholarship at the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris spurning offers of admission at the Slade School of Art in London. Enrolling at Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1959, she subsisted on a modest stipend provided by the French Government. Financial hardship combined with the stringent discipline at the institution under the most feared but respected professors were the first taste of discipline and criticism for the young painter, flushed with the early accolades showered on her in India. Paris to her was a rude shock as he met hundreds of seemingly more talented young people and to her consternation found glaring gaps in her base of knowledge. She suffered a terrible loss of confidence in the first year in Paris, struggling with the language and isolation. But imbued with fierce determination and what she now calls the very typically Indian “exam syndrome”, she persevered, working long hours to compete with local and international students at the Atelier Fresque. She not only retained the scholarship but graduated with “Premier Mention”. At the end of her apprenticeship in Paris, she emerged as a fully trained “Fresquist”. Unfortunately on her return to India she was never commissioned to do a real fresco because of the extended time frame required to complete one and no one was ever willing to wait that long. However, with the skills she had acquired, she soon gained a reputation as a muralist and has over the years crafted no less than 17 large murals in a variety of media including fibre-glass.

Moving on to her paintings in the late 1970s, there was often more than a hint of tragedy, which seemed a resurrection of the grief that remained suppressed after the death of her father in 1976. The empty chair in her paintings became a powerful manifestation of her mourning. She achieves a moving poignancy in the fold of the fabric, the chair that will be occupied at the moment of seeing, the protagonist who is poised to but may never enter the painting. Paradoxically, in the aftermath of her bereavement, the 1976-82 period proved to be a prolific one for Anjolie. She held five exhibitions in Mumbai, one in Delhi, two in the USA. It was after the Delhi show of 1978 that Anjolie began to become almost a cult figure in terms of public attention. Her skill combined with distinctive techniques with a natural empathy for colour, leading to a magical quality of tint and surface for which she is celebrated.

Text Reference:
Excerpts from the book Anjolie Ela Menon Through the Patina by Isana Murti published by Vadehra Art Gallery in 2010
Excerpt from an article entitled Lifetime in Art by Yamini Pathak published by The Hindu on March 2, 2017.


  • Padma Shri, Government of India, 2000
  • Limca Book of Records
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, Government of Delhi, 2013
  • National Kalidas Samman for Visual Arts, Government of Madhya Pradesh, 2018


  • Anjolie Ela Menon: Paintings in Private Collections
  • Anjolie Ela Menon: Through the Patina
  • Anjolie Ela Menon: Images and Techniques

Top 10 Auction Records

Title Price Realized
Yashodha and Krishna USD 153,276
Mother & Child USD 152,797
Untitled USD 144,000
Goat People USD 121,000
Adam and Eve USD 118,502
Untitled USD 111,223
Untitled USD 101,475
Untitled USD 93,816
Nude Eden Revisited GBP 66,000
Woman with Fruits USD 95,240