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Shivaji designs for stained-glass windows: the art of Ervin Bossanyi.

Ervin Bossanyi (1891-1975) was born near Baja, Hungary in 1891. His artistic talent was recognized at an early stage by his parents and subsequently by the National Hungarian Royal School of Applied Arts in Budapest, where he studied from the age of 14. The gifts Ervin exhibited at this school were rewarded with a first-class diploma and a major travelling scholarship from the Hungarian Ministry of Commerce that enabled him to study abroad. He chose to spend his time in Rome, also briefly at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and the Camden School of Art in London. This brought new ideas and directions in his art and opened doors to other works of creativity and culture. Ervin's artistic career prospered further in Hamburg, Lubeck, and other important places in northern Germany and he became an important figure in that region by 1933. Unfortunately the prospect of further success receded with the rise of Nazism and Ervin prepared to leave Germany for England. His career was dogged by turmoil, war, and fascism in the world around him. He died in London, on July 11, 1975.

Ervin was a prolific painter and draughtsman throughout his life, producing many hundreds of paintings, drawings, and sketches in different mediums from oils to watercolours and pastels. Twelve of his small watercolours made during his internment in the First World War in Brittany are in the Prints and Drawings Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The others are at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, St Annen-Museum in Lubeck, Germany, and in private collections. This versatile artist also worked in a wide variety of other media, including ceramics, murals, tiles, furniture, metalwork, as well as stained-glass.

Ervin came to Britain in 1934 as an emigre with his wife Wilma and son Jo, and settled in a rented bungalow in Northwood Hills near Harrow. A year later they rented a flat with an octagonal studio in 163 Camden Road in London where Walter Sickert (1860-1942) from the Camden Art Group had once lived. Here Ervin was commissioned to design windows for Goldsmiths' Library, and other rooms at Senate House, University of London. During the 1950s Ervin achieved wide recognition for his creations in stained-glass in several countries and his work can be seen in a number of public buildings, in museums, and in private collections.

Amongst Ervin's many stained-glass windows, major ones are in the Canterbury Cathedral, York Minster, the Tate Gallery and Uxbridge Underground Station, London, St Peter's College and St Johns College, Oxford, and the National Cathedral, Washington, DC (USA). He designed the Rose window and seven other stained-glass windows in Michaelhouse School Chapel, Balgowan, Natal and various works in other churches in South Africa. He also drew cartoons for a four-panel ensemble on the theme of the art of healing which are with the Museum fuer Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg, Germany. The actual window of this four-panel ensemble was made in two versions: one was destroyed in the bombing of Hamburg during the Second World War; the other is on permanent display in the "World of Glass" Museum in St Helens near Liverpool.

Ervin had first encountered the arts of India during his student days in Paris and London before the First World War. In Paris he had known the Indian Sufi philosopher, poet, musician, and visionary Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882-1927), born in Baroda, and founder of the international Sufi movement "The Sufi Order in the West" (now called the Sufi Order International). Ervin made a series of illustrations for Khan's poems and sent them to him. They represented the harmonization of the values and philosophies of East and West. Sadly, these illustrations were lost.

In 1936 Apa Pant (1912-92), son of the Rajasaheb of Aundh, a small princely state situated near Satara, about 140 kilometres south of Pune in Maharashtra, first met Ervin through a mutual friend and visited his studio in Camden Road. (The story of Aundh goes back nearly 400 years to around the time of the great Maratha king Shivaji [1630-80]. Its founder, Trambak Pant Pratinidhi, a poor brahmin, turned warrior during the period of Shambhaji Raje and Rajaram Maharaj, offspring of Shivaji.) Apa Pant, while studying at Oxford, initiated a project to commission Ervin for a series of nine large stained-glass windows, each 3 x 3 metres, depicting scenes from the life of Shivaji. These windows were meant for a specially planned extension, the new Shivaji Hall, at their Shri Bhavani Museum and Library in Aundh. The museum already had a collection of various paintings by well-known artists including Raja Ravi Varma, Jamini Roy, Nandalal Bose, Abanindranath Tagore, M.V. Dhurandhar, S.L. Haldankar, M.S. Satwalekar, and the famous "Mother and Child" sculpture by Henry Moore. Apa Pant sent Ervin several books on Shivaji written by his father, Rajasaheb Bhawanirao Shrinivas (1868-1951) also known as Balasaheb Pant Pratinidhi, who was himself an artist and art lover. These books were illustrated with coloured pictures of paintings about Shivaji's life, done by the Rajasaheb, which helped Ervin to prepare his drawings and designs for the project. In view of this commission, Ervin proceeded with the purchase of a mid-Victorian semi-detached house with a substantial garden at 22 Field End Road, Eastcote, Middlesex. He built a studio at the end of the garden with two large windows, one facing roughly north for working on large stained-glass panels and one facing west to display such glass in the evening sun. This is where during 1937-40 he made a number of designs and cartoons for the commission.

A cartoon is a full-sized drawing worked out in complete detail with colours, ready for transfer to the panel for making the stained-glass window. The cartoons which Ervin prepared show figures with expressive faces making stylized gestures, and benevolent creatures--especially gentle cattle. The colours used were rich and vibrant with dense vegetal patterns, exhibiting a freedom and panache entirely appropriate to the subject and the setting. The stained-glass windows were to be made using the best handmade English antique glass, painted, fired, and glazed in finest quality lead, and fully waterproofed, under Ervin's supervision.

Unfortunately, after India's Independence in 1947 the kingdom of Aundh experienced a famine and a cut in the civil list. On the advice of Pandit Nehru, Sardar Patel, and Mahatma Gandhi to Apa Pant and his father, Aundh was made part of the Bombay state as it was too small to survive independently and financially the maharaja could not afford to fulfil its commitments. The commission for preparing these stained-glass windows thus fell through, which was a great shock to Ervin who had taken out a mortgage to pay for the purchase of the house, garden, and the building of the studio in which the Aundh commission was to be carried out. The project for the stained-glass windows was estimated to cost about 350,000 rupees, roughly [pounds sterling]10,000 in 1939/40.

So by 1947 the princely state of Aundh had ceased to exist, and with the death of Balasaheb Pant Pratinidhi in 1951, the story came to an end. Apa Pant, who was considered a protege of Nehru, became a diplomat and was made High Commissioner for India in East Africa (1947-51). Later on he became Indian High Commissioner in London during 1969-72 when he made strenuous efforts to revive the scheme for the stained-glass windows, but finally all hopes of building the Shivaji Hall were extinguished. Pant had also taken the Minister of Finance and Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Yashwantrao Chavan, to Ervin's studio in Eastcote in the hope of creating a memorial to Shivaji to commemorate 300 years of his coronation at one of his important forts, Raigad in Maharashtra, but even this project did not go ahead. This was a great disappointment both to Ervin and his family and to Apa Pant's family.

I was fortunate to visit Aundh this year with close friends on a trip organized by Aditi Pant, daughter of Apa Pant and granddaughter of the former Rajasaheb of Aundh who built the museum in 1938 where the stained-glass windows were to have been housed. Today the museum is known as Shri Bhavani Museum and is under the management of the Maharashtra State Archaeological Survey of India. It houses the former Raja's personal collections of paintings by Indian masters, as well as a collection of Tibetan art and Indian manuscript paintings of all major schools (Rajasthani, Mughal, Deccani, Pahari, and Tanjore-Maratha) between the 15th and 19th centuries. The museum has a large section devoted to Western painting that includes "Madonna of the Book" by Andrea Del Sarto; a Rembrandt self-portrait; "In the Prison of Aurangzeb" by A.H. Muller; "Beggar Boy" by Bartolome Murillo; and a work by Francisco Goya. As mentioned above it also has the Henry Moore sculpture "Mother and Child". There are beautiful embroideries, a huge floor chessboard, sandalwood and ivory objects, copies of Ajanta paintings by V.P. Ogale, and paintings based on the Ramayana. The museum is very impressive and is situated on the top of a hill overlooking Aundh. The smaller hill nearby has a famous old temple dedicated to the local deity Devi Mahishasuramardini Yamai, with beautifully carved and painted images.

Ervin Bossanyi's son Jo has given the three full-scale cartoons and all the studies on Shivaji's life which were to be made into stained-glass windows to the Victoria and Albert Museum's Archive at Blythe House, London. The small-scale coloured designs, sketches which Ervin had made during 1937-43 are on wood panel with gouache and pastel colours and the three full-sized cartoons are in tempera on black cartridge paper. Regrettably Ervin could not complete the remaining six as the commission fell through. Having seen these cartoons which are outstanding and still very fresh in colour, I hope one day they can be displayed in Mumbai, Pune, Aundh, and London so that they can be admired by a wider audience.


The writer would like to thank Jo Bossanyi, son of Ervin Bossanyi and Aditi Pant, daughter of Apa Pant for all their help in this article.


Three large cartoons and all designs, drawings, sketches, and the papers relating to them in the Archives Section; twelve small watercolours made during Bossanyi's time in Brittany in France in the Prints and Drawings Department; three stained-glass windows, one on display in the Sacred Silver and Stained Glass Gallery.


Bossanyi, Jo and Sarah Brown, eds., Ervin Bossanyi: Vision, Art and Exile, Spire Books Limited, Reading, 2008. (A comprehensive book on Ervin's life and work.)

Sonpatki, Mukund, "Ben-Har Shivaji", Jamasa Tarang (October 1992), trans. Ajit Barve. (This was published to celebrate 60 years of Maharashtra Mandal, London.)
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Title Annotation:Discovery
Author:Shah, Raju Sobhag
Publication:Marg, A Magazine of the Arts
Date:Mar 1, 2011
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