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Elizabeth Brunner







Fairy Tales around

6th July 1997

Elizabeth's 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



Sunday 6th July 1997

The 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, Elizabeth says:

            "I 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  -  in 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,  -  that 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 ochre skin.  

            Tagore's face was a profound study, for it was from him that I caught the true spirit of India. His keen, half-closed 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.  

Toda Woman

            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."



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Copyright Dagmar Barua 1997 Sass Brunner East West Trust, 75, Rabindra Nagar, New Delhi - 110 003