Lain Singh Bandgel lives onThe works of Nepal’s foremost artist are up for grabs for a limited time at an auction in London
As part of a broader series of international displays, ‘Lain Singh Bangdel: Mountains and Migration’ will be put up at the fine arts auction house and valuer, Bonhams, London till Tuesday.
The exhibition turned auction has been held from 11-21 November, and features twenty-four selected paintings by Bangdel, an acclaimed author, art preservationist, and art historian who died in Kathmandu in 2002 at age 83. His daughter, Dina Bangdel, who was also a scholar of Asian art, died in 2017.
The artist’s son-in-law and Dina’s husband Bibhakar Shakya says he is seeking to immortalise the Bangdel family influence, keeping their passion for art alive in the art scene in Nepal and internationally.
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“The opening night at Bonhams was a huge success and garnered significant attention with a considerable turnout, a testament to Owen Duffy, the curator and the extremely supportive team at Bonhams,” Shakya told Nepali Times over the phone from London.
He added: “I was truly delighted at how well the exhibition was received and I know my late father-in-law and late wife would have been proud.”
Initially intended for viewing only, the exhibition became an auction in an effort to test the market. One painting, Song of Himalaya, sold to a private buyer for a significant amount, vindicating Shakya’s value of his father-in-law’s works.
“Now that we have a record”, he said, of what an original Bangdel is worth, “we can only go up from here”.
Born in Darjeeling, Lain Singh Bangdel (1919-2002) lived a multifaceted life, embarking on a dynamic journey across continents and cultures. He was a friend of Indian film director Satyajit Ray whom he knew in Calcutta. In the 1960s he was invited to Nepal under King Mahendra’s initiative to bring creative Nepali intellectuals home, and this marked a watershed in Bangdel’s career.
He was General Secretary of the Nepal Art Council and fronted a Nepali artistic renaissance, writing many books, one of which, Stolen Images from Nepal (1989), served to return stolen artefacts back to their rightful home.
The various socio-cultural influences that surrounded Bangdel's upbringing shaped him into not only a prominent artist, but also an acclaimed author, art preservationist, and art historian.
In his early years in art, Bangdel graduated top of his class from the Government College of Art & Craft in Kolkata and continued to pursue his passion at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. The dynamic artistic atmosphere of Europe at the time meant Bangdel encountered and developed connections with celebrated contemporaries like Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.
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“These artists had an influence on Bangdel's works in the 50s, one can discern the essence of Picasso's Blue Period, evident in the ‘Lady in Blue’ that employs the palette to evoke a sense of melancholy in the viewer,” explained Shakya.
He added: “Bangdel conveyed traditional Nepali concepts through the medium of modern art. This unique harmonious fusion of traditional and modern themes, represent the structures and landscapes that shaped his formative years and highlight inspiration he drew from peoples and culture in Nepal.”
Dina Bangdel was a respected expert of Asian art and had her father’s passion for Nepali art as well as a commitment to championing emerging Nepali artists. Her early demise in 2017 created a significant void in the South Asian art scene.
Dina had a strong wish to continue the legacy woven by her father and wanted to hold exhibitions of her father’s art. “Tragically, that could not happen,” recalls Shakya.
Shakya is an economist turned art curator, and says he underwent a transformative shift and immersed himself in the art scene after his wife’s death, assuming the responsibility to complete her vision.
Shakya acknowledges that Bangdel is not as well-known as his contemporaries in Paris, and through the Bonhams auction and future exhibitions he seeks to broaden his recognition while simultaneously challenging the prevailing belief that one can make a living as an artist in Nepal today.
“This perception has hindered the relationship between Bangdel and the modern Nepali, particularly those in the diaspora,” he said. “I’m inspired by the responses of young Nepali professionals in London to the exhibition, and their excitement at having a Nepali artist being exhibited here. I believe that this is what Dina and Lain would have wanted as well.”
Shakya says he now wants to fulfill Dina’s vision to trace the artistic journey from Lain Singh Bangdel till the present day art scene, and will be bringing some emerging Nepali artists to Baltimore for an exhibition in 2026.
Shakya’s extensive collection holds between up to 770 original Bangdel artworks, with another 60 or so in public institutions. Some of them will be displayed in exhibitions over the next two years in the United States, Hong Kong, and Kathmandu.
There is more: Shakya hopes to adapt one of Bangdel’s novels, Langadako Sathi into a movie to be released in early 2024.