Dr. Nanubhai Amin (1919-1999) was trained as an electrical engineer, who completed his education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell University. He returned to India in 1944 to join his father’s business Jyoti Ltd. Over a period of forty five years he transformed this modest enterprise into a conglomeration of industrial units involved in manufacturing and marketing of a wide range of electrical and hydraulic engineering equipment.

Savitaben Amin (1924-2012) was an educationist who studied Early Childhood Education at Columbia University in 1947 and came back to India to set up Chetan Balwadi, a child development institution under the aegis of the newly formed Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda.

Savitaben and Nanubhai Amin. Image courtesy of Amin Family Archives

Nanubhai and Savitaben’s matrimonial partnership proved to be more than just one of love; their personal and individual interests garnered and facilitated new philanthropic pursuits and opportunities in the field of science, education and the visual arts in 1950s Baroda. Open to experimentation and progressive ways of thinking, the energy of the city aligned with the Amins’ enthusiastic support of a healthy exchange of ideas.

Their compassion towards artists was unparalleled. In post-independence India, artists had many challenges to encounter – from finding studio spaces to using limited funds to buy expensive raw materials. The Amins generously donated funds, resources and their facilities to the artists which allowed them to work unfettered and widen their creative horizons. Their stories are many. In 1955, when veteran artist, KG Subramanyan needed funds to travel to study at the Slade School of Art, London, he approached the Amins for sponsorship and was immediately commissioned to create a series of murals for Jyoti. Subsequently, in 1962, when his works from the Sao Paulo Biennial returned, it was the Amins who bought them to aid the artist in his future projects. Sculptor, Sankho Chaudhuri often worked on his sculptures from Jyoti Foundries.

Bhupen Khakhar’s pay stubs on completing 15 years at Bharat Tinder Ltd., 1988. Image courtesy of Amin Family Archives

The artist that the Amins were closest to was Bhupen Khakhar. It is common knowledge that Khakhar was a practicing accountant; what is however little known is that the Amins hired him to work part time in their factory which supported his life as an artist well into his mid-fifties. Timothy Hyman chronicles, “Sankho Chaudhuri had spoken to Savita Amin asking her if she could “do something for a young chartered accountant who wanted to take painting seriously.” A half-day job was found.” (T. Hyman, Bhupen Khakhar, Chemould Publications and Arts, Bombay and Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd., Ahmedabad, 1998, p. 13)

Hyman records Khakhar’s daily routine as an artist-accountant, “Each morning, Khakhar would rise early, and paint for an hour or so, before riding his scooter over to the Bharat Tinder factory on the edge of the city. After his office work, at about one, he would return home; and following a light lunch and a nap, commence painting. Towards evening, around six, he would again scoot away…to meet friends…and then, getting back around nine, he might embark on another painting session, this time by artificial light… He would later explain. “I can’t really paint 24 hours a day. So going to the office for two or three hours gives me the feeling that I have done my duty and I feel: now I can go and paint. (ibid., p. 18)

KG Subramanyan’s first mural, circa early 1950s, Guest House, Jyoti Ltd. Baroda
Image courtesy of Amin Family Archives

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Amins were at once the earliest patrons, collectors and supporters of the arts in Post-Independent Baroda. Their support is most visible with Bhupen Khakhar whose forty years of employment with them allowed him mental and financial stability and, enabled to stimulate his career as an artist. The Amins’ support of him, KG Subramanyan and other artists marked the genesis of artistic careers that have only recently come into full public view but those that punctuate the beginnings of a new School of Baroda Indian Masters in the art historical canon.