Saturday, August 21, 2010





“I vividly remember Miss Mehmooda Ahmed Ali Shah ( the then principal of  the Women’s  College, M A Road , Srinagar ) coming to our house on 9th December,  1973 , throwing her shawl to  the ground and sitting on the floor with us to mourn the death of my father. She wept  like a child hugging my mother for more than 15 minutes at a stretch. Wiping her tears ,she said  this to my mother  in chaste Kashmiri .“Jaya Ji , meti chhu dahan dohan dokhas beuhun. Su ouss me boiy” meaning (Jaya Ji,  I have  also to  sit for the 10 days mourning . He was my brother ). I was informed by my mother that Dr Naseer Ahmed Shah , Dr Tahir Mirza , Members of Sadiq Sahib’s family , Abdul Haq Barq and my father's  childhood friend Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad frequented our house during the mourning period. Syed Mir Qasim, who was the Chief Minister at that time sent a message to us that he had decided to send me to Baroda for proper training in art absolutely free on a  government scholarship. Possibly my father had conveyed my interest in painting  to his close friends like Sadiq Sahib , Syed Mir Qasim , poet Dina Nath Nadim and D P Dhar. Support and sympathy poured in from all quarters .We were poor and incompetent to handle this wave of support and sympathy. Consequently  ,my mother had to keep  the struggle continued for  survival of the family  and education of her children. We clung to her like infants for emotional and material support .”   said  Ramesh  Kumar Butt, the son of   artist  Som Nath Butt.




 Som Nath Butt  was born in 1925 at Badiyar Bala locality of Srinagar  city He did his initial schooling in Srinagar . After completing his F.Sc. from S P College Srinagar som Nath Butt  went to Gulmarg (to live with his elder sister ) where his Brother in Law Pandit Radha Krishen Koul worked in a Hotel owned by a European .It was here  that the  young sensitive boy who had lost his mother in his infancy , came in direct contact with nature enabling him to express himself through a select medium using paper and pencils . The Artist was thus born at Gulmarg .

 He  volunteered to serve the refugees from Baramulla town who had been housed in the school buildings after the tribal raid of 1947 .The pain and suffering he witnessed in these camps drifted him temporarily to Marxism though he never belonged to any political party nor happened to be an atheist. I am informed by the family that  he would visit the shrines of Dastgeer Sahib, Maqdoom Sahib and Reshi Peer as and when he found time . He always kept a photograph of Swami Ram Tirath in his pocket . Ramesh Kumar Butt , the son of the artist said this:-

 “ My father would also sing K L Saigal songs . Dilip Kumar was his favourite actor . He must have seen Dilip Kumar's  Daag  more than 30 times. He was greatly touched by Dilip Kumar"s role as Devdas. Nadim Sahib was a frequent visitor to our house .In fact my father was the first to design  the sets for Nadim Sahib immortal opera “Bombur  Yemberzal ” .Apart from this ,he enjoyed listening to Sufiana Music , Lal Vaakhs and Shams Faquir’s compositions . My sisters Asha Ji and Veena Ji were quite attached to him . They are married since and live happily with their families .I can say that by thought he appeared to be a Marxist yet at heart he was a Darvesh in true sense . He was full of compassion and  careless about his own self . He gave some of the priceless painting to his friends free. He would easily believe anybody and was instantly moved to see any pain and suffering forgetting his own self.”


 Butt was also influenced by Percy Brown, the great poet, painter, writer and art historian who had settled in Kashmir after having retired from the Government School for Arts and Crafts, Kolkata. Percy Brown  had contributed significantly for  the development of the Amar Singh Technical Institute  in Srinagar .The institution was started by Maharaja Partap Singh . Percy Brown had married the pretty daughter of the British Resident of Kashmir , Col. Talbot .  Percy Brown played an important role in  S N Butt’s  grooming. Percy Brown had seen Butt sitting on the Bund facing the river and drawing on his sketch book. Percy Brown would always watch him silently. And one day Brown talked to young Butt and encouraged him to carry on with his work more effectively.  Percy Brown taught him expressionism in landscape painting. After his retirement, Percy Brown along with his wife settled in Kashmir. After the death of his wife in 1943, he moved to live in a houseboat named Catherine anchored near the Srinagar club, the Bund. Percy Brown’s presence in Kashmir proved immensely helpful to the local artists like Triloke Kaul, P N Kachru, S N Butt and D N Walli. In Kashmir, he remained in touch with some known artists and painters who often visited him for guidance.  He died in 1955 and lies buried in the  Sheikh Bagh cemetery, Amirakadal,  Srinagar.



 In 1948, S H Raza, the well known Indian artist stayed for the full summer season in Kashmir. His stay was not only a big encouragement for the local artists but also resulted in the formation of the Progressive Artists Association led by Triloke Kaul, P.N. Kachru and Som Nath Butt.

S H Raza was amused to see the aptitude and drawing of Som Nath Butt. Som Nath Butt remained Raza's favourite. Exposing him to  cubism, impressionism, abstract art, portraiture  and many other forms of modern art, Raza also introduced a variety of European artists to Butt, most significantly Vincent Van Gogh, which influence is starkly visible in his work. S H Raza also gifted some art books to Som Nath Butt that had paintings and sketches done by masters like Paul Cézanne, Gauguin, Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso, George Braque, Degas, Renoir and  Vincent Van Gogh. Many visitors to Butt's house learnt much from these books. Amongst these visitors, some prominent names are  Bansi Parimu, Umesh Kaul and Kishori Kaul. Before being trained by S H Raza, Som Nath Butt had also received training in modern art from  G M Salgaonkar, the well-known artist from Mumbai.  While in Kashmir ,Raza also drew a portrait of  Som Nath Butt sometime in 1948. This portrait changed many hands and was finally  sold in June 2018  by a Mumbai  art auctioneer for USD19800 ( about  13.06 lakh  Indian  rupees ) .

 About S H Raza and Som Nath Butt connection ,the well known writer , painter and broadcaster,  Pran  Kishore  Kaul told me this :-

 “It was  S H Raza who had seen a passionate spark in S N Butt’s paintings which we came to know later on. That is why Raza had taken him under his tutelage. Not only he, but Triloke Kaul and another amateur painter from Rainawari , Prithvi Nath Kachru , who too kept on visiting Raza whenever he was free. And to introduce modernism in painting in Kashmir, God had sent an angel in the form of S H Raza. He became a binding factor between S N Butt and Triloke Kaul.    P N  Kachru joined them later. Butt had found out a place for Raza to live in near his own house. And as such, he along with Triloke Kaul would spend lot of time with him. Sometimes P.N. Kachru too would be with them. They would go on long walks over the Bund which was the best avenue those days for a peaceful and inspiring stroll. Raza had become their mentor. One thing was sure that  S N Butt had become a favourite student of  Raza . And Raza would   affectionately call him by his pet name ‘ Lassa’.”



This Progressive movement in Kashmir was patronized by Balraj Sahni ,S H Raza and Percy Brown . The main three local artist who formed this association were Som Nath Butt, Triloke Kaul and P N Kachru .This  ‘Trio’,  as they came to be know,  heralded the Modern Art movement in the  Kashmir valley .This ‘Trio’  later joined the School of Design opened by Jammu And Kashmir Government in different positions and capacities. Sayed Haider Raza’s visit to Kashmir that  acted as a catalytic agent for the formation of the Progressive Artists Association. For some time,Raza stayed in the house of artist Shuban Kaw at Badiyar in Srinagar city. He did pioneering work by training some young artists from Kashmir in modern trends of art. In 1948,  supported by S H Raza and  Percy Brown, three young artists namely   S N Butt, Triloke Kaul, and P N Kachru formed the ‘ Progressive  Artists  Association  ‘.  In May 1949, this association held its first art exhibition in Srinagar. In October 1949, this association held a major art exhibition outside the state.  Held in New Delhi, the October 1949  exhibition was inaugurated by Prof Humayun Kabir.  The May 1949 exhibition in Srinagar was also attended by S H Raza who was already a member of the ‘Bombay Progressive Artists' group that had  M F Husain, S K Bakre, F  N Souza, H  A Gade and many more as its members.




Som Nath Butt attended the October 1949 exhibition held by the Progressive Artists Association in New Delhi. This exhibition was inaugurated by Humayun Kabir, the then Minister for Education, GOI . It was widely covered by newspapers describing Butt as  'wizard of colour combinations'. Along with Triloke Kaul, Som Nath Butt held an exhibition at Mumbai in 1950. Noticing his fresh style, many newspapers carried a lead story under the caption, ‘ A new star is born on the art horizon of the country ‘ .


In Kashmir ,Som Nath Butt’s paintings were on display at the Tourist Reception Centre, Srinagar, University of Kashmir , Government College for Women,  M A Road, Srinagar and many more institutions .Though most of the painting of Som Nath Butt  have disappeared from public places or institutions yet a few still decorate the walls of some art galleries of the country including NGMA, New Delhi.  His paintings were also acquired by some prominent persons from  Kashmir that included G M Sadiq, Dr Naseer, Miss Mehmooda Ahmed Ali Shah, Dr Tahir Mirza , Agha Ashraf Ali , Durga Prasad Dhar  and many more  who happened to be well wishers  of the artist and connoisseurs of his art. Unfortunately , the artist's family has none with them . 


Some paintings of Som Nath Butt titled ‘The Houses’, ‘Landscape – I’, ‘landscape- II’ and ‘Autumn’ were acquired by the J&K Academy of Art, Culture, and Languages before his death. The fate of these paintings is not known. The whereabouts of his well-known works titled ‘Winter Scene in Kashmir’, ‘Two Flowers’ and ‘Twelve  Flowers’ are also not known.

 Though most of the paintings of S N Butt have disappeared and are in private possession yet a few still decorate the walls of prominent Art Galleries of the country . Some  were also on display at Tourist  Reception Centre Srinagar before being suddenly removed and shifted to some unknown destination . I am also informed by the family that some Paintings were in possession of  Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq ’s family .The artist's  family has none with them.

 While in Kashmir , M F Husain  would  invariably  meet S N Butt  and come  direct to the  School of Design where Butt was employed. Husain remained a great admirer of S N Butt.

Prof Arvind  Gigoo Adds this :-

 “S N Butt's two paintings were hanging on the wall of the staff room of Amar Singh College. One painting was with Agha Ashraf Ali. One painting was neglected in the library of Kashmir University. I don't know what happened to those  paintings.”

The salwart artist, Triloke Kaul adds this :-

Balraj Sahni was our common friend.He had a special liking for people from the  Kashmir valley. Always helpful. He was a great admirer of S N Butt’s art. In fact S N Butt was quite close to Balraj Sahni . They would have their drinks together . “

The influence of the Dutch painter Van Gogh is starkly visible in his form and style. Through colour schemes , powerful fusion of form and content , he created his own style in figurative abstract .This artist was able to explain either his struggle against the system and circumstances or his comprehension of the spiritual essence of man and nature. Prof Jaya Parimu told me this :-

“ One   painting of S N Butt was hanging in the auditorium of the  Women's College, M A Road , Srinagar  for some time. Sadiq Sahib was requested to arrange the sale through the office of Cultural Academy of his works when Butt Sahib was in a precarious condition. He had to have some money for his sustenance. Alcoholism had spoiled his health and his precious pieces of art were lying for want of recognition and sale. Several paintings of his got distributed in different institutions.  His main forte was figurative abstract and alleys, homes ,roofs, attics were mainly shown whatever pieces I had chance to see. He was a great artist of the century. Here received praise  from the  British art connoisseurs. A known colourist. Unsung and now unheard in the world of art .”


After the successful exhibition in Mumbai, Triloke Kaul returned to Kashmir while Butt was detained by some affluent connoisseur of art and given space to live and  paint with all the facility he needed included a couple of drinks to relax. That made S N Butt a known figure in the social circles of Bombay. It was during that sojourn in Bombay that Butt came into contact with Balraj Sahni  who belonged more to Kashmir than Bombay. This Bombay life continued for some time for Butt.

 Padama-shri Pran Kishore Kaul said this :-

 “ When S N Butt  returned from  Mumbai , he was being held in high esteem especially by the intellectuals. So all the painters of the younger generation became conscious that though the gift of painting had been given to them by the almighty God but professional training too was important. It was Butt who was now like a godfather for them. He meanwhile had got introduced to some army officers who were interested in fine arts. The vibrant colours and the new technique of S N Butt that he used in his paintings, influenced by modern painters of Europe like  Cézanne and Paul Klee, fascinated them. They purchased some of his paintings too for their mess. This encouraged him to join some of their parties too. It drove him towards  the pleasure of having a couple of drinks. That gradually started his journey through alcohol. But he continued painting and we loved him for that. Not only for that, but also for his affection he had for everyone and the love he showered on his friends. It was in that scenario that the popular bar of Laba Kaul came up in Regal Chowk that turned soon into the ‘Moulin Rogue’ for the painters, writers and intellectuals where they started meeting and relax over a drink and sizzling Kebabs. S N Butt, became a favourite of Laba Kaul the owner of the joint.  G R Santosh, Triloke Kaul, P N  Kachru too would assemble there. Great meetings, great discussions, petty quarrels and heated arguments. That was the evening scene at Laba Kaul’s ‘Moulin Rouge.’



(Som Nath Butt )

( Ramesh Kumar Butt )


  ( Winter Scene in Kashmir .. A Monochrome by Som Nath Butt  Source  Kapil Kaul Austria )
        ( Som Nath Butt With Minoo Masani ... Photo Source Dr Ramesh Tamiri )

           ('  TWO  FLOWERS' A  Monochrome.. year1950 By Som Nath Butt..This looks like  Vincent Van Gogh's   ' Flowers' )

                          (  A water colour portrait of S N Butt by S H Raza done in 1948 ..Source Internet )

                                                                                                                                                                                                                               ( A painting by S N Butt )

 His addiction to liquor cut short his life and his productive years ,forcing him to remain in hospital for long periods . Yet  he continued to paint till his last days . His family informs me that 1970 , 1971 and 1972 were liquor-free years for him .He held many exhibitions. In 1971 he held a one man exhibition inaugurated by  G M Sadiq  ( CM ). Late Bhagwan Sahay the then governor of the state, who was bed ridden   came with his  plastered leg supported by his daughter to see his favourite Artist’s work. He was also elevated to membership of Lalit Kala Academy New Delhi. When  G M Sadiq  was admitted to the PGI Chandigarh, he would call his friend S N Butt frequently   or keep writing to him regularly confiding even some intimate  family secrets to  this artist.

 About his last exhibition , Padama-shri Pran Kishore writes this:-

  The date of his one man exhibition was announced and it was because of the efforts of Som Nath Zutshi that Sadiq Sahib had agreed to inaugurate the exhibition. It was a great event. Butt’s friends and well wishers had assembled in the Tourist  Reception Centre  in Srinagar. The paintings had been displayed in the  hall. And when Sadiq Sahib cut the ribbon and threw the exhibition open , a world of colour was there to see. Everyone became emotional to see the rebirth of the ‘New Star, that had risen’ years back ‘ on the horizon of Indian Painting’. Every painting was a feast of colour. Every frame had captured different moods of the land that had given the artist his birth and now a reincarnation. It was a day when history was created in the field of art in Kashmir. The entire exhibition was declared by Sadiq Sahib as sold. Thanks to the patronage of Miss  Mahmooda Ahmed Ali Shah, a genuine lover of art and literature. These paintings were purchased by the government and distributed to different offices for display. And I hope they are still there. Everyone was very happy for Butt. But as every one of that era knows that this exhibition of Som Nath Butt was his ‘Swan Song’. Because after some time this talented artist again set himself on a path of self destruction. He again hit the bottle stopped painting and that was his finale.”

 Something went wrong somewhere and Bobuji ,as he was called affectionately by his family , again started drinking heavily after his visit to Jammu in 1973 to attend an artist conference.. He fell sick and had to be admitted to hospital in Jammu. The family shifted him to Srinagar where he was again admitted to SMHS hospital for about two months. On a wintry morning of 9th December 1973, this great artist and human being bade good bye to this world .Like modern Punjabi poet Shiv Kumar Batalvi, Butt too died at a young age leaving friends weeping and his own family in grave crisis.


 Zindagi yeh to nahin tujh ko sanvaara hi na ho

Kuchh na kuchh qarz tera hum ne utaara hi na ho



( Avtar Mota )

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