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Nirmalya Kumar buys a place in London's Baker Street for his 70 plus Jamini Roy artworks

Nirmalya Kumar, who is known to have the largest collection of the painter's work outside India which will soon show at a Swiss museum, says, "He chose me, I didn't choose him".

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Jun 04, 2015, 08.44 AM IST
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Nirmalya Kumar, who is known to have the largest collection of the painter's work outside India which will soon show at a Swiss museum, says, "He chose me, I didn't choose him".
Nirmalya Kumar, who is known to have the largest collection of the painter's work outside India which will soon show at a Swiss museum, says, "He chose me, I didn't choose him".
Nirmalya Kumar became an art collector by accident. A member of the group executive council of Tata Sons, he picked up his first painting after seeing an advertisement in an inflight magazine in 1997.

But today, 18 years and 150-plus paintings later, Kumar has transitioned into an art aficionado known to own one of the largest collections of painter Jamini Roy's works outside India.

Kumar's collection includes works by other masters such as Rabindranath Tagore, M F Husain, F N Souza and Ganesh Pyne as well. But his London home houses over 70 works of art by Roy, whose work holds a special place in his heart.

"It was love at first sight. I always say that I didn't choose Jamini Roy. He chose me," says Kumar. His collection of Roy paintings will be exhibited as a single collector show at the Museo delle Culture in Lugano, Switzerland this month (June 13-August 23).

A Facebook friend request

Kumar has a Switzerland connect, having lived there and worked there. But the exhibit came about thanks to social networking.

Caterina Corni (the curator of the exhibit) contacted him through Facebook. Corni, who's interested in modern Indian art, asked to come by his London residence and view his collection. Kumar says, "As I see it, I am not the owner of these works. I am the caretaker of a piece of India's heritage. When I lived in London, many people would come to see it. But not anymore." The exhibition is, therefore, a perfect way of sharing the collection.

Jamini Roy on Baker Street

By 2007, Kumar needed a place for his Roys. So he bought a house, on Baker Street, London. "The apartment was bought for Jamini and there is a room for me in it," he says.

Most of Roy's work are watercolours and require special care. Kumar explains. "The house (in London) is kept in complete darkness with only artificial light let in."

Building the collection

Painting by painting, Kumar has tried to piece together a collection that spans Roy's entire career. He confesses that he is not fond of all of Roy's styles, citing the pink phase or the early impressionist paintings. But he ensures that the work is represented in his collection.

Kumar's favourites include Roy's paintings from the Christian phase and the monochrome work, Roy did towards the end of his career. There are some he wishes to add to his repertoire: "I don't have his paintings of Buddha," Kumar says.

Of course, the new additions have to meet one condition. "I will only buy a Jamini Roy today if it can be counted in the top 12 of my collection," says Kumar. And how does he decide the top 12? He explains, "The ones I would walk out of this apartment with if I could only choose 12." With such high standards, it isn't surprising that Kumar has only bought two Roys in the last five years.
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