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H. C. Rai

Old Masters

Artist H. C. Rai

H.C. Rai (Harish Chandra Rai) born at Bareilly, showed interest in art at the tender age of four. However many obstacles impeded his will to pursue his passion. In spite of these, he could achieve great heights in Visual arts and Aesthetics. Educated at Government School of Arts, Lucknow under the guidance of Sarvashree A. K. Haldar, N. Roychowdhery, L. M. Sen, B. Sen, Shridhar Mahapatra and Sir J. J. School of Arts, Mumbai, he worked as a professor of art at Barielly College for about a decade and then was appointed Principal of Government College of Fine Arts, Shimla, where he worked relentlessly till his retirement. During World War II, he served in the Indian Army as an Artist.

Rai made various experiments starting with Bengal School of painting, graduating to highly academic aspects of Portraiture, Landscape, Still life, Sculpture in various media like water colour, pastels, crayons, oils, clay; restricting himself to Portraiture, Landscape and Still Life. He made many large size nudes in clay and oils, most remarkable was making realistic human body in clay, perfectly hollow from within. Such a strenuous process requires a perfect knowledge of human anatomy and various properties of clay.

Rai’s interest in portraiture and sculpture led him to explore human body for which he made thousands of sketches. His interest in random sketching started at a very early age of ten and blossomed in the art school, so much so that famous personalities like A. K. Haldar, B. Sen and M. R. Achrekar praised his sketches as far better than their own. Once Mr. A. K. Haldar, while praising his pencil sketch of Swami Shivanand, said, “leave apart doing such standard of work, no artist in India has capability even to comprehend the intricacies of this work”. The Chief Architect of Birla Mandir, Delhi even touched his feet after seeing his sketch book.

Rai aimed at perfection in oil colour and water colour. Various royal families, business tycoons, film stars and general public acquired his art work and some commissioned him for portraits. He could work with equal flow and intensity with both hands.

Rai’s paintings show perfect composition and drawing skill with various subtle experiment, hardly visible to an inexperienced eye. His interest in Indian and Western aesthetics, iconography and poetry helped him to maintain high standards in whatever he did. His deep interest in Classical Indian Music and architecture supplement his refinement. Rai is the chief architect of famous Ram Mandir situated in Shimla. Even at the age of 95, he practices sketching, even though he has lost sight in one eye.

Twice Rai was selected by Government of India for Veteran Artist’s Award, which he did not accept because he thought that he was awarded for his age and not for his passion for art and quality of his art work. He was awarded with Sardar Soba Singh Kala Samman (2003) by Prof. Prem Kumar Dhumal, then Chief Minister of Government of Himachal Pradesh, the amount of which he doubled and contributed to Chief Minister’s Relief Fund. His art works are bought and spread around many corners of the world. Rai’s paintings were hung in the Summit Hall, where historical Indira-Bhutto summit took place and they are still hanging there.

Rai devoted himself to his mission and established his spacious and well illuminated 900 sqft studio in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, which is situated amidst pure natural beauty, a perfect place to experience nature and live with it, where he mostly painted in oils and water colours. Living in tune with nature and having spent his most of life in magnificent Himalayan Range i. e. Himachal Pradesh, he got inspired and interested in forests, mountains and people in oils in various experimental techniques to give new vistas of woodland and distant mountains in different moods.

"The Simla story, the glow & afterglow of the Raj : a sketch book" is a book published by Maria Bros. in 1992 which was co-authored by O. C. Sud. All the illustrations for that book were by sketched by H. C. Rai on the spot. The book contains sketches of all the monumental buildings and world heritage buildings of Shimla.

After such a rich ‘arty’ life in the mountains, wherein he received many accolades and appreciation, strangely the greatest contribution of H. C. Rai to the world of art has been after his retirement from Government Service (he painted hundreds of paintings) till he became a victim of an unfortunate accident at the age of 89, after which he has shifted to Mumbai and is living there with his daughter, Amala Rai. His zest for life and art continues here as he sings through the day, listens to his favorite India classical music and watching other artist’s work on his tab.


Highlights :

  • Graduated from Lucknow Arts College 1947
  • Studied at J. J. School of Arts, Mumbai. Stood first in its 1st Examination in entire state (at that time called Bombay Province) 1960
  • Founder & Principal, Govt. Fine Arts College, Shimla 1961-1979 and Founder Principal of RKMV, Shimla
  • Awarded Life Time Achievement Award by Himachal Government
  • Was offered twice Veteran Artist Award but did not accept it
  • Publication: A Shimla Story: through sketches (on spot sketches of old and heritage buildings of Shimla built during Raj)
  • His paintings were hung in the historical Summit Hall created for Indira-Bhutto Summit in Shimla and continue to be there till date. The whole place where, Bhutto and Benazir stayed were also decorated by Rai’s paintings
  • Was Founder member of Himachal Language, Art and Culture Academy
  • Was member Radio Advisory Committee & Education Programme, Aakashwaani Shimla
  • Was member of Board of Studies in Fine Arts and Research Degree Committee of Kanpur, Meerut and Kurukshetra Univerities
  • Was Convener of Art & Craft in Himachal Education Board
  • Was specialist member of Punjab, Rajasthan and Himachal Public Service Commission
  • Read paper in a National Conference on Art at prestigious premier Indian Institute for Advance Studies which was later published as a book
  • Participated in National Seminar on “Sequential Art Course” for one month at Sir. J. J. School of Art, Bombay in Oct. 1971
  • Read papers in seminars and conferences on Art in different universities in India
  • Chief Minister of Punjab, Capt. Amrinder Singh Commissioned a large size painting of a Pakistan Post which he captured during Indo-Pak War which is now hanging in his regiment office
  • Has conducted many solo exhibitions in Shimla
  • Served Army during World War II as an Artist
  • Has written hundreds of versus in Brij Bhasha and Avadhi
  • Has been an ace violinist. He learnt Violin from V. G. Jog and learnt Kathak from Late Pandit Lachoo Maharaj
  • Tagore, painting by H.C. Rai

  • Foundation of my existence, painting by H.C. Rai

  • We stand in all our glory, painting by H.C. Rai
  • Mother, painting by H.C. Rai