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Born in 1916 in the Sindh province of what is now Pakistan, Leela Mukherjee trained as a painter and sculptor at Santiniketan where she met her husband, the renowned artist and teacher Benode Behari Mukherjee. Apart from her own fledgling practice, undoubtedly influenced by the work of Santiniketan sculptors like Ramkinkar Baij, she also helped her husband with the murals he painted on campus. Most notable among the projects Leela assisted on was the monumental 1947 wall painting at Hindi Bhavana, Medieval Indian Saints, which the critic R. Sivakumar locates “among the greatest achievements in contemporary Indian painting”. (R. Sivakumar, ‘Benode Behari Mukherji’, Oxford Art Online website, accessed April 2017)
When her husband moved to Kathmandu in 1949 to become the curator of the Nepal Government Museum, Leela went with him and learnt the art of wood and stone carving under his friend, the eminent Nepali artisan Kulasundar Shilakarmi. After leaving Nepal and a brief stint in Rajasthan, the couple moved to Mussoorie where Leela started a nursery school and Benode Behari established a training centre for art teachers. Leela went on to teach full-time at Welham’s Preparatory School in Dehradun where their daughter, the sculptor Mrinalini, was enrolled.
Leela Mukherjee’s sculptures in wood and metal have been exhibited in several shows, including the important surveys All-India Sculpture Exhibition, 1959, and Major Trends in Indian Art, 1997. Her works are part of the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Modern Art and the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi.