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Portrait painting is his forte


Prof Nemani Krishna Murthy seen with his paintings in the background.

There are great painters and great scientists in this world. But it is rare to find a combination of these two different and unrelated fields in one person. Once such unique personality from the City of Destiny is Nemani Krishna Murthy, an analytical chemist and a painter.

Born at Sarvasiddhi Rayavaram in 1933, he had his schooling and collegiate studies in M.R. College in Vizianagaram. He was barely 10 years old, when the veteran Haridasu, Adhibhatla Narayana Dasu of Vizianagaram introduced the boy to a portrait painter and sculptor, Adiraju Subrahmanyam, in 1943. Even as a school student, he received encomiums for his portraits of Shivaji, Rana Pratap and Tagore.

"I was inspired by the works of the great painters like Antyakula Pydiraju and Vaddadi Papayya and learnt from their works. During my globe-trotting as part of my teaching and research activities during later years, I saw the works of foreign painters and took a leaf from them," recalls Prof. Krishna Murthy.

He joined as a faculty member of the Department of Engineering Chemistry in Andhra University in 1965. He has guided 30 Ph.Ds in chemistry and published 250 research papers, besides doing double that number of paintings. The unique feature of his portraits is that they closely resemble the original person.

He tries to get as close as possible to the object of his creation before beginning to draw a portrait. He visited Bhadrachalam to study the statue of Bhakta Ramdas before capturing him on canvas. He could have as well got an illustration or picture of Ramdas from some book but that would not be exactly identical to his subject, he feels.

Many of his paintings were unveiled at different universities and institutions in various parts of the country. His modest three-storeyed building is a treasure house of paintings, which adorn the walls. Nannayya, Tikkanna, Vyasa , Valmiki, Charaka, Susruta, Mona Lisa, Raja Ravi Varma's `Damayanti', Sri Krishna Deva Raya, Rana Pratap, Ashoka, political luminaries like Tanguturi Prakasam Panthulu, Vavilala Gopalakrishnayya and Tenneti Viswanatham, scientists like Yallapragada Subba Rao, Ramanujam, Newton and Galileo, saints like Surdas, Kabir Das and Narayana Das... the list is endless .

Krishna Murthy presented his portrait of Tenneti Viswanadham to the AP Assembly.

He bagged the `Best teacher award' for 1993 and two gold `Simha lalatams'.

The portrait of Edward Jenner testing the smallpox vaccine on his son is heart rending.

He renovated the oil paintings of former Vice-Chancellors of Andhra University, which were in a very bad shape in the early 1970s. They now adorn the walls of T.L.N. Sabha Hall. "The renovation of old portraits is by no means a simple task. It requires a great deal of dedication and hard work besides ensuring that the originality of the work is not lost," he says.

Recalling with pride the unveiling of his portrait of Jawaharlal Nehru by his daughter, Indira Gandhi, in 1966, he said that she (Indira) had suggested that he have a photograph with her and not the other way round. "I was only one among the thousands who met her every day but she bestowed such an honour on me.

Prof. Krishna Murthy is a member and fellow of Royal Society of Chemistry, London, Institution of Chemists and Indian Science Congress. He was instrumental in starting the M.Sc. Applied Chemistry in Engineering Chemistry at AU and AU PG Centre at Kakinada.

He has several awards to his credit, the notable among which include the Adavi Bapi Raju Centenary Award, Someswara Sahiti Trust Award and the Ugadi Puraskaram of the Madras Telugu Academy. The Visakha Kala Vedika has honoured him and his wife, Prof. Rukmini, who has also a retired from the Chemistry Department of AU with the title "Adarsha Dampathulu" in 1997.

At 70, Krishna Murthy's hands shiver and he cannot even put his signature, but he draws portraits with effortless ease. It is perhaps a God-given gift and we can hope to see many more masterpieces from him in the years to come.

B. MADHU GOPAL

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