Denis Anthony La Fontaine
Denis La Fontaine learnt to draw and paint while still in school. On joining IAF, he first painted his flying kit leather helmet, goggles etc. This was a work in watercolour and it can no longer be traced. He joined the Battleaxes, No. 7 Squadron, where soon enough he was maintaining the Squadron Diary.
Dennis La Fontaine as a Pilot Officer
This was obviously in recognition of his artistic talents. True enough, the Dairy had many cartoons and sketches to go with the words that described what its people had been up to each day. Traditionally, the Squadron Diary records non-official matters with much greater care and relish than the tasks executed in the line of duty. Denis gradually went up in the service and he assumed command of Air Force Adampur as an Air Commodore (AOC).
Another valued tradition of IAF is that each officer, and definitely the commander, is sent off on his posting out with a farewell party and a memento. In turn most officers and commanders present some item to their organisation before saying goodbye. Usually the Officers Mess receives a present, which traditionally would be some item in sterling silver. Around 1977, when it came time for Denis to move on, he decided to present to the mess something unusual and in fact much more precious. He painted a picture of the beloved MiGs based in Adampur doing some hot flying over the airfield. It shows a Type 77 MiG-21FL air defence version on the right. On the left is a Type 96 MiG-21MF ground aircraft. Denis says that he brought the hills seen on the horizon on the left by about forty kilometres closer so that they could be shown off, perhaps to jog nostalgic memories. The attention to perspective in the painting is remarkable. The painting found a place of honour in the Officers Mess Bar. But it had a narrow escape.
Wing Commander KDK (Keith) Lewis (Now a retired Air Marshal) was a squadron commander on the station and he clearly remembers the painting in the mess. It was to have a silver plaque under it mentioning the artists and the date of presentation. This never got done. When Keith returned to Adampur as AOC, the painting was nowhere to be found. After a thorough search, he located it in a store along with other junk. Obviously, it had been taken down when the bar was being repainted. Keith got it framed and now the painting is back on display in the mess.
Denis eventually became Chief of Air Staff with the rank of Air Chief Marshal. When he laid down his office on retirement, he took up residence near Hyderabad, and within easy motoring distance of the Air Force Academy (AFA). While his hobbies of carpentry, photography and astronomy took up a lot of his time, Denis did not give painting all together.
At the request of the Commandant of AFA, he presented to it a painting of two HJT-16 Kirans over Dundigal airfield peeling off for landing. It is just possible to make out a whole line up Kiran aircraft ready for flight in the dispersal. The terrain, runway and taxi tracks, main building of the Academy and hangars are accurately represented. The attention to perspective has been maintained and interestingly the effect of the hot exhausts of the two aircraft is also seen clearly.
Denis presented the painting to the Academy. It is doubtful if anywhere in the world art work exists which has been executed by four star generals, serving or retired, such as an Air Chief Marshal. The painting is now in the Kiran bar of AFA
This page is excerpted from the article "Aviation Artists" that was written by Gp Capt Kapil Bhargava and published in "INDIAN AVIATION". Reproduced here with permission.