Bengal School

Are You suprised ? Indian painting may be said to enter the phase of the modern with the art of the' Bengal School, a' group of artists who formed around the idea that Indian art must take inspiration from and help re-vivify India's own cultural, mythological and religious heritage. This movement of national self‑assertion in the arts began exactly in 1900, with the work of Abanindranath Tagore, and developed in reaction to British rule and its sustained denigration of Indian culture; the climate created by the growing interest in Orientalism in Europe was another among several contributory factors. The immediate impetus for the work of the school, however, was the appointment of E.B. Clavell (1861-1934) as the principal of the Calcutta Government College of Art in 1896 and his collaboration with Abanindranath Tagore and the critic A.K. Coomaraswamy in the project to fashion an Indian art form. This required that the realism promoted by British academic art and the Europeanised portraiture of Raja Ravi Varma be discredited, and an idiom more suited to the nationalist agenda be developed. All of this combined to translate into a novel, Indian visual language, a style of expression particularly suited to political uses. Given their credo, therefore, the artists took inspiration from the frescoes at Ajanta and Bagh, and picked up artistic principles from the Silpa Sastras (ancient treatises on art) and from Persian, Mughal, Rajput and Pahari miniature paintings. As oils were considered' foreign, water-colour, ink and tempera were the preferred media on paintings executed in a small format. Japanese and Chinese calligraphic techniques were combined with themes from classical Indian mythology and religion. The Japanese inspired 'wash' technique gave the paintings a mystic sense of space and atmosphere. Apart from the School's fountainhead, Abanindranath Tagore, some of the other artists who worked in this style include Nandalal Bose, K. Venkatappa, Samarendranath Gupta, Asit Kumar Haldar, Sailendranath Dey, Kshitindranath Mazumdar, Sarada Ukil, Promode Kumar Chatterjee, M.A.R. Chugtai and' D. P. Roy Chowdhury. Rabindranath Tagore initially sympathised with the school's ideas, but later moved away to further his own artistic and educational work. While the finely modeled, ethereal figuration of the school may have served ideological purposes initially, its artistic impulse waned after the twenties. Even Abanindranath in his later years moved beyond the stylistic and formal norms of the school, something that Jagdish Swaminathan, in the sixties, would deride as 'pastoral idealism.'' Closer in time, Jamini Roy' would react to the fascination with the rich glories of India's past, by focussing on more contemporary themes and in an idiom which seemed more appropriate to the times. However, there are painters who still see artistic possibilities in the school's techniques. Ganesh Pyne, a leading contemporary artist has experimented a lot with watercolour,' tempera and the typical small format. (See Profiles of individual artists for more information)

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