Modern Indian painting
The Modern Indian art movement in Indian painting is considered to have begun in Calcutta in the late nineteenth century.The old traditions of painting had more or less died out in Bengal and new schools of art were started by the British. Initially, protagonists of Indian art such as Raja Ravi Varma drew on Western traditions and techniques including oil paint and easel painting. A reaction to the Western influence led to a revival in primitivism, called as the Bengal school of art, which drew from the rich cultural heritage of India. It was succeeded by the Santiniketan school, led by Rabindranath Tagore's harking back to idyllic rural folk and rural life.
British art schools
Oil and easel painting In India began in the starting of eighteenth century which saw many European artists, such as Zoffany, Kettle, Hodges, Thomas and William Daniell, Joshua Reynolds, Emily Eden and George Chinnery coming out to India in search of fame and fortune. The courts of the princely states of India were an important draw for European artists due to their patronage of the visual and performing arts and also their need for European style of portraits
The merchants of the East India Company also provided a large market for native art. A distinct genre developed of watercolour painting on paper and mica in the later half of the 18th Century depicting scenes of everyday life, regalia of princely courts, and native festivities and rituals. Referred to as the "Company style" or "Patna style", it flourished at first in Murshidabad and spread to other cities of British suzerainty. The style is considered by authorities to be "of hybrid style and undistinguished quality".
Post-1857, John Griffiths and John Lockwood Kipling (father of Rudyard Kipling) came out to India together; Griffith going on to head the Sir J. J. School of Art and being considered as one of the finest Victorian painters to come to India and Kipling went on to head both the J. J. School of Art and the Mayo School of Arts established in Lahore in 1878.
The enlightened eighteenth century attitude shown by an earlier generation of British towards Indian history, monuments, literature, culture and art took a turn away in the mid-nineteenth century. Previous manifestations of Indian art were brushed away as being "dead" and the stuff of museums; "from the official British perspective, India had no living art". To propagate Western values in art education and the colonial agenda, the British established art schools in Calcutta and Madras in 1854 and in Bombay in 1857.
Raja Ravi Varma
Raja Ravi Varma (1848–1906) was a remarkable self-taught Indian painter from the princely state of Travancore. His exposure in the west came when he won the first prize in the Vienna Art Exhibition in 1873. Varma's paintings were also sent to the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893 and his work was awarded two gold medals. He is considered the first of the modernists, and, along with Amrita Sher-gil (1913–1941), the main exponents of Western techniques to develop a new aesthetic in the subjective interpretation of Indian culture with "the promise of materiality in the medium of oils and the reality-paradigm of the mirror/window format of easel painting". Some other prominent Indian painters born in the 19th Century are Mahadev Vishwanath Dhurandhar (1867–1944), Antonio Xavier Trindade (1870–1935), Manchershaw Fakirjee Pithawalla (1872–1937), Sawlaram Lakshman Haldankar (1882–1968) and Hemen Majumdar (1894–1948).
The work of Varma was considered to be among the best examples of the fusion of Indian traditions with the techniques of European academic art, in the colonial-nationalistic framework of the 19th Century. He is most remembered for his paintings of beautiful sari-clad women, who were portrayed as shapely and graceful. Varma became the best-known allegorist of Indian subjects in his depiction of scenes from the epics of the Mahabharata and Ramayana.
Raja Ravi Varma considered his work as "establishing a new civilisational identity within the terms of 19th Century India".:147 He aimed to form an Indian canton of art in the manner of those of the classic Greek and Roman civilisations. Varma's art came to play an important role in the development of the Indian national consciousness. Varma purchased a printing press which churned out oleograph copies of his paintings which graced the middle-class homes of India, many decades after he died. Considered a genius in his heydey, within a few years of his passing, Varma's paintings came under severe strictures for mimicking Western art.
Raja Ravi Varma died in 1906 at the age of 58. He is considered among the greatest painters in the history of Indian art.
The Bengal School
During the colonial era, Western influences had started to make an impact on Indian art. Some artists developed a style that used Western ideas of composition, perspective and realism to illustrate Indian themes, Raja Ravi Varma being prominent among them. The Bengal school arose as an avant garde and nationalist movement reacting against the academic art styles previously promoted in India, both by Indian artists such as Varma and in British art schools.
Following the widespread influence of Indian spiritual ideas in the West, the British art teacher Ernest Binfield Havel attempted to reform the teaching methods at the Calcutta School of Art by encouraging students to imitate Mughal miniatures. This caused immense controversy, leading to a strike by students and complaints from the local press, including from nationalists who considered it to be a retrogressive move. Havel was supported by the artist Abanindranath Tagore, a nephew of the poet Rabindranath Tagore.
Abanindranath painted a number of works influenced by Mughal art, a style that he and Havel believed to be expressive of India's distinct spiritual qualities, as opposed to the "materialism" of the West. His best-known painting, Bharat Mata (Mother India), depicted a young woman, portrayed with four arms in the manner of Hindu deities, holding objects symbolic of India's national aspirations. The other prominent figures of the Bengal school of art were Gaganendranath Tagore, Abanindranath's elder brother, Jamini Roy, Mukul Dey, Manishi Dey and Ram Kinker Baij, who is more famous as the pioneer of Modern Indian Sculpture. Another important figure of this era was Chittaprosad Bhattacharya, who rejected the classicism of the Bengal School and its spiritual preoccupations. His book Hungry Bengal : a tour through Midnapur District included many sketches of the Bengal Famine drawn from life, as well as documentation of the persons depicted. The book was immediately banned by the British and 5000 copies were seized and destroyed. Only one copy was hidden by Chittaprosad's family and is now in the possession of the Delhi Art Gallery.
During the opening years of the 20th century, Abanindranath developed links with Japanese cultural figures such as the art historian Okakura Kakuzō and the painter Yokoyama Taikan as part of a globalised Modernist initiative with pan-Asian tendencies.
Those associated with this Indo-Far Eastern model included Nandalal Bose, Benode Behari Mukherjee, Vinayak Shivaram Masoji, B.C. Sanyal, Beohar Rammanohar Sinha, and subsequently their students A. Ramachandran, Tan Yuan Chameli, and a few others. The Bengal school's influence on Indian art scene gradually started alleviating with the spread of modernist ideas post-independence.
The mantle of the Bengal School was taken up when Rabindranath Tagore established the visionary university of Santiniketan, a university focussed on the preservation and upliftment of Indian culture, values and heritage. It included an art school "Kala Bhavan" founded in 1920–21. Though Rabindranath himself came late to painting in his long, productive life, his ideas greatly influenced Indian modernism. In private, Tagore made small drawings, coloured with inks, for which he drew inspiration for his primitivism from his unconscious. In public life, Rabindranath's primitivism can be directly attributed to an anti-colonial resistance, akin to that of Mahatma Gandhi.
One of the early students of Abanindranath Tagore was Nandalal Bose, who subsequently became a teacher and later the Director for art. Nandalal led the school to a position of pre-eminence in the nationalistic ideology now emerging in Indian culture. The Shantiniketan school of thought emphasised that "an aesthetic was also an ethos, that art’s role was more than life-enhancing, it was world-shaping". It established an Indian version of naturalism distinct from the oriental and western schools, one example being the eschewing of oil and easel painting for work on paper drawn/coloured using watercolours, wash, tempera and ink. Rabindranath Tagore's dream of veneration of old values, typified by motifs such as rural folk, especially Santhal tribals, came to fruition in the art-related schools of Viswa-Bharati University at Santiniketan. Some of the prominent artists of Santiniketan school are Benode Behari Mukherjee, Ramkinkar Baij, Shanko Chowdhury, Dinkar Kowshik, K. G. Subramanyan, Beohar Rammanohar Sinha, Krishna Reddy, A Ramachandran, Shobha Brhma, Ramananda Bandhapadhyay, Dharma Narayan Dasgupta, Sushen Ghose, Janak Jhankar Narzary .
The idea of Contextual Modernism emerged in 1997 from R. Siva Kumar's Santiniketan: The Making of a Contextual Modernism as a postcolonial critical tool in the understanding of an alternative modernism in the visual arts of the erstwhile colonies like India, specifically that of the Santiniketan artists.
Several terms including Paul Gilroy’s counter culture of modernity and Tani Barlow's Colonial modernity have been used to describe the kind of alternative modernity that emerged in non-European contexts. Professor Gall argues that ‘Contextual Modernism’ is a more suited term because "the colonial in colonial modernity does not accommodate the refusal of many in colonized situations to internalize inferiority. Santiniketan’s artist teachers’ refusal of subordination incorporated a counter vision of modernity, which sought to correct the racial and cultural essentialism that drove and characterized imperial Western modernity and modernism. Those European modernities, projected through a triumphant British colonial power, provoked nationalist responses, equally problematic when they incorporated similar essentialisms."
According to R. Siva Kumar "The Santiniketan artists were one of the first who consciously challenged this idea of modernism by opting out of both internationalist modernism and historicist indigenousness and tried to create a context sensitive modernism." He had been studying the work of the Santiniketan masters and thinking about their approach to art since the early 80s. The practice of subsuming Nandalal Bose, Rabindranath Tagore, Ram Kinker Baij and Benode Behari Mukherjee under the Bengal School of Art was, according to Siva Kumar, misleading. This happened because early writers were guided by genealogies of apprenticeship rather than their styles, worldviews, and perspectives on art practice.
By the time of Independence in 1947, several schools of art in India provided access to modern techniques and ideas. Galleries were established to showcase these artists. Modern Indian art typically shows the influence of Western styles, but is often inspired by Indian themes and images. Major artists are beginning to gain international recognition, initially among the Indian diaspora, but also among non-Indian audiences.
The Progressive Artists' Group, established shortly after India became independent in 1947, was intended to establish new ways of expressing India in the post-colonial era. Its founder was Francis Newton Souza and S. H. Raza, M. F. Husain and Manishi Dey were early members. It was profoundly influential in changing the idiom of Indian art. Almost all of the major artists of India in the 1950s were associated with the group. Prominent among them were Akbar Padamsee, Sadanand Bakre, Ram Kumar, Tyeb Mehta, K. H. Ara, H. A. Gade and Bal Chabda. In 1950, V. S. Gaitonde, Krishen Khanna and Mohan Samant joined the Group. The group disbanded in 1956.
Other famous painters like Narayan Shridhar Bendre, K.K.Hebbar, K. C. S. Paniker, Sankho Chaudhuri, Antonio Piedade da Cruz, K. G. Subramanyan, Beohar Rammanohar Sinha, Satish Gujral, Bikash Bhattacharjee, Jehangir Sabavala, Sakti Burman, A. Ramachandran, Ganesh Pyne, Nirode Mazumdar, Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh, Jahar Dasgupta, Prokash Karmakar, John Wilkins, Vivan Sundaram, Jogen Chowdhury, Jagdish Swaminathan, Jyoti Bhatt, Bhupen Khakhar, Jeram Patel, Narayanan Ramachandran, Paramjit Singh, Pranab Barua, Dom Martin (the Surrealistic Painter from Goa) and Bijon Choudhuri enriched the art culture of India and they have become the icons of modern Indian art. Women artists like B. Prabha, Shanu Lahiri, Arpita Singh, Anjolie Ela Menon and Lalita Lajmi have made immense contributions to Modern Indian Art and Painting. Art historians like Prof. Rai Anand Krishna have also referred to those works of modern artistes that reflect Indian ethos. Some of the acclaimed contemporary Indian artists include Nagasamy Ramachandran, Jitish Kallat, Atul Dodiya and Geeta Vadhera who has had acclaim in translating complex, Indian spiritual themes onto canvas like Sufi thought, the Upanishads and the Bhagwad Geeta.
Indian Art got a boost with the economic liberalization of the country since early 1990s. Artists from various fields now started bringing in varied styles of work. Post liberalization Indian art works not only within the confines of academic traditions but also outside it. Artists have introduced new concepts which have hitherto not been seen in Indian art. Devajyoti Ray has introduced a new genre of art called Pseudorealism. Pseudorealist Art is an original art style that has been developed entirely on the Indian soil. Pseudorealism takes into account the Indian concept of abstraction and uses it to transform regular scenes of Indian life into fantastic images.
In post-liberalization India, many artists have established themselves in the international art market like the abstract painter Natvar Bhavsar, abstract Art painter Nabakishore Chanda, and sculptor Anish Kapoor whose mammoth postminimalist artworks have acquired attention for their sheer size. Many art houses and galleries have also opened in USA and Europe to showcase Indian artworks.
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- Manifestations II, Rabina Karode, Delhi Art Gallery 2004, ISBN 81-902104-0-8
- Arrowsmith, Rupert Richard. Modernism and the Museum: Asian, African and Pacific Art and the London Avant Garde. Oxford University Press, 2011, passim. ISBN 978-0-19-959369-9
- Also see Arrowsmith, Rupert Richard. "The Transcultural Roots of Modernism: Imagist Poetry, Japanese Visual Culture, and the Western Museum System", Modernism/modernity Volume 18, Number 1, January 2011, 27–42. ISSN 1071-6068.
- Video of a Lecture discussing the global importance of the Calcutta-Tokyo art connection, London University School of Advanced Study, March 2012.
- Mitter, Partha (2007). "2. The Indian Discourse of Primitivism. II – Rabindranath's Vision of Art and the Community". The triumph of modernism: India's artists and the avant-garde, 1922–1947. Reaktion Books. pp. 65–72. ISBN 978-1-86189-318-5. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
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- "McMichael Canadian Art Collection > The Last Harvest: Paintings by Rabindranath Tagore". Mcmichael.com. 2012-07-15. Retrieved 2013-12-13.
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