Bengal School of Art

Origin of Bengal School of Art

In Bengal, a new group of nationalist artists gathered around Abinandranatha Tagore (1871-1951). Abanindranath Tagore was a nephew of Rabindranath Tagore. This new group of painters rejected the art of Raja Ravi Varma as imitative and westernized. They declared that such a style was unsuitable for depicting the nation’s ancient myths and legends. This group felt that a genuine Indian style of painting must draw the inspiration from the non-western art tradition and should try to capture the spiritual essence of the East. So, these artists started doing experiments. They did the following things:

  • They broke away from the tradition of oil painting
  • They broke away from the realistic style of Raja Ravi Varma and company artists
  • The turned to the inspiration to medieval Indian traditions of the miniature paintings and ancient art of mural paintings in Ajanta Caves. The paintings of Ajanta and Bagh, Mogul, Rajput and Pahari miniatures provided the models.
  • The continuity of earlier traditions was sought to be maintained by borrowing from legends and classical literature like the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, Gita, and Puranas, the writings of Kalidasa and Omar Khayyam.
  • At the same time, these artists were also influenced by the art of the Japanese artists who visited India at the time to develop an Asian Art movement. The initial artists are known for borrowing in profusion from Chinese calligraphy, Japanese colouring and Persian finish.

The above experiments called “avant garde” in artist’s parlance, led to the development of the Bengal School of Art. Avant Garde refers to the people or works that are experimental or innovative, particularly with respect to art, culture, and politics. One more immediate reason of rise of such artists was the widespread influence of the Indian spiritual idea to west. The Pilots of this school were Ernest Binfield Havel and Abanindranath Tagore. The other artists of this group were Gaganendranath Tagore, Asit Kumar Haldar, M.A.R Chughtai, Sunayani Devi (sister of Abanindranath Tagore), Kshitindranath Majumdar, Nandalal Bose, Kalipada Ghoshal, Sughra Rababi and Sudhir Khastgir.

Salient Features of the Bengal School of Art

  • Bengal school in painting was called the Renaissance School as well as the Revivalist School because this movement endeavoured for revival of the Indian ancient and medieval traditions.
  • However, it is sometimes criticised because it took art back to the subject matter of ancient periods in an imitative manner without much creativity. The paintings were Simple and standard paintings with attractive colour scheme technique. Bright colours were not used in such paintings.
  • The Bengal painters have made best possible efforts to bring in the rhythm, linear gracefulness and poise of Ajanta in their painting. Influence of Mughal and Rajasthan School can also be seen.
  • Elegant and refined figures and the paintings exhibited skilfully exposed light and shade without any hardness.
  • The artistic creed of this school was gradually challenged and new developments came about. A genuinely individual search for content and form led to a successful synthesis of Indian and European techniques.

Prominent artists of Bengal school of art

  • EB Havell
  • Abanindranath Tagore
  • Nandalal Bose
  • Gaganendranath Tagore
  • Asit Kumar Haldar
  • Jamini Roy
  • Ramkinkar Baij
  • Rabindranath Tagore

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  • Lalit Kumar Deb

    Bimal Sil, an artist of Kolkota was a contemporary of Abanindranath Tagore. He used to draw and paint for magazines and institutions. A number of his paintings still survive till date. However, his name remains unknown an no mention is made of him on any website.