EB Havell

The art traditions of India witnessed a steady decline in the 19th century, and Bengal was not too isolated to the deterioration. What could survive during those times were only the Kalighat folk paintings. In 1854, the Calcutta school of Art came into existence. Here, E.B. Havel, Head of the Calcutta School of Art, set for himself the twofold task of propagating a truer appreciation abroad of India’s cultural heritage and of weaning young Indians from indiscriminate admiration of Western art, specially its decadent and uninspiring products. In this, he was helped by Dr AK. Coomaraswamy and Abanindranath Tagore. While Dr Coomaraswamy rendered invaluable service in interpreting and popularizing our artistic heritage, the Indian Society of Oriental Art under Abanindranath’s patronage helped to free young artists who had allowed them to be hypnotized by the West from its spell.

In 1867, EB Havel was appointed the Principal of the Art College at Calcutta. He gave greater importance to the art traditions of this country, instead of those of Europe. However, he himself was not able to produce some outstanding works. This task was taken up by Abanindranath Tagore and the result was the Bengal School of Art. This school proclaimed Raja Ravi Varma, who was a leading practitioner of the academic style, to be in bad taste. Whatever its shortcomings, the Bengal School restored to health the indigenous tradition in painting and infused self-confidence among the Indian artists. This school was followed by the Santiniketan School, led by Rabindranath Tagore’s harking back to idyllic rural folk and rural life. 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. This was the dawn of Modern Indian Paintings.