You know, don’t you, why Gandhi ji took the epoch-making decision of wearing a simple dhoti and started a movement that encouraged people to spin their own yarn and wear khadi? Yes, because during the British rule Gandhi ji wanted people to boycott videshi or foreign products and opt for swadeshi items, or the ones made in India, as a way to rediscover their pride in the Indian heritage. But even before Gandhi ji did this, there were some artists who tried to achieve their Independence through art. Who were these artists, and what did they do? Read on and discover!

Art as the Way to Freedom

During the mid-nineteenth century – a time when the British held tight the reins of power in India – the British opened many art schools in the country, which taught and promoted the Western way of painting i.e. oil on canvas, realistic, lifelike paintings, and thus it gained widespread admiration in India, so much so that Indian artists even tried hard to copy the Western style! At this time, some painters wanted to throw away the yoke of slavery and wanted to explore their Indian identity in art, by drawing inspiration from India’s rich heritage rather than copying Western style of painting. Since this art movement began mainly in Calcutta and Santiniketan in Bengal, it came to be known as the Bengal School of Art.

The Tagores

Leading this change from the Western way of painting to the Indian way of painting was Abanindranath Tagore, the nephew of the famous poet-painter Rabindranath Tagore. As the vice-principal of Government School of Art, Calcutta, Abanindranath was supported by EB Havell who was the principal of the college at that time, in promoting the Indian style of painting. As an opposition to the British style of painting, Abanindranath used locally-made material, and mostly derived inspiration from the ancient Indian epics and classical literature. One of his most famous painting called Bharat Mata or Mother India became an icon for nationalism during the freedom struggle. He was also inspired by Eastern countries like Japan and China and learnt and used their Wash Technique in his works, a technique in which semi-transparent layers of colour are used and the brush strokes are almost invisible. He, along with his brother Gaganendranath, who was already counted as India’s first Cubist and with support from his uncle Rabindranath Tagore, formed the Indian Society of Oriental Arts in 1907 to promote ancient Indian art traditions.

The Teacher and His Students

The Bengal Art movement spread rapidly and soon Abanindranath Tagore’s students like Nandalal Bose, Jamini Roy, Asit Kumar Haldar, Kshitindranath Majumdar took the tradition forward. Later, when Abanindranath started living in Santiniketan, his most outstanding student Nandalal Bose from Calcutta was asked by Rabindranath Tagore to head the Kala Bhavan, the art wing at Santiniketan. Under him Kala Bhavan flourished and two great artists emerged from it – Ramkinkar Baij and Binodebihari Mukherjee. Way ahead of his time, Ramkinkar’s work mainly drew on the rural scenes of the area close to Santiniketan, while Binodebihari Mukherjee experimented with different mediums all through his life – even his poor eyesight and total blindness in his later years could not stop him from painting!

Slowly but surely, the movement took shape and phenomenal works emerged from the Bengal painters. The artistic outlook of the artists in the Bengal School of Art created a new awakening in India and brought about a revival of the Indian Art.

If you haven’t seen the works of the artists in the Bengal School of Art, put down this paper now and go on the Internet – we bet you won’t be able to stop yourself from gawking at the beauty of these works.

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