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Avalokiteswara–part of the collection of the over 2000-year-old frescoes adorning the Ajanta Caves Christ and his followers, Jamini Roy, tempera on paper, 64 x 37 cm Gopini, Jamini Roy, gouache on paper, 84 x 46 cm
_ By Sunil K Sukumaran
by and large, enriched the amalgamation that is Indian art.
Indian art can be said to have begun with the rock paintings of prehistoric times—such as the petroglyphs discovered in places like Bhimbetka— some of them older than 5500 BCE. The ancient Indus Valley civilisations of Harappa and Mohenjodaro indicate a highly developed culture and understanding of space, which is clear from their architecture. Various seals from Harappa and other art objects, especially the ‘dancing girl’, from Mohenjodaro show a clear knowledge of the anatomy of the human figure, as well as a high degree of awareness and perception of animal forms. However, though petroglyphs continued over the centuries, it was only and after several millennia, in the 7th Century BCE, that carved pillars of Ellora present a fine example of Indian paintings, and the colours used were mostly shades of red and orange, which were derived from minerals. Thereafter, the frescoes of Ajanta and Ellora Caves appeared. Despite the Vedic times and the advent of Hinduism, the earliest Indian religion to inspire major artistic monuments was Buddhism—India’s Buddhist literature is replete with examples of texts that describe the palaces of kings and nobility embellished with paintings; alas, they have largely not survived, but it is believed that some form of art painting was practiced during that period.
Origins of modern Indian painting
Western influences started to have an impact on Indian art during the colonial era. Old patrons became less wealthy or influential, and Western art became more ubiquitous, and in the nearly 150 years
Lack of cataloguing during the early Indian modern art scene prevents us from ascertaining a precise transitionary phase of the evolution of the modern Indian painting. Raja Ravi Varma (1848 – 1906). During the late19th Century. catered exclusively to British taste. and realism to illustrate Indian themes. He was the first Indian to master the technique of oil painting. Although most of these works were generally related to Indian exotic flora and fauna for natural history institutions of the British Empire. Indian artists developed a style that used Western ideas of composition. learning his craft from a European visiting artist at the court of the Maharajah of Travancore. naturally. perspective. The regimes and influences of the British art school inspired one vibrant artist. as new art. His dazzling works depicted scenes from Indian epics and other literature. the emerging educated Indian 2 .of British rule. whose career became a memorable success. a distinctive genre of paintings emerged in the early 19th Century portraying Indian traditions and customs for Western eyes. Indian indigenous art registered quite a bit of retardation.
a distinctive genre of paintings emerged in the early 19th Century portraying Indian traditions and customs for Western eyes.Origins of modern Indian painting Western influences started to have an impact on Indian art during the colonial era. Although most of these works were generally related to Indian exotic flora and fauna for natural history institutions of the British Empire. and Western art became more ubiquitous. catered exclusively to British taste. and in the nearly 150 years of British rule. and realism to illustrate Indian themes. perspective. Indian artists developed a style that used Western ideas of composition. naturally. The regimes and influences of the 4 . Old patrons became less wealthy or influential. Indian indigenous art registered quite a bit of retardation. as new art.
chemical alterations on paper. His dazzling works depicted scenes from Indian epics and other literature. the Revivalists—including Raja Ravi Verma whose subject matter mainly derived from Indian mythology—may be regarded by some as regressing into India’s past by incorporating Hindu and Buddhist themes into their work. oil on canvas. but also poetry. With the support of E. and the Mughal and Rajput miniature paintings. 112 x 84 cm Untitled. 30 x 24 cm 52 DIPLOMATIST middle class began to identify itself as a national entity and embarked on rediscovering the ‘forgotten’ cultural heritage. and playwriting. by the great Indian epics and transcendental philosophy. Havell. whose career became a memorable success.British art school inspired one vibrant artist. learning his craft from a European visiting artist at the court of the Maharajah of Travancore. Souza. During the late19th Century.B. 1991. Souza. The fountainhead of the ‘revivalist’ celebration was a single aristocratic family of Bengal. and Van Gogh were experimenting with Impressionism and new artistic expressions. who became the first nonwhite and first Indian Nobel laureate. His nephews. the emerging educated Indian Crucifixion. fiction. He was the first Indian to master the technique of oil painting. Raja Ravi Varma (1848 – 1906). by the frescoes of Ajanta. This Revivalists movement was deeply influenced by India’s glorious past and heritage. Lack of cataloguing during the early Indian modern art scene prevents us from ascertaining a precise transitionary phase of the evolution of the modern Indian painting. Renoir. the British principal of Calcutta School of Art. singing. Ananda 5 . Gaganendranath and Abanindranath. and designing— headed by Rabinandranath Tagore (1861-1941). and even acting. at a time when European painters like Cézanne. earned the distinction of being India’s first modern artists although Rabindranath Tagore is often referred to as the father of modern Indian art despite the fact that he took up painting much later in life when he was well into his sixties. 1961. the Tagores—who have made important contributions to not only painting. As a result.
H. Subramanyam. Incidentally. F. Souza.N. the Kalighat paintings did.G. the art of Kalighat paintings. strongly influence and inspire famous Indian artists such as Jamini Roy and K. The remarkable aspect of the Kalighat paintings was that while all previous modern art experiments. oil on canvas. and Nandalal Bose. India’s great art critic who championed the functional integrity of art with life. simply called ‘pats’ and painted by anonymous ‘patuas ‘ as souvenirs for pilgrims visiting the famous ‘Kali Temple’ flourished. a gifted painter. using cheap water colours to develop a unique and highly distinctive style. The next important movement occurred at the nexus of Indian history in the late 1940s when the country was experiencing tremendous national upheaval after gaining Independence in 1947 and the bloody Partition. Jamini Roy and much later S. The artists had perfected their technique. such as E. Raza. stuck to glorifying Indian history and mythology. All but ignored by the art circle of the time. possibly because of their cheapness and easy availability. 55 x 33 cm 6 . a twenty three year old former Communist Party member of modest origin.B. along with five other members Calvaire Breton. Havell or Ananda Coomaraswamy. which were carried out by the elite class. This authentic art form was eschewed by the ‘bhadra lok’ (affluent class) of that time. it was Abanindranath who breathed a new life into Indian painting—the Tagores introduced Asian styles and avantgarde Western styles into the Indian art scene. Raza have consciously drawn inspiration from folk art and traditions. around this time and unnoticed by great critics. learnt from foreigners. however.Coomarswamy. these were a creation of humble painters depicting mythology that also made bold and witty social statements on everyday life. 1956.