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The Artistic Legacy of Nandalal Bose

In traditional modernism, Nandalal Bose has been playing a prominent role since 1882. A student of Abanindranath Tagore and was popular for his Native Indian paintings. In 1922 he became head of Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan. He was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, E B Havell, A K Coomaraswamy, as well as the Tagore family. This is in addition to him being famous for playing Rabindranath Tagore’s plays; Bose spearheaded plans that culminated in the 1935-1938 hosting of the Indian National Congress conventions in Lucknow, Faizpur and Haripura. His works were recognized as National Art Treasures by the Antiquities and Art Treasure Act of 1972 and also awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1954.

Bose expanded through image modelling and puja pandal decoration. His failed attempt to obey his family business interests and finally left the industry to join Calcutta School of Art. His stay at the art school, followed by Shantiniketan, turned him into India’s art master and an advocate for Indian culture in an age when British and Western painters found it chokingly unpleasant in aesthetics. Bose was inspired by his mentor Abanindranth Tagore, who is considered one of the best painters who ever lived, and the other artists Guha-Thakurta and Mukul Dey, who were members of the group ‘Bengal School of Art’.

While he drew tremendous influence from his peers, he manifestly distinguished himself by blending their ideas into a harmonious ensemble. It was an intrinsic talent for forging specific links that transformed it – without neglecting certain external impulses. Though still a pupil, he knew that his tastes were unlike other people’s because they were too preoccupied with art forms reflecting their desire for a culture that was shared by the rising nation while his own interests lay elsewhere; consequently, he needed an alternative course of action. Nandalal Bose reasoned through touch and sight. In Nandalal’s art, a wide collection of traditional relief sculptures, the classical but similarly non-realistic Ajanta tradition, the comparatively non-realist legacy of folk painters, and the rich tradition of miniature paintings had been represented.

The Golden Pitcher or Swarna Kumbha by Nandalal Bose

The Golden Pitcher or Swarna Kumbha by Nandalal Bose
The Golden Pitcher or Swarna Kumbha by Nandalal Bose (image source: The Golden Pitcher or Sarna Kumbha | Pundoles)

Let’s examine a panel painting of Swarna-Kumbha—that is, the Golden Pitcher—which we can remember the Egyptian art conventions from. In striving to find a unique decorative pattern that would reflect on their numerous predecessors without contradiction, artists were constantly engaged in this practice. Highlighted are the woman’s engaging qualities as shown through her gold ornaments. Swats, she has a golden pitcher on her shoulder. It looks even more fantastic due to the sharp colour changes. The blue top suits well with a garment of golden colour at the bottom.

New Clouds, 1937 by Nandalal Bose

New Clouds by Nandalal Bose
New Clouds, 1937 by Nandalal Bose (image source: New Clouds (1937) by Nandalal Bose – Old Indian Arts)

The artist depicts different perspectives of a white woman and the ominous clouds. Megha, a Sanskrit term used to refer to clouds, has a great relationship with humans. This indicated economic depressions, famines and other challenges that faced India when it was under colonial rule. The dark cloud stands for India’s colonial days’ difficulties. The women here whose apparel is white and which speaks of harmony and peace could well be the greatest force in society. Their gathering together might be an example of their solidarity amidst all these issues confronting them. As for Nandalal Bose’s piece of art that combined features from a modernist school as well as an Indian school, it was of interest to everyone who had an opportunity to see it.

Sati by Nandalal Bose

Sati by Nandalal Bose
Sati by Nandalal Bose (image source: NANDALAL BOSE | SATI | Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art | 2020 | Sotheby’s)

The subject of the work is the immaculate woman devoted to her husband in the exact terms of the Hindu religion–Sati. Shiva’s wife, who threw herself into the sacred fire to protest against her father’s treatment of her husband serves as a legendary model of this feminine quality. The scene is about Nandalal showing Sati’s final moment before she gives away her physical body to the Fire God Agni and bows down with respect while he does it masterfully. She is dressed like any other Bengali lady in a usual saree that she usually wears every day. On rice paper, made with water-based pigments derived from plant dyes in the traditional fashion, this early reproduction accurately represents a woodcut print by Nandalal. Despite this passage of time, its gold hue remains glossy while the rest of the hues look bright.

The image shows a feeling of pain that was felt by every woman who died without a purpose. We still have vivid imaginings of the first Sati screen. The settings were delicate and sympathetic, with the fire’s brilliance and the pitch-black, deathly night. Next to her was a woman decked with symbols of honour and she was dressed in a light-coloured saree. Nandalal Bose’s painting exhibits dark as well as muted colour tones. The image of someone on fire that has been meticulously drawn is an entirely sad example.

To sum it up…

Bose painted a lot of such images — impressionistic landscapes and simple life scenes in India — without casting allusion to the reality of the objects and constructing them instead from semi-abstract elements. Some birds flying in clusters or branches bending are used to show the flow of air movement in the unpainted areas of the drawing. The unceasing loops draw clusters around clusters to form either moving water or clouds. In addition to the internally contemplative aesthetic of his later works, these also reveal his links to the ancient landscape paintings that are common in Eastern Asia.

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By Soumya Kotian

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