Bengal School – The History
What began as an artistic ‘reaction’ to the identity crisis, the Indians faced under the British rule, soon became a major movement of national scale, which every Indian could identify with. Abanindranath Tagore, nephew of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore co-founded and aggressively promoted the Bengal School of Art during the early twentieth century.
Along with the British art instructor Ernest Binfield Havel, Tagore advocated the Mughal Painting style as truly ‘Indian’ that was capable of encapsulating the spiritual prowess of the Indian culture. Tagore honed his artistic abilities under the guidance of Charles Palmer and Olinto Gilhardi, but remained loyal to the Indian sentiments and aesthetics that the British regime curbed and neglected.
The art style of East-Asian countries like Japan, inspired Abanindranath Tagore and in turn, the Bengal School. Tagore’s works were the beautiful blends of the Mughal Paintings, European Naturalism, Ajanta Frescos, Pahari & Rajput Miniature, and the Japanese ‘Wash’ Technique. Watercolors found great use in the Bengal School and facilitated the characteristic ‘Wash’ method of painting. Paintings from the Bengal School also carried the elements of Symbolism and the linear designs of Japanese Art.
One of the signature works of this school of art was ‘Bharat Mata’ by Abanindranath Tagore, dating back to 1905. ‘Bharat Mata’ was painted predominantly in the varying shades of orange, saffron, and yellow, all being the colors of spirituality, sanctity, and Hindu religion. This work signified a personification of the holy spirit of India, ‘Mother India,’ whom the Indians revered and worshiped as a Goddess. She is depicted holding a paper roll (referring to knowledge), sheaves of rice (symbolizing sustenance), a mala (portraying sacredness), and a white cloth (denoting purity). ‘Bharat Mata’ therefore, became the goal and symbol of the freedom movement in India.
Sanat Chatterjee, Ganesh Pyne, Devajyoti Ray, Bikash Bhattacharjee, Jahar Dasgupta, Sudip Roy, and Paresh Maiti are among the modern torchbearers of this revolutionary art.
The golden days of the Bengal School of Art lasted until around 1930s, when other styles began taking its place. With the growing impact of the Western Art movements, including Impressionism, Post-impressionism, Cubism, Fauvism, Secularism, and the experimental Neo-Primitivism, it started losing its sheen and mass appeal. It drew dissension from the modern artists, like The Bombay Progressives, who termed it as overly idealistic, regressive, and indistinctive in character. It was regarded as an art that relied heavily on history, events, and written text, rather than on artistic imagination of distinguished kind. Nevertheless, the Bengal School continues, even in the present times.