Jamini Roy, one of the most prolific painters that ever lived, ushered in an era of modernism in Indian art. Even though he was trained in the Western tradition, he re-invented his own style and channelized his artistry through Bengali folk heritage. Roy was also a master of the minimalist brushstroke. He has an extensive oeuvre, having produced over 20,000 paintings over the stretch of his illustrious career spanning five decades. Roy was the student of the legendary painter, Abanindranath Tagore.
Even though the maestro passed away in 1972, Jamini Roy has been all over the news recently owing to Delhi Art Gallery (DAG) acquiring his private residence in Kolkata’s Ballygunge Place and turning it into the country’s first private artist museum. The house is located in a quaint breezy lane of South Kolkata. Decades ago, it was a confluence point of diverse creative minds who would come to exchange stories with the legendary artist. In Bengali, we call them ‘adda’ sessions, and artists of all hues, writers, poets, filmmakers, bureaucrats, and politicians joined in.
“The roads leading up to the house were frequently barricaded by the police. owing to the presence of people who came from all corners of the world. Some of them came in imported stretch limousines. The police always thought that we were lying to enter a celebrity's house. They would refuse to belive that we actually lived here!"
Sanghamitra, Jamini Roy’s granddaughter (reminiscing about her childhood days)
However, after his death, Roy’s descendants moved away and the house, owing to negligence, fell into a state of despair. DAG intends to bring back to life the three-story house under the guidance of restoration architects and designers before turning it into a museum.
"In Mexico, Casa Azul is a place of pilgrimage for admirers of Frida Kahlo. We want this house-museum to be a landmark that attracts tourists and art lovers from across the country and the world."
Ashish Anand, CEO and managing director of DAG
DAG intends to use the ground floor, which used to be Roy's studio, to showcase DAG's extensive collection of his paintings while the courtyard and tiered terraces will play host to workshops and house a café. There will be rotating exhibitions, a resource centre, and a library, as well. Roy became a Bengali household icon because of his unique Swadeshi signature style of painting. Vibrant colors, earthy textures and an 'Indianness' are the essentials of his visual grammar. "They might look simple, but he spent hours drawing and perfecting his lines," says Sumona Chakravarty, deputy director of Museums, at DAG, in an interview with TOI.
Roy had earned celebrity status during his lifetime but he never let his fame get over his head. Above all, he was a people's artist.
Despite his fame, he never lost his simplicity. Everyone who came to the studio sat on handmade stools that had white paper stuck on them. He made his own paints, eschewing the store-bought foreign paints available. He wore only hand-spun cloth and spoke only Bengali. And if anyone didn't speak it, they were expected to bring their own translators with them.
On a personal note, I remember being ten years old and visiting Jamini Roy's house as my mother is a friend of his granddaughter. I was too young to comprehend the genius of his art from the few of his paintings that were displayed on the walls. However, I remember feeling a profound rush of emotions — the kind you get when you find yourself in the presence of something great but can't quite figure out — awe, in other words. A cursory Google search will show you Jamini Roy's paintings but visiting the place where inspiration was struck and the magic was weaved, is a whole different feeling. It is definitely a wonderful initiative by DAG, one that I am sure Jamini Roy would've appreciated with a smile on his face.
The museum will be open to visitors from next year onwards.
Find out more about DAG and its works here.