When we talk of modernism in Indian art, the talented Nandalal Bose almost always features in the conversation. Considered one of the pioneers of Indian modern art, his style of painting ushered in an identity, which made a painting essentially ‘Indian’. Ever since childhood, Bose was inspired to revive Indian culture through his art. He was a student of the great writer and painter, Abanindranath Tagore and as a teacher, Bose has inspired generations of renowned Indian artists such as Ramkinkar Baij, K. G. Subramanyan, and Satyajit Ray, to name a few.
In 1921, he came the principal of Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan. Revered and adored by his students, they affectionately called him Mastermoshai (Bengali for 'teacher') and spoke of their teacher continuously drawing on cards and postcards. However, the activity was not just limited to the teacher; his pupils were inspired by Bose and they too picked up the vocation of postcard drawing.
Nandalal Bose differed stylistically from his guru, Abanindranath Tagore. While Tagore viewed color as the medium through which a painting came to life, most of Bose’s postcards are in monochrome, free from the bindings of color. Bose had always been fascinated by the possibility of line drawings and he found his curiosity complemented by Japanese Buddhist painter, Kampō Arai. This led Bose to create more monochromatic works.
Bose’s travels to East Asia influenced his oeuvre in brush and ink. It also reinforced his belief that black and white contain within them the potentialities of all the other colors. The printmaking techniques which became integral to the pedagogy of Kala Bhavana were also owing to Nandalal's travels to China and Japan. He had returned to Santiniketan with various ukiyo-e prints and wood blocks.
During Bose’s time Indian classical art was highly encouraging the use of a polychromatic color scheme, following the Western tradition shaped by the likes of Turner and Constable. Bose was drawn more to the Chinese school of landscape painting tradition than the Western tradition. This emphasizes his inclination towards an Asian belief system. Bose’s emphatic use of monochrome brought the ‘Asian mode’ of understanding as a pedagogical practice to Santiniketan, which later developed into an innate ‘Indian style’. Nandalal was thoroughly inspired by the Japanese environment and culture and that shines through in his postcards.
From 27th January to 28th February 2023, an exhibition dedicated to Nandal Bose will be held at the Akar Prakar gallery, Kolkata. The exhibition will highlight Nandalal’s departure from the earlier influence of Abanindranath Tagore to the influences that Ramakrishna, Rabindranath, and Gandhi had on his art practice. It will also explore Nandal’s spiritual journey through his art and contribution to the Asian aesthetic mode of painting. These tangents present through his works are best found in his cards and postcards, which will be showcased in the exhibition. The exhibition will be curated by one of the most renowned art historians of our time, Debdutta Gupta.
One of Nandalal Bose’s favourite students at Kala Bhavana was Pratibha Sengupta. Not only the students, he also corresponded with their children through postcards. One among them was Babli or Ratnaboli Ghosh, daughter of Pratibha Sengupta.
The exhibition has a series of postcards drawn by Bose for Babli. The postcards have images of toys, sceneries, and everything a child’s mind can conjure up The letters end on a sweet intimate note and are addressed in the way a granddad would talk to his beloved granddaughter.
The exhibition will also have on display one of Bose’s most famous works — a linocut of Mahatma Gandhi walking with a staff in his hand to mark Gandhi’s arrest for protesting against the imposition of the British tax on salt. This had become an iconic image for the non-violence movement. Nandala Bose was also the man whom the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru chose to sketch the emblems of Bharat Ratna and Padma Shri. This exhibition will provide a small window into the life and works of this great Indian artist.
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