It was a defining moment in the history of art when the trends of pre-Bengal art (period preceding the Bengal Art movement) were beginning to shape the later’s course. In an upcoming exhibition titled 19th Century Swadeshi Art, a collection of poignant, rare oil paintings, lithographs and oleographs are being opened up for public viewing.
The artists of pre-Bengal art era used to depict folk perspectives in figures and landscapes in oil and water colours following the European method. Some of the prominent ones were Annadaprasad Bagchi, Shyamacharan Shrimani, Nabakumar Bishwas, Phanibhushan Sen, Krishnachandra Pal, Yogendranath Mukhopadhyay, Bamapada Bandyopadhyay, Shashikumar Hem and Bhabanicharan Laha.
Out of them, Bagchi was the most advanced and talented. “He was given the responsibility of teaching in his alma mater after completing his course at the Art School.
“Many portraits, religious paintings and other works were painted for the personal purpose of Company officers or native patrons. In fact, these were placed besides the European paintings in exhibitions and competitions,” says curator Ashit Paul. It was only towards the end of the 19th century that artists like Abanindranath Tagore’s concept of swadeshi (Indian) values were incorporated into art practises by these local artists.
There is lack of clarity on the backgrounds of these pre-Bengal artists, but their work gives us an insight into their time and thought process. It is seen through these that religious and mythological paintings were popular.
“There are oleographs of artist Bamapada Bandyopadhyay, besides the litho prints of Calcutta Art Studio and Kansaripara Art Studio that depict the nature of that period,” says Paul.
The most striking feature of these is the contemporariness of those times.
“The print with the Kali cigarettes as an advertisement is very interesting as it talks about how Swadeshi Kali brand cigarettes aren’t bad, as by smoking them, the patrons are supporting the Swadeshi movement of the Indian independence struggle, thereby rejecting foreign cigarettes,” he says.
In another, we see Goddess Saraswati in an advertisement for hair oil and for an Ayurvedic aushdhalaya (dispensary). Then there is one with dasa mahavidyas (forms of Goddess Kali) of the Tantric traditions, each representing a different energy.
“All pieces are striking in their own right, some for their style, others for their composition and subjects,” says the curator. Most of these works have been restored because they have aged over the years for people to see the tangible historic rendezvous. 19th Century Swadeshi Art: On view till October 15, from 11 am to 7 pm, at Akar Prakar Gallery in Hauz Khas Village.