Imprinted for Life
CHENNAI: The Bengal School of Art, commonly referred to as the Bengal School, was an influential art movement and a style of Indian painting that originated in Bengal, primarily in Kolkata and Santiniketan, and flourished throughout India during the British Raj in the early 20th century. Also known as the Indian style of painting in its early days, it was associated with Indian nationalism (swadeshi) and was led by Abanindranath Tagore (1871-1951), but was also promoted and supported by British art administrators like E B Havell, the principal of Government College of Art in Kolkata from 1896. Eventually, it led to the development of modern Indian painting. Bengal continues to produce some of the best artists to this day.
A show at Art Indis in Delhi, Print: Three Masters, a group show, celebrates the depth of thought of the three maestros of the Bengal School.
Displaying works by Chittoprasad Bhattacharya, Haren Das and Somenath Hore, the show represents their urge of to experiment with art forms at an early stage. These artists left behind their unique creativity and have given us an opportunity to explore it.
Bhattacharya’s works reflect his reformist concerns. They depict his preoccupations — peasants and labourers.
His hard-hitting caricatures and sketches of the poor dying in the Bengal famine worked like modern day reportage, and shook the middle class and the British officials out of their apathy. Today, collectors and art lovers treasure his woodcuts, linocuts and posters.
Das is considered to be one of the finest graphic artists India has ever produced, especially of woodcuts. He introduced line engraving and etching into the art curriculum of the Government College of Arts and Crafts, thus laying the foundation for print making and graphic art education in India. Most of his works, especially his woodcuts, captured rural, pastoral Bengal.
Das has managed to offer a glimpse of a Bengal that no longer exists. In his works, the artist depicts man as part of nature, an individual who lives in harmony with the elements surrounding him. His works talk of cobbled streets, buffaloes, the village well, and women carrying pots on their heads.
Hore was born in 1921 in Barama, a village in Chittagong, now in Bangladesh. At an early age, he started making posters. A lifetime of inventive experiments with etching, intaglio and lithographs culminated in the abstract.
Dramatised with a spot of red, the white on white prints reflected the political turbulence of the times. Prints were taken with paper pulp pressed on moulded cement matrices. The moulds were made from originals done in clay. Hore began working with bronze sculptures from 1974. His figurations always reflected the anguished human body. His sculptures were no different, but the imprint of the creator’s hand is startlingly manifest in his sculptures.
The torn and rugged surfaces, rough planes with slits and holes, subtle modelling and axial shifts, and exposed channels make for exciting visual and tactile sculptures.
(Poonam Goel is a freelance journalist who contributes articles on visual arts for unboxedwriters.com)