Initially, Abanindranath received formal training in pastels, watercolors and life studies under the private supervision of his Italian tutor, Signor Olinto Ghilardi, a Calcutta based professional, to whom he had once confided that his desire was to become as great an artist as Rembrandt, Titian or da Vinci.
As a result, his oeuvre until 1895 showed a strong academic bias. The works included sketches, studies, and paintings in oils and watercolors and a set of pastel portraits.
He came to realize that Indian art could never attain great heights by merely adopting European styles.
He began a new phase in 1895 with a series of paintings on Abbisar or the tryst of Radha, followed by the series on Krishna Leela, which marked his shift from the world of perceptual realism to the world of allegory, symbolism and presumptive imagination.
The elements that inspired Abanindranath’s style were varied. The Abhisar and Krishna Leela were prompted by a desire to assert his individuality and personality.
He freely synthesised the decorative elements of Irish music’ sheet illumination, compositional elements of Indo-Persian miniatures and the literary sources of medieval Bengali Vaishnava poetical works.
His palette expressed this synthesis. He combined traditional Indian tempera with transparent watercolors, and in some of his works incorporated calligraphic rendering of the text with decorative borders.
This came to be known as the ‘wash’ technique and became the hallmark of the Bengal School. This marked Abanindranath’s departure from the indigenous tempera method.
The color washes are repeatedly laid around sensitive outlines, in a synthesis of the Eastern and Western watercolor techniques. The transparent pigment alternates with gouache to secure both luminosity and volume.
Modeling and finish of figures are rendered in impeccable decorative lines and subtle high- lights are added to the delicately contrasted color. His Masks are powerful character portraits—dramatic and imaginative.
He treated space as an integral unity with linear and tonal tensions leaving no allusive point in the pictorial space.
In some cases, though, he divided space into geometrical blocks, with human figures placed in a calculated order to create a relationship between the space divisions and the figures.
This group of Indopliils, mostly-Europeans and some Indians educated in England recognized the national value Of his works.
The late Victorians had believed that any aesthetic endeavor which did not possess a moral value had no validity. For these Indophils, national and moral values were linked.
They hailed Abanindranath as a ‘revivalist’ (now considered a term of abuse), though his style proved otherwise. Caught in this magic spell Of the nationalistic approach, he also started glorifying the art treatises of the past.
That is why, perhaps, he has in fact suffered from highly irrelevant contemporary estimates of his significance.
Its Indianness and idealism seem to have obscured its aesthetic importance for it has historically been adjudged a nationalist movement more than an art movement.
His works reveal a deep sensibility and a poetic imagination. Despite freely assimilating influences from many sources, he -remained innovative and refreshingly original.
In fact, he developed a synthetic style wherein he fused the delicacy of Mughal portraiture, the spatial quality of Japanese painting balanced by a certain discipline of Western technique.
He was essentially an eclectic in his ceaseless search for aesthetic quality which he achieved in a highly personal style.
It is my bereavement which I tried to project in the last lingering look of the emperor as he watches the mausoleum raised to the memory of his beloved, from his death-bed at the fort.’
Another painting “The Last Journey” on the death of Rabindranath Tagore is equally touching.
Abanindranath’s link with tradition was based on these conceptual elements and not superficial conformity with any particular style of the past.
His style was original and always remained tentative and evolutionary. His oeuvre reflects the dimensions of his personality, his creative ability, his sense of humor. his technical excellence, culminating in a wonderful style with a nationalistic flavor.
He believed that a teacher should ensure a congenial atmosphere and everything would then automatically take its own course.
That is why, perhaps, his students, among them Nandalal Bose, Asit Haldar, Suren Ganguli and Kshitin Mazumdar, the exponents of the so-called Bengal School, propagated and promoted a contemporary Indian style of their own.
Abanindranath’s discourses in his capacity as the Vageswari Professor of Art, Calcutta University, were remarkable for their aesthetic value and artistic insights. He was one of the first Indian artists to gain international repute.
- BHUTPATRIR DESH
- Shrestha Abanindranath
- Thumbkin Buro Angla
- Some Notes on Indian Artistic Anatomy
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