Nandalal Bose (1882-1966)

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Nandalal Bose | Biography | Life | Paintings
Even as a young student at the Khudiram Bose’s Central Collegiate School, Calcutta, Nandalal Bose made sketches and copies from reproductions of paintings including those of Raphael and Ravi Varma. 

He enrolled at the Calcutta School of Art in 1905 and received his training under Abanindranath, the then Vice-Principal of the School. Their association lasted until the demise of Abanindranath in 1951.

Nandalal Bose assisted Lady Herringham a British mural painter, in making copies of Ajanta paintings in 1910-11, a project which brought him into close contact with the greatest masterpieces of Indian art. 

This opportunity gave him a first- hand experience of the subtleties and nuances of our ancient artistic tradition, an understanding which stimulated his creative vision. 

He, however, genuinely believed that art solely and wholly dependent on tradition becomes stiff. 

When Nandalal finished his training at the school of art, he was invited by the principal, Percy Brown to teach at the school. 

He, however, preferred to avail himself of the offer by Abanindranath to work at Jorasanko, the ancestral home of the Tagore family, where his emotional and intellectual horizons widened. 

He came in contact with A K Coomaraswamy, Sister Nivedita, Okakura and Rabindranath Tagore, whose literary works he illustrated for many years. 

He eventually joined the Kala Bhavan at Shantiniketan in 1920, where he was revered by his students and affectionately called ‘Master Moshai’. 

Although Nandalal Bose was well aware of the prevailing international trends in arts, he remained nationalistic to the core. 

He invariably preferred oriental to Western trends which he improvised and transformed so that his conceptual and visual manifestations were truly Indian. 

He once said, “Indian artists should have a thorough knowledge of anatomical construction, form and bodily proportions, is beyond all doubt. But not in the European academic way.” 

He did not succumb to the principle of linear perspective because he believed that “the mind is the artist and not the eye.” 

In fact, both in terms of his theories on art and creative manifestations, he was deeply rooted in the Indian ethos. 

And whereas he was greatly conditioned by the Upanishadic and other Indian doctrines, that influenced his theoretical approach, the essential ingredients of his mature style were drawn from the artistic traditions of the Ajanta and miniature schools and fused with Chinese and Japanese techniques.

Nandalal Bose’s style was aptly summed up by former Director of the National Gallery of Modern Art, L P Sihare thus: 
“This style emphasizes traditional, decorative, ornamental, narrative elements and their improvisations visually manifested through the linear rhythm, movement, structure, and form, and by-and-large somber colors having typical oriental flavor.”
A master of the line that he was, Nandalal once remarked that: 
“In a painting, life movement consists in that line which pulsates with utmost life: the line which is none other than its very pulse of life, which by itself renders unity, completeness, truth, and character to the work. 
For Nandalal, the technique was only a means to an end. He believed that: 
“Unless you feel within you the omnipresent bliss of existence, you like things, your love or liking grows within you day by day, and it is that love which inspires you to your work, an attempt at mastering mere technique is quite futile.” 

He was, nevertheless, aware that a great artist may intuitively start with the perception of abstract elements and give them form and body. 

He did not view nature only in terms of its varying external manifestations but realized that its essence was an underlying unity of principle that creates and rules all differences and dissimilarities in nature. 

Nandalal, a faithful disciple of Abanindranath and one of the principal adherents of the Bengal School, was deeply attracted to mythology which formed the subject for his paintings such as Karna Worshipping the Sun, Gandhari, Vow of Bhishma, Savitri and Yama, Sati, Drona Giving Lessons in Archery, Uma ‘s Penance Under Water and Shiva Drinking Poison. 

He painted these in wash technique as well as in tempera, and eventually adopted some of them in large murals and frescoes. 

He also painted insects, birds, animals, plants, flowers, mountains, mist, cloud, rains, landscapes and the life around which pulsates profoundly and asserts its inner self. 

He attributed a very significant place to art in society and held that ‘The fine arts rescue us from the drabness of everyday life by lifting us into the realms of joy. ‘ 

Nandalal believed that art is creation; it is not an imitation of Nature,’ and also that, to simplify the complexities of Nature, one could also seek the assistance of abstract forms and movement. 

His oeuvre consisted of nearly ten thousand works: paintings, watercolors, drawings and graphics, including his famous Haripura Panels, which are a masterly mix of emotions, attitudes, and feelings, and represent a culminating point in his experiments with styles and media. 

But more than that these reflect his belief in the dignity of the simple life. There is convincing evidence of attitudes and beliefs in ‘Swadeshi’—grand and meaningful symbols in keeping with the Gandhian philosophy.


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