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BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES Emilia Terracciano
Gaganendranath Tagore (1867-1938), grew up in a family whose exceptional creativity spearheaded Calcutta’s cultural life. Brother of the artist Abanindranath, pioneer and leading exponent of the Bengal School of Art and nephew of the poet Rabindranath, Gaganendranath received no formal education but was trained under the British school watercolourist Harinarayan Bandopadhyay. In 1907, he founded the Indian Society of Oriental Art with his brother Abanindranath. Between 1906 and 1910, the artist assimilated the Japanese brush technique and Far Eastern pictorial conventions into his own work (see his illustrations for Rabindranath Tagore’s autobiography Jeevansmriti published in 1912.) From 1910 until 1914, Gaganendranath developed his own approach to SUMI-E or black ink (see Chaitanya series and Pilgrim series.) Between 1915 and 1919, the artist, with the help of his brother, set up the Bichitra club in the Tagore family house. The club served as an important social, intellectual and artistic hub of cultural life in Calcutta, where many artists, including Nandalal Bose, A.K. Haldar and Suren Kar worked at their paintings. During these years, Gaganendranath abandoned the ideological revivalism embraced by the Bengal School of Art and took up caricature to satirize the westernised middle class of urban Bengal. The artist’s popularity was secured in 1917 when Modern Review published many of his shrewd cartoons. From 1917 onwards, his lithographs appeared in a series of books, including: Play of Opposites, Realm of the Absurd and Reform Screams. In these mocking pieces, the austerity of Kalighat paintings is wedded to the simplicity of Japanese prints. Between 1920 and 1925, Gaganendranath, who was well informed about modern European art, pioneered experiments in Cubism, using colour and ink. His work however, was pictorially closer to the dynamism of Italian Futurism rather than the work of Picasso and Braque. From 1925 onwards, the artist developed a complex post-cubist style. (Reference: Ratan Parimoo, Gaganendranath Tagore, National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, 1996)
Abanindranath Tagore (1871 - 1951) was the pioneer and leading exponent of the Bengal School of Art. In his paintings, he sought to counter the influence of Western art as taught in art schools under the British Raj, by modernizing indigenous Moghul and Rajput traditions. His work became so influential that it was eventually accepted and regarded as a national Indian style within British and international art institutions. Born in Calcutta, Abanindranath grew up in a family whose exceptional creativity spearheaded Calcutta’s cultural life. Nephew of poet Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath was educated at Sanskrit College, Calcutta and was taught painting by European private teachers. In 1905 he joined the Calcutta School of Art as Vice-Principal under Dr E.B. Havell. As a reformist art teacher and advocate of Indian art, Havell staunchly opposed the inclusion of European art education in Indian schools. The meeting fostered Abanindranath’s rejection of Western influences and his return to indigenous Moghul and Rajput traditions. Concern for the revival and redefinition of an ‘Indian’ art at the Calcutta School stimulated Havell and Abanindranath’s contributions to the Bengal School movement (also known as New Calcutta School). In his work, Abanindranath retrieved themes from the Indian epic past or scenes from romantic tales, such as Arabian Nights or Omar Khaiyam and reworked them in a highly romanticised style. The artist’s desire to emancipate Indian art from European influence was also fostered by Japanese artist Okakura Kakuzo, who visited him in 1902. Later, studying Japanese art under Japanese artists, Taikoan and Hilsida, Abanindranath assimilated far eastern techniques such as the ‘wash’ into his work. His Omar Khaiyam series (1906-08) reflects such influences. Despite his sympathy for the national cause, Abanindranath did not depict daily struggles in his work but withdrew into fantastic landscapes. He developed an individualistic style to express personal and aesthetic reflections. In 1915 Abanindranath resigned from the School of Art and focused exclusively on his paintings. (Reference: Partha Mitter, Art and Nationalism in Colonial India, Occidental Orientations, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1994)
Ram Kinker Baij
Ram Kinker Baij (1910-1980) was born in a village near Bankura in West Bengal. Initially educated at Bankura, Ram Kinker moved to Santiniketan in 1925 where he studied under polymath Rabindranath Tagore. After obtaining a diploma from the university he became the head of the sculpture department. The artist expressed himself worked with considerable power both as a sculptor and as a painter. His sculpture is characterised by energy and a love of movement, his figures and forms appear dynamic and earthy. These were often built in cement, stone and plaster, achieving great strength with very limited technical means. His style ranged from naturalistic, romantic to completely abstract. Ram Kinker’s most famous sculpture is his Santhal Family of 1938: the robust Santhal tribals who lived around Santiniketan modelled for him. In painting, Ram Kinker worked with oils, gouache and watercolour. Though the artist initially adopted tempera and wash, he soon started painting in oil and watercolour to achieve a more spontaneous and monumental pictorial style. His watercolour landscapes from rural life and drawings of animals are also of considerable interest, evidencing a keen interest in the tonal and plastic potential of the medium. (Reference: Grant Watson et. al., Santhal Family, Positions around an Indian sculpture, Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen and Bodhi Art, 2008)
Srijut Saroda Ukil
Srijut Saroda Ukil (1889-1940) born in Bikrampur, Dhaka, belongs to the second generation of the revival of Indian painting which began in Bengal, under the inspiration of Dr. E. B. Havell and Abanindranath Tagore. Abanindranath succeeded E.B. Havell for a time as Principal of the Goverment School of Art, Calcutta, and Saroda and his brother Barada were among his early students. Following his master’s endeavour to free art from the academicism of the art schools, Saroda retrieved themes from the Indian epic past or scenes from romantic tales and reworked them stylistically. His use of tepid colours was highly personalized, allowing Saroda to imbue his scenes with a wistful sentimentality. (Reference: Sarada-Charan Ukil, Scenes from Indian life, Chatterjee’s Picture Albums, Calcutta, no date)