Modern Indian Painting – UPSC Notes – Art and Culture

Calcutta is acknowledged for initiating the modern Indian art movement in late 19th-century Modern Indian painting. In Bengal, traditional painting practices had mostly faded away, leading the British to establish new art schools. Initially, artists like Raja Ravi Varma embraced Western techniques such as oil paint and easel painting. Responding to Western influences, the Bengal school of art revived primitivism, drawing inspiration from India’s culturally rich past.

Modern Indian Painting: A Historical Overview

  • Indian painting, an extension of the traditional Indian miniature painting, experienced a decline by the late nineteenth century.
  • Limited artistic expression persisted through the ‘Bazaar’ and ‘Company’ styles of painting, along with various folk arts across the country.
  • The landscape changed with the introduction of Western philosophy, particularly naturalism, championed by Raja Ravi Verma.
  • Seeking to counter this cultural shift, Abanindranath Tagore played a crucial role in the emergence of a new painting school.
  • This school, initially nostalgic and romantic, eventually became renowned as the Bengal School of Painting, also referred to as the Renaissance School or the Revivalist School, lasting for over three decades.
  • The post-World War II era ushered in unprecedented political and cultural forces, aligning with India’s independence.
  • Independence marked a transformative phase, pushing artists onto a path of modernization and global confrontation, particularly with the Western World.
  • In response to the changing landscape, artists embraced the challenges and opportunities, leading to a general movement towards modernization.
  • This involved the adoption of ideas such as impressionism, expressionism, and post-expressionism in the realm of arts.
  • The desire to assimilate change and modernize became a defining aspect of the artistic journey during this period.
An example of Modern Indian Painting
An example of Modern Indian Painting

Modern Indian Painting – Colonial Painting

  • During the colonial period, a hybrid painting style emerged, blending Rajput, Mughal, and other Indian painting styles with European influences.
  • European styles and techniques significantly impacted the artwork. British Company officers hired painters schooled in Indian styles, resulting in a unique fusion.
  • The resultant paintings, known as ‘Company Paintings’, reflected the combination of Indian training and European sensibilities.
  • Noteworthy features included the use of watercolor, the introduction of linear perspective, and shading techniques. Cities such as Kolkata, Chennai, Delhi, Patna, Varanasi, and Thanjavur were pivotal in the birth of this painting style.
  • Lord Impey and Marquess Wellesley patronized these painters, who often depicted India’s “exotic” flora and animals.
  • This style of painting retained popularity until the twentieth century, marking an enduring legacy of the fusion between Indian and European artistic influences during the colonial era.
Modern Indian Painting - Colonial Painting
Modern Indian Painting – Colonial Painting

Modern Indian Painting – Bazaar Painting

  • The European encounter in India left its mark on the Bazaar painting school, distinguishing it from Company paintings by blending both European and Indian methods and themes.
  • In contrast to Company paintings, the Bazaar school drew inspiration from Roman and Greek culture rather than Indian traditions. Painters were compelled to imitate Greek and Roman statuary.
  • This school gained prominence, particularly in Bengal and Bihar. Beyond Greco-Roman history, artists created vivid paintings capturing everyday bazaars in India against a European backdrop.
  • Notably, one of the most recognized genres involved the depiction of Indian courtesans dancing before British officials.
  • While religious themes were also explored, certain constraints existed. The portrayal of Indian Gods and Goddesses with more than two axes and features like elephant faces, as seen in Lord Ganesha, was prohibited, aligning with European notions of a natural human figurine. This reflected the nuanced interplay between artistic expression and cultural norms in the Bazaar painting tradition.
Modern Indian Painting - Bazaar Painting
Modern Indian Painting – Bazaar Painting

Raja Ravi Varma Paintings

  • Raja Ravi Varma stands as one of India’s most talented painters, widely recognized as the founder of the contemporary painting school.
  • The school earned the moniker “modern” due to its profound influence by Western techniques and motifs, marking a departure from traditional styles.
  • Raja Ravi Varma’s uniqueness lies in his ability to seamlessly blend elements of South Indian art with Western color and style techniques.
  • Renowned for his bright brush strokes and extraordinarily lifelike paintings, he earned the title “Raphael of the East.” Hailing from the state of Kerala, his art captured the essence of both cultural worlds.
  • Notable works like Lady in the Moonlight, Mother India, and others have contributed to his widespread acclaim.
  • His depictions from the epic Ramayana, particularly the masterpiece titled ‘Ravana Kidnapping Sita,’ garnered national acclaim, showcasing his artistic prowess and storytelling ability. Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings continue to resonate as a harmonious synthesis of cultural influences.
Modern Indian Painting - Raja Ravi Verma Painting
Modern Indian Painting – Raja Ravi Verma Painting

Bengal School of Art

  • The Bengal School of Art is considered a reactionary response to established painting trends of the 1940s and 1960s, standing out for its distinctive characteristics.
  • Notable for its use of muted colors, the Bengal School found its roots in the early twentieth century, based on the writings of Abanindranath Tagore.
  • Abanindranath Tagore’s Arabian Night series made a global impact, breaking away from past Indian painting schools and introducing something fresh.
  • The school aimed to infuse Swadeshi values into Indian art, reducing the influence of Western art styles on artists.
  • Among Abanindranath Tagore’s well-known works are ‘Bharat Mata’ and other Mughal-themed paintings, reflecting the school’s commitment to Indian themes.
  • Another prominent painter from the Bengal School is Nandlal Bose, whose works significantly influenced the development of modern Indian art. His iconic white-on-black Gandhi sketch from the 1930s and his role in illuminating the original document of the Indian Constitution underscore his impact.
  • Rabindranath Tagore, a well-known painter from this style, featured bold black lines emphasizing the subjects in his distinct paintings, often on a small scale. Some art historians link his paintings to his vivid poems, noting a rhythmic connection.
  • Rabindranath Tagore’s spiritual inclination is evident in many of his works, and his influence extended to his students, who went on to become well-known Bengal School painters, contributing to the enduring legacy of this influential art movement.
Modern Indian Painting - Bengal School of Art
Modern Indian Painting – Bengal School of Art

Cubist Style of Painting

  • The cubist trend in painting drew inspiration from the European Cubist movement, where artifacts were deliberately broken, analyzed, and then skillfully reassembled.
  • Artists employing this method reconstructed their paintings using abstract art forms, aiming to achieve an ideal balance between line and color.
  • M.F Hussain, a highly popular cubist artist in India, notably created the ‘Personification of Romance‘ series of paintings within this style.
  • Hussain often chose the subject of a horse in his works, infusing them with abstract meanings. This choice allowed him to convey the fluidity of motion, showcasing how the cubist approach could capture dynamic elements within a static canvas.
  • The cubist style, embraced by artists like M.F Hussain, played a crucial role in bringing an innovative and dynamic form of expression to the realm of Indian art.
Modern Indian Painting - Cubist Style of Painting

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)Modern Indian Painting

FAQs on Modern Indian Painting:

  1. What is the modern Indian painting style?
    • Answer: Modern Indian Painting refers to the art movement that emerged in India during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is characterized by a departure from traditional styles, incorporating a fusion of Western artistic techniques with Indian themes, showcasing a blend of contemporary and traditional elements.
  2. Who is a famous modern Indian artist?
    • Answer: Bhupen Kakar is considered one of the most famous modern Indian artists. He initially worked as an accountant but later joined the Baroda group and became a painter. His paintings often mockingly portray the lives of middle-class people.
  3. Who is considered the father of modern Indian painting?
    • Answer: Raja Ravi Varma is often referred to as the “father of modern Indian art.” He lived from 1848 to 1906 and is best known for his paintings and prints that beautifully render Indian subjects using European techniques.
  4. Who started modern art in India?
    • Answer: The introduction of modernism in Indian art is often attributed to artists like Gaganendranath, Amrita Sher-Gil, and Jamini Roy during the 1930s, a period when India was still a British colony.
  5. What are the characteristics of modern Indian painting?
    • Answer: A major characteristic of contemporary Indian painting is the significance given to technique and method. Form is regarded as a separate entity, with increasing emphasis, sometimes subordinating the content in a work of art.
  6. What is a famous painting of India?
    • Answer: One of the most iconic paintings of India is “Shakuntala,” created by the renowned artist Raja Ravi Varma. In this masterpiece, Shakuntala, an important character in the Mahabharata, is depicted pretending to remove a thorn that pricked her foot.

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