DAG Modern’s book, The Art of Santiniketan, looks at the seminal institution set up by Rabindranath Tagore and its most important constituents — artists Nandalal Bose, Ramkinkar Baij, Benode Behari Mukerjee and Tagore himself. In doing so, it sheds light on the significant modernising elements that marked a shift from the revivalism of the Bengal School and the academic realism in the period 1920-60
An important observation is that though Ramkinkardid several subaltern studies of the tribals, he did not individualise them in portraits. For that, he turned to people around him as both muse and possibly as commissions, and this was true whether of his sculptures or of his paintings. As an artist, for him it was imperative to move beyond mere likeness which Siva Kumar says he equated to ‘a stuffed tiger in the museum’. His approach, according to the art historian, was ‘to look at the features of a face from the perspective of a character’.
— Kishore Singh, essay, Ramkinkar Baij (1906-80)
Benode Behari Mukherjee
“If ever an artist in Santiniketan was synonymous with nature, it would be Benode Behari Mukherjee, one of India’s most significant and original landscape artists. A congenitally weak eyesight and substantial time spent in the outdoors led to a comfort with nature that deepened at Santiniketan, when he joined Rabindranath’s school, and later, the first batch of students at Kala Bhavana under Nandalal. His significance as a nature painter lies in not only the singular vision and innovations of his works but in his personal identification with nature, particularly, the vast, eroded Santiniketan landscape that strongly impacted his work.
— Shruti Parthasarathy essay, Nature and the Art of Santiniketan
“Rabindranath’s images can be broadly classified into faces, heads, figures and narrative constructions, phantasmal beaked and reptilian beings, animals and landscapes; and for images arising strongly from the terrain of the subconscious, there are surprisingly few abstractions. A majority of his works are undated and unsigned, most even untitled, that makes it hard to trace the progression of his wide range of techniques, visual imaginings and compositions.”
— Shruti Parthasarathy essay, Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)
Nandalal’s works ranged across various styles, from refined to spontaneous, murals to embroidery, stage décor to flower jewellery, from the functional to the imaginative and aesthetic, and were intimately committed to the needs of life and society. Even more importantly, his work — like that of his peers – played a huge role in the nationalistic understanding of art and culture at a time when the ‘native’ idea had all but been subsumed by British hegemony in the field.
— Ipsita Sahu essay, Nandalal Bose, (1882-1966)
Photos: DAG Modern