Abirpothi

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Did you know this pioneer of modern Indian art illustrated our Constitution?

December 3, On This Day

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Did you know this pioneer of modern Indian art was entrusted with the historic task of illustrating, beautifying and decorating the original manuscript of the Constitution of India?  

Born on December 3, 1882, 139 years ago, the renowned artist Nandalal Bose was a key figure of Contextual Modernism (a period of experimentation in the arts from the late 19th to the mid-20th century that fostered a break with the past and the concurrent search for new forms of expression). 

Even today, critics across the board consider his paintings among India’s most important modern ones. 

In fact, in 1976, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Department of Culture of the Government of India (GoI) declared his works among the “nine artists” whose work, “not being antiquities”, were to be henceforth considered “to be art treasures, having regard to their artistic and aesthetic value”. 

The Padma Vibhushan (1954) awardee was also famously asked by Jawaharlal Nehru to sketch the emblems for the GoI’s own awards, including the Bharat Ratna and the Padma Shri. 

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Life began for Bose in a middle-class Bengali family in Munger district of Bihar. Ever since his childhood, he reportedly took an active interest in moulding wet clay and decorating Durga Puja pandals. 

As a young artist, Bose was influenced by the Tagore family. A pupil of Abanindranath Tagore, Bose years later himself became the principal of Kala Bhavana (College of Arts), at Rabindranath Tagore’s International University Santiniketan.  

Some of his famous students include Benode Behari Mukherjee, Ramkinkar Baij, Beohar Rammanohar Sinha, KG Subramanyan, A Ramachandran, Henry Dharmasena, LTP. Manjusri, Pratima Thakur, Ramananda Bandopadhyay, Sovon Som, Jahar Dasgupta, Sabita Thakur, Malina Domeraloo, Shreya Gang Gang, Menaja Swagnesh, Yash Bombbut, Satyajit Ray, Dinkar Kaushik, Amritlal Vegad, Gauranga Charan and Kondapalli Seshagiri Rao. 

Bose drew early philosophical inspiration from Ananda Coomaraswamy, Sister Nivedita and EB Havell and also from the Japanese painters in (then) Calcutta whose influence led him to the significance of valuing one’s artistic heritage. 

The Bengal School of Art emerged in the 20th century and ran parallel to freedom movements in the province and nation. This nationalism led Bose to celebrate spiritual and artistic Indian traditions, while rejecting academic traditions that glorified British artistic styles — looking deeper within Indian culture to discover the grandeur of Rajput and Mughal art. In his works, Bose also experimented with the Sino-Japanese style and technique. 

Eventually, Bose was known for his “Indian style” of painting and his classic works include paintings of scenes from Indian mythologies, women, and village life. He was also reportedly deeply inspired by the murals of Ajanta. 

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The Print writes in a 2018 article, “Bose was among the founding fathers of linocut in India. He experimented with this medium in the unforgettable illustrations of Sahaj Path — a Bangla primer for children, written by Rabindranath Tagore, which has not lost its relevance till this day. These works treat figures and objects as a solid, monochromatic piece, in most cases, while only a few white lines, details, situate and define them.” 

To mark the 1930 occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s arrest for protesting the British tax on salt, Bose created a black on white linocut print of Gandhi walking with a staff. It became the iconic image for the non-violence movement. He also made a set of seven posters at the request of Mahatma Gandhi for the 1938 Haripura Session of the Indian National Congress. 

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In 1956, he became the second artist to be elected Fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi, India’s National Academy of Art. Vishvabharati University honoured him by conferring on him the title of ‘Deshikottama’. 

Bose passed away on April 16, 1966 in Kolkata. 

Today, the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi holds 7,000 of his works in its collection.  

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