The Story of Indian Art #2: Jamini Roy

His name means beautiful, relaxing night and he was one of the most celebrated faces of the Modern Indian Art movement. Let’s meet Jamini Roy, one of the world’s great painters of the 20th century, who was born in 1887 in the town of Beliatore in Bankura district of Bengal.

His name means beautiful, relaxing night and he was one of the most celebrated faces of the Modern Indian Art movement. Let’s meet Jamini Roy, one of the world’s great painters of the 20th century, who was born in 1887 in the town of Beliatore in Bankura district of Bengal.

Note: Beliatore is also known for the art of creating the delicious mecha sandesh, a sweet made out of a combination of chhatu, chhana, khoya, sugar and ghee

Jamini Roy (April 11 1887 – April 24 1972)

The Evolution of Jamini Roy

In 1903, at the ripe young age of only 16 years old, Jamini Roy came to Calcutta (now Kolkata) to enroll himself in the Government School of Art. There, he received tutelage from Abanindranath Tagore, the famous nephew of India’s most famous poet, Rabindranath Tagore.

His initial career as a painter was deeply influenced by the Bengal School. He started off as a post-impressionist painter, painting landscapes and portraits. But he was highly displeased with this work and found them to be dull, boring, and uninspiring.

Five Women

Then in 1925, he discovered his true calling outside the Kalighat temple in Calcutta in the field of Kalighat paintings. Moving away from his earlier impressionist canvas, he was inspired by folk art and true Indian tradition. The move went against the grain of popular thought, but it gave him great satisfaction and quenched his desire for painting that reflected his inner artistic impulses.

Around mid-1930s, Jamini Roy stopped painting on canvas and started painting on surfaces made out of cloth, wood or even mats coated with lime. He also began experimenting with natural colours. His use of inexpensive material and colours turned out to be revolutionary in more ways than one. For his style not only made art accessible to all, but also highlighted the true identity of Indian art, free from any westernized concepts and traditions.

In his paintings, he mostly employed the seven radiant and promising shades that best described India such as red, yellow ochre, cadmium green, vermillion, grey, blue and white, most of which belongs to the earthy family or mineral colours.

Note: Kalighat painting is also known as Kalighat Pat. It originated in the 19th century Bengal, in the vicinity of Kalighat Kali Temple, Kalighat, India and is a distinct school of Indian art that predates Jamini Roy.

Recognition for Jamini Roy

His paintings were exhibited for the first time in the British India Street of Calcutta (Kolkata) in 1938. During the 1940s, his popularity touched new highs. The Bengali middle class and resident European community were his main patrons. In 1946, his work was exhibited in London and in 1953, in New York City. In 1955, Jamini Roy was awarded the Padma Bhushan – the third-highest civilian award in India, after the Bharat Ratna and the Padma Vibhushan– by the Government of India.

Note: The home in which he resided till date stands in Ballygunge Place area of Kolkata and is currently occupied by his successors, children, grand-children and daughters-in-laws.

Gopini

Jamini Roy at a glance

Most notable award: In 1955, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan, The Padma Vibhushan is the third-highest civilian award in India, after the Bharat Ratna and the Padma Vibhushan. In 1976, The Archaeological Survey of India, Ministry of Culture, declared his work amongst the ‘Nine Masters of art treasure’.

Studied: In 1903, at the age of sixteen, moved to Calcutta to join the Government College of Art, where Abanindranath Tagore, the founder of Bengal school, served as Vice Principal. Following five years of training, he received his Diploma in Fine Arts in 1908.

Specialty: His style was unique in that he adopted neat patterning and rhythmic outlining to create sophisticated art forms devoid of any ‘modern’ touch. His paintings highlighted his immaculate control over brush, his rejection of the art-school modernity, and his fidelity to the true Bengali folk art tradition.

The bottom line: Jamini Roy’s admiration for rural folk art was politically motivated and was part of a nationalistic desire to find an artistic style free from colonialism.

Cat and Lobster

10 famous paintings by Jamini Roy

  • Gopini
  • Crucifixion with Attendant Angels
  • Bird with two fish
  • Makara
  • Mother and Child
  • Flight into Egypt
  • Three Pujarans
  • Santhal Dance
  • Cat and Lobster
  • Santal Boy with Drum
  • Virgin And Child

Previous Editions:

To read other editions of the series, click here.

Avinash Subramaniam

Avinash has been an advertising writer, fiction writer, poetry writer, freelance writer and serial wronger. Other roles he has been in include those of an editor, brand builder, and teacher. His interests include advertising, scrabble, body building, chess, cinema, making money, reading, internet culture, cricket, photography. To hear him air his thoughts, follow him on Twitter @armchairexpert.

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