The Story Of Indian Art #30: Manishi Dey

A look at the life and work of influential Indian artist Manishi Dey, whose art still attracts strong interest from high profile auction houses around the world.

Fact file

Date of Birth: 22 December, 1909
Place of Birth: Dhaka, Bangladesh
Parents: Purnashashi Devi and Kula Chandra Dey
Date of Death: 31 January, 1966
Place of Death: Kolkata, West Bengal, India
Profession: Painting

Artist – Manishi Dey

Did you know?

Manishi was originally named Bijoy Chandra and was the younger brother of Mukul Dey, the pioneering Indian artist and dry point etcher. Both their sisters, Annapura and Rani, too, were accomplished in arts and crafts.

A portrait of Manishi Dey

Manishi was a wanderer, who shifted not only his geographical locations, but also changed his visual idioms often. Part of his early childhood was spent in various rural locations in Midnapur in Bengal and Singbhum, then in Bihar, where his father was posted as a police officer. His mother, Purnashashi Devi, was an expert in Kantha embroidery and a fine slate-carver. In fact, all the siblings had a fine sense of drawing and draftsman.

Painting by Manishi Dey

Painting by Manishi Dey

In late-1917, after his father’s untimely death, Manishi was sent to Santiniketan school of Rabindranath Tagore. There, he was presented with the opportunity to study under the famous Nandalal Bose. That said, Manishi’s early days at at school in Santiniketan were too fretful to be preparatory. Conventions cramped him, made him mutinous. It might have ended in a waste of potential power, and bitter frustration. But luck favoured the youngster. He came into contact with Abanindranath Tagore and became a pupil of the great master. Years of apprenticeship under Abanindranath Tagore were most fruitful for Dey.

It was really under Abanindranath that he blossomed into a creative artist. The year 1949 was a landmark in Dey’s career. He painted a series of twenty-two moving images of non-Muslim refugees who migrated into independent India from newly created Pakistan. Their agony and pain, death destruction and disease, their hunger and fear were captured in nearly monochrome bold brush strokes and low-key chiaroscuro. The paintings in this series were eloquent with mute suffering of the victims, and resulting tragedy due of our leaders’ ambition leading to a political farce of most hideous nature.

As with his life, Manishi experimented endlessly with media and themes. He had a unique way of looking at life over the course of three decades of painting, searching tirelessly for modes and values, and presenting his vision of life.

Painting using water colour 'Wash" technique

Painting using water colour ‘Wash” technique


The works of Manishi Dey are exhibited at various Indian Museums and Galleries, such as the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Mumbai, the State Lalit Kala Akademi in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, the Delhi Art Gallery, the Allahabad Museum, the Salarjung Museum, Hyderabad, Kala Bhavan in Santiniketan, and the Samdani Art Foundation in Dhaka, one of the largest collections of Bangladeshi and Indian art worldwide. His work also gained renewed international interest in recent times and were exhibited and sold in London and New York.

Check out Manishi’s work 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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