The story of Indian Art #26: Mukul Dey
A look at the life and art of Mukul Dey, who left his mark as one of the pioneers of dry-point-etching in India.
“In 1918, I realised a long cherished dream by visiting the Ajanta Caves. I at once made up my mind to copy the frescos but as I had no money, I had to travel to various cities of southwestern India drawing portraits of rich men and selling my work for a few rupees only.” – Mukul Dey
Let’s get to know him better
Mukul Chandra Dey (1895-1989) was a student of Rabindranath Tagore’s Santiniketan School during the early years of the 20th century (c. 1906-1912), he left his mark as a pioneer of dry-point-etching in India.
He chose an essentially Western medium to depict subjects of Indian life and legends from a common man’s viewpoint. The river scenes of Bengal, the baul singers, the bazaars of Calcutta or the life of Santhal villages in Birbhum — all these attracted his attention and he recorded his vision with deep feeling and a rare sureness of hand.
He accompanied Rabindranath Tagore to Japan (1916-17) and U.S.A. He trained in intaglio printmaking under James Blanding Sloan in Chicago, where he showed and sold his etchings at the Art Institute of Chicago. Dey also studied at the Slade School of Art and the Royal College of Art, London.
At the age of 33, he was selected for the Indian Educational Service and was appointed as the first Indian Principal of the Government School of Art in Calcutta. After 15 years of service, at the age of 48, he retired and left Calcutta for Santiniketan where he settled in 1943. Till his death at the age of 94, the artist lived almost the life of a recluse.
He was devoted to classic art of the past, but his own work is the blending of technical skill acquired in the best of English schools and burnished later with cross-formalisation of Japanese and American styles. His work is as much a pursuit for the roots for traditional Indian art as it is a synthesis of Indian art with the contemporary western art of England and America.
Mukul Dey was elected life member of the Chicago Society of Etchers. He was also member of the Advisory Committee for murals in New Delhi, and India House, London (1927-28). He received the Jubilee Medal of King George V and Queen Mary in 1936 and their Majesties’ Coronation Medal in 1937 and was the first Principal to initiate the Women’s Department in the Government School of Art, Kolkata (1924).
Dey went to U.S.A. on Fulbright Scholarship and was the curator of the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi (1953-54). In 1984, Dey was honoured with `Abanindra Puraskar’ by the Government of West Bengal.
In 1987, he was elected a Fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, and in the same year, the Rabindra Bharati University conferred an honorary Doctorate on him.
In his career spanning 60 years, he has created over 100 copper plates and over 2000 paintings and drawings. He is especially known for his detailed dry point etchings.
Mukul Dey died in 1989 in Calcutta.