The Story Of Indian Art #29: Nandalal Bose

A tribute to one of the pioneers of modern Indian art and a pivotal figure of contextual modernism, Nandalal Bose.

Fact file of Nandalal Bose:

Date of Birth: December 3, 1882
Place of Birth: Kharagpur, Munger, Bengal Presidency, British India
Date of Death: April 16, 1966
Place of Death: Calcutta, West Bengal, India
Profession: Painting
Spouse: Sudhira Devi
Daughter: Gauri
Father: Purnachandra Bose
Mother: Kshetramonidevi
Award: Padma Vibhushan (1954)

Legendary artist Nandalal Bose

Legendary artist Nandalal Bose

Childhood and Early Life

Nandalal Bose was born into a middle class Bengali family to Kshetramonidevi and Purnachandra Bose. His father worked as a manager under the Raja of Dharbhanga. Hhis mother was a homemaker and also an amateur craftswoman who made toys for her children. Nandalal grew up along with his four siblings –two sisters and two brothers. Being exposed to his mother’s craft skills and the works of other craftsmen like potters and idol makers around his locality, a young Nandalal developed an interest towards modeling images. Right from his childhood he showed little interest in his studies but his parents forced him to focus on his education.

Education

Nandalal was sent to Calcutta in the year 1898 to pursue his high school education at the Central Collegiate School. He was then enrolled at the college which belonged to the same institution. Despite his efforts to convince his parents to enroll him in an art school, he was made to continue his studies at the college he was enrolled at. Quite naturally, he failed to clear his examinations at college and had to change colleges. He then attended Presidency College to study commerce, based on his father-in-law Prakash Chandra Pal’s advice. While at Presidency College, he secretly learnt various painting forms like still life, model painting and sauce painting from Atul Mitra, his cousin. He even emulated some European paintings and came up with some of his own. But he hardly could focus on his academics. Finally, he was able to convince his family members after making them understand all about passion and how strong its influence can be on a person’s life. He then enrolled himself at the Calcutta School of Art and now began to excel in his academics.

Floating a canoe

Floating a canoe by Nandalal Bose

 

Abanindranath Tagore’s Influence

Nandalal Bose was deeply influenced by the paintings of Abanindranath Tagore and wanted to learn the nuances of painting from him. But he was also scared to approach the eminent painter, so he took his friend Satyen along in order to speak on his behalf. He had also taken some of the paintings that he had created till then. Abanindranath, who was accompanied by E.B. Havell, was surprised to see such magnificent paintings by an amateur painter. In fact, Nandalal’s ability to emulate some of the European paintings came across as a great surprise to both Abanindranath and Havell. Abanindranath then gladly accepted Nandalal as his disciple. As per the biography and life history of Nandalal Bose, he remained under the tutelage of Abanindranath for the next five years. Eventually, Nandalal went on to become one of Abanindranath’s favorite students.

Personal Life

Nandalal Bose married Sudhira Devi in the year 1903. Sudhira Devi, who was the daughter of Nandalal’s mother’s friend, was 12 years younger to him. The couple was blessed with a daughter, whom they named Gauri. Gauri’s birth was said to have brought good fortunes in terms of materialistic values to her father. Nandalal Bose breathed his last on 16th April 1966.

His Style

As a young artist, Bose was deeply influenced by the murals of Ajanta Caves. In the backdrop of the Indian freedom struggle, Bose along with other artists of the Bengal School  (including his mentor Abanindranath Tagore) worked towards reviving the Indian style of art, moving away from European techniques that had become prevalent in art-schools at the time.

In 1909, Nandalal Bose spent months copying the 5th century murals of Ajanta Caves. Later, he would borrow from these very murals, the borders & motifs for the pages of India’s Constitution. Everywhere he traveled, he paid close attention to popular forms, urban and rural, Hindu and Muslim, from woodblock prints to palm-leaf paintings, to ephemeral designs drawn in rice powder directly on the ground. He went to China and Japan to study ink and brush painting, and in some of his earlier works you can see the influence!

Though he incorporated several techniques including European paintings into his art works, he never moved away from projecting Indian subjects. In fact, more often than not, his paintings were loved by the villagers as they often depicted the day-to-day lives of the villagers. In other words, his style of painting reflected the historic artistic tradition as well as the contemporary practices of Indian art form.

Did you know?

Nandalal Bose, with his team of artists from Shantiniketan, painstakingly illustrated each page of the Constitution.

True, it is often stated to be a bag of borrowings, taking governance guidelines from different nations; but what it does not borrow from anyone in the world is it’s rich artistic heritage which has been captured in the legal document by artist Nandalal Bose, the “artist laureate of India”!

The then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru also asked him to design the emblems of prestigious government awards, such as Bharat Ratna and Padma Shri.

Awards

Nandalal Bose was honoured with many prestigious awards. Some of the awards bestowed upon him are mentioned below:

Padma Vibhushan – In the year 1954, the Government of India honored him with the country’s second highest civilian award.
Fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi – In 1956, India’s National Academy of Art honored him by electing him as the Fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi. He was only the second artist to be honored by the National Academy of Art.
Deshikottama – Vishvabharati University conferred the title ‘Deshikottama’ on him.
Honorary D.Litt – The University of Calcutta honored him with the honorary D. Litt for his contribution towards the field of art in the year 1957.
Silver Jubilee Medal – The Academy of Fine Arts honored him with this particular award.
The Tagore Birth Centenary Medal – In 1965, the Asiatic Society of Bengal honored him with this prestigious award.

Check out Nandalal Bose’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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