The art of Nandalal Bose

Modernism wasn’t a purely Western product sent out to a hungry and waiting world. From The New York Times:

 Nandalal Bose's "Evening," 1941

Nandalal Bose's "Evening," 1941

This mission really took fire, however, in a social circle gathered around the Tagore family in Calcutta. One of its members, the artist Abanindranath Tagore, taught at the Government School and developed a type of painting based on Indian rather than Western models. His uncle, the writer Rabindranath Tagore, opened an experimental university at Santiniketan in West Bengal. Devoted to the study, preservation and regeneration of native culture, it would be a modernist seedbed.

Into this venturesome environment came a young painter named Nandalal Bose, first as one of Abanindranath’s prize students, later as a teacher and director of art at Rabindranath’s school. From the start Bose understood the concepts behind the school: the idea that an aesthetic was also an ethos, that art’s role was more than life-enhancing, it was world-shaping.

And he knew that shaping was hard work, the result of accumulating, examining and sorting a wide spectrum of data. He observed and closely emulated Abanindranath’s style, which was based on Mughal and Rajput miniatures, and made a success of it. Bose’s watercolor and tempura “Sati” (1907), an image of a goddess who set herself on fire to prove her devotion to her husband, Shiva, was quickly adopted as an emblem of a resurgent, self-sacrificial Indian nationalism. (The original version of the painting was lost during World War II; a 1943 copy by Bose is in the show.)


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