Modern Indian Paintings

Many consider that the modern period in Indian art began around 1857. The National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi covers its collection from about this period. In the west, the modern period starts conveniently with the Impressionists. However, when we talk of modern Indian Art, we generally start with the Bengal School of Painting.

The essential characteristics of the modern or contemporary art are a certain freedom from invention, the acceptance of an eclectic approach which has placed artistic expression in the international perspective as against the regional, a positive elevation of technique which has become both proliferous and supreme, and the emergence of the artist as a distinct individual.

Evolution of modern painting in India

  • Towards the close of the nineteenth century, Indian painting, as an extension of the Indian miniature painting was decreasing, only some minor artistic expression in the intervening period by way of the ‘Bazar’ and ‘Company’ styles of painting were alive along with some folk arts across the country
  • Then followed the newly ushered Western concept of naturalism, the foremost exponent of which was Raja Ravi Verma.
  • An attempt to stem this cultural morass was made by Abanindranath Tagore under whose inspired leadership came into being a new school of painting which was distinctly nostalgic and romantic to start with. It held its way for well over three decades as the Bengal School of Painting, also called the Renaissance School or the Revivalist School
  • The period at the end of the Second World War released unprecedented and altogether new forces and situations, political as well as cultural, which confronted the artist.
  • The period significantly coincided with the independence of the country. With freedom also came unprecedented opportunity. The artist was set upon a general course of modernization and confrontation with the big, wide world, especially with the Western World, with far-reaching consequences. The artists absorbed this change necessitated by the situation and the thirst to modernize (to adopt the ideas such as impressionism, expressionism or post-expressionism in the realm of arts)
  • A major characteristic of contemporary Indian Painting is that the technique and method have acquired a new significance. Form came to be regarded as separate entity and with its increasing emphasis it subordinated the content in a work of art.
  • With the rise of individualism as the predominant artist ideologically, there is the new problem of the lack of a real rapport of the artist with the people. 

More on Bengal school of art

The Bengal School of Art commonly referred as Bengal School, was an art movement and a style of Indian painting that originated in Bengal, and flourished throughout the Indian subcontinent, during the British Raj in the early 20th century.

Emergence of Bengal school of Art:

  • During the British Raj, when the British crown ruled the Indian subcontinent, traditional Indian painting styles had fallen out of popularity, largely because they did not appeal to the tastes of British collectors.
  • In addition to the European painting techniques and subjects that were taught in artistic academies, Company Paintings were widely promoted, which catered to British sensibilities.
  • Company Paintings presented Indian subjects of indigenous plant life or traditional garb and rituals, through both the European gaze and conventions of painting.
  • Rather than celebrating Indian cultural traditions, it simplified them into exotica.
  • The Bengal School arose to counteract such imagery, by turning to Mughal influences, and Rajasthani and Pahari styles that presented elegant scenes of distinctly Indian traditions and daily life.

The Main features of Bengal School of Painting:

  • Based on Indian Traditions: The Bengal School is fully based on the Indian traditional style as the subject matter of this school is based on Indian culture.
  • The paintings based on Indian theme like ‘Mahakali, ‘Shiva Parwati’Krishna and Gopis etc. prove the Bengal School’s Indian mentality.
  • Influence of Ajanta Paintings: Bengal school is influenced from Ajanta Art. The qualities of Ajanta Art like rhythm, grace, harmony etc. are visible in Bengal School.
  • Linear Delicacy: The lines of Bengal School resemble the Ajanta Paintings. Lines are delicate and rhythmic.
  • Softness and Rhythm in Figures: The figures of Bengal School give soft effect and no hardness is there. They are graceful and have delicacy. They are rhythmic and provide pleasant experience to eyes.
  • Beautiful Colour Scheme: The colours of Bengal School are very attractive. Wash technique is used and colours are not bright and gaudy at all.
  • Influence of Mughal and Rajasthani Schools: Mughal and Rajasthani Schools’ influence can also be seen at some places.
  • Light and Shade: The softness in the paintings of Bengal School is due to its quality of brilliant light and shade.

Impressive and Indian Subject Matter: The subject matter of Bengal School is very impressive and Indian in character. Themes used are historical, religious, literary etc.