Bengal School of Art

Bengal School of Art

Story of the Bengal School of Art - 

Commonly known as a Bengal School, the Bengal School of Art was a revolutionary art movement. Originating in Bengal in India, Bengal School of Art could be primarily seen in the areas of Kolkata and Shantiniketan. It was also known as ‘Indian Style of Painting’ in its early days. Though Bengal School of Art emerged out of the Nationalist movement, still it was hugely promoted and supported by British Arts administrators. E. B. Havell was one of the most popular proponents. He was the principal of the Government College of Art from 1896. It was a style and an approach to art that flourished in the early 20th century India. The emergence of Bengal School of Art established out of Swadeshi act as a Nationalist movement challenged academic art styles of Indian artists like Raja Ravi Verma and the like. Later on, The Bengal School of Art came to be also known as Modern Indian Painting.  

Artwork by Jamini Roy

Indian Nationalist leaders were dedicated to promote swadeshi movement - the revolutionary movement of self-reliance. It started to collapse British colonization and was specifically effective in the province of Bengal. Swadeshi movement had called for social, cultural and political awakening and most importantly, it concentrated on economic reforms that broke India from the clutches of British rule, boycotting of British manufacturers invigorated Indian industry. The cultural movements helped dispose off British or Western literature and visual arts, and produced works with uniquely Indian qualities. This turned into Hindu themes and ancient Indian painting styles. During this period Bengal School of Art became hugely popular. 

The revitalization of Indian History by Bengal School of Art 

Bengal School of Art paintings revitalize the Indian cultural history. The paintings revive indigenous techniques like medieval miniatures, murals and materials like tempera and water colour on paper that prevent the effect of oil on canvas paintings. This revivalist project in art was led by Abanindranath Tagore, the nephew of Rabindranath Tagore and also the principal artist and creator of the "Indian Society of Oriental Art". In his rejection of the colonial aesthetic, Abanindranath turned to Japan in an attempt to imbibe and propose a pan-Asian aesthetic independent of the western one. It was from the Japanese the Bengal School of Art artists learnt the wash technique, innovating it to suit their own needs.   

Rise of Nationalism with the Bengal School of Art 

During the British Raj, when Britishers had ruled the Indian subcontinent from the year 1858 to 1947, traditional Indian painting styles and conventions had fallen out of popularity. Company Paintings and European paintings were largely promoted which catered to British sensibilities - used to present Indian subjects of indigenous plant life or traditional garb and rituals, but through the conventions of European gaze. The Bengal School of Art emerged as counter to such imagery. It turned the European influenced paintings into Mughal influences, and Rajasthani and Pahari styles. Bengal School of Art presented elegant scenes of distinctly Indian traditions and daily life. 


1.  How did the Bengal School of Art give rise to Indian Nationalism? 

- It gave rise to Indian Nationalism by synthesizing Hindu imagery, Indian teachings and folk art into its paintings. Bengal School of Art brought a dynamic voice to Indian freedom, identity and liberation.  

2. Was there any Britisher who supported Bengal School of Art?  

- Yes, Ernest Binfield Havell, the principal of the Government College of Art, Kolkata from 1896, also an English art teacher, historian, arts administrator, and author helped various artists to develop Bengal School of Art.  

3. Which Bengal School of Art Artist had commemorated Gandhi Dandi March? 

- Nandlal Bose had commemorated Gandhi’s 1930 twenty-six days Dandi March Bengal School of Art. The painting portrayed a series of sketches presenting him as a humble but strong hero using expressive line work.