Jamini Roy: A painter’s quest for an Indian identity

Celebrated portrait artist Jamini Roy rebelled against the British academic style and took to local folk traditions.

Jamini Roy
Jamini Roy [Flickr/CEA /CC 2.0] [Creative Commons]

Born on April 11, 1887, in Beliatore in West Bengal, Jamini Roy is considered by many to be the father of modern Indian art.

Today would have been Roy’s 130th birthday, which is being celebrated on the Google India homepage.

Roy joined Kolkata’s Government School of Art in the early 20th century. Soon, he rejected his academic training and realised that he needed to draw inspiration, not from Western traditions, but from his own culture, and so, he proposed a linear, decorative, colourful style based on Bengali folk traditions.

Jamini studied the British academic style of painting and became well-known for his portraits. However, in his quest for an Indian identity, he rebelled, and his rebellion coincided with a wave of nationalism in Bengal against the British, from whom  India  gained independence in 1947.

He sought inspiration from East Asian calligraphy, terracotta temple friezes and craft traditions. 

Roy portrayed rural scenes, ordinary people, animals and cults of the time and place.

Boating [Edwin Binney 3rd Collection/Creative Commons]
Boating [Edwin Binney 3rd Collection/Creative Commons]

During the 1930s and 40s, the popularity of his paintings represented the passage of modern Indian art from its earlier academic leanings to new nativists predilections.

He also experimented with Kalighat painting, a style of art that emerged from the eponymous pilgrimage centre in British Kolkata.

His work was not limited to painting alone. His wooden sculptures, also reflect the traditional art of Bengal.

In his work, he many times used bold colours of red, yellow, ochre, blue and white.

Roy also reinterpreted South Asian iconography with modern lines.

He was awarded the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest honour for civilians in India, in 1955.

In 1976, the Archaeological Society of India declared him one of “Nine Masters” to be treated as treasure and long after his death in 1972, Roy’s paintings mark a significant step forward for Indian art.

Some of his notable pieces include Gopini, Three Pujarans, Standing Woman, and Bengali Woman, among others.

Source: Al Jazeera