Famous Painters of India

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Abanindranath Tagore :


Abanindranath Tagore (1871-1951) is regarded as the pioneer of the neo-Indian school of painting described as the ‘Bengal School of Painting’. He was an exceptionally talented portrait and landscape painter, known for his emphasis on Indian themes and simplified forms. He was not only an artist but an influential teacher who shaped the philosophy of the ‘Bengal School of Painting’.

Abanindranath Tagore focused on Indian mythology, literary works, and historical figures, creating poignant and symbolic representations. Through his paintings, he rejected the European ideas and laid emphasis on ‘Indianness’ by adopting a distinctly Indian approach to visual arts. He is seen as a Nationalist Symbol who tried to promote a sense of artistic nationalism and independence from the Western influence on arts.

Abanindranath Tagore was born into the illustrious Tagore family of Jorasanko, Kolkata (then Calcutta). Both his grandfather Girindranath Tagore and father Gunendranath Tagore were good painters and so was his uncle, the renowned poet Rabindranath Tagore. He was affectionately addressed as “Aban Thakur”.

Abanindranath Tagore’s paintings, the ‘Radha-Krishna’ series (1895-1900) and the ‘Krishna Leela‘ series (1895–97), based on Jayadeva’s text ‘Geeta Govinda‘, and his paintings, ‘The Traveller and the Lotus‘, ‘The Banished Yaksha‘ and ‘The Siddhas from Upper Air‘, inspired by Kalidasa’s lyric poems ‘Meghaduta‘ and ‘Ritusamhara‘, reflect his earliest expression of paintings depicting an experimental phase of his career.

Abanindranath Tagore’s other important paintings include: ‘Omar Khayyam’ series, ‘Mother of Ganesha’, ‘Nandotsav‘ (1900-1910), ‘Laila-Majnu’ (1930), ‘Arabian Nights’ series (1930) ‘Gandhi-Tagore’, ‘Kavi-Kankan Chandi’, ‘Krishnamangal’ (1938-39) and ‘Kutum-Kutim’. His painting ‘Journey’s End‘ (1913) is a minimalist and evocative portrayal of a dying camel under a sunset sky. He paid tribute to his uncle through his ‘Illustrations for Rabindranath Tagore’s Works‘.

In 1907 Abanindranath Tagore established the Indian Society of Oriental Art, along with his brother Gaganendranath Tagore, and advocated the use of Indian themes in modern painting in India. He nurtured a desire to develop a Pan-Asian artistic movement and got in touch with artists from Japan, notably Okakura Kakuzo, along with artists of other countries. He was among the first Indian artists to achieve international fame following his exhibitions in Paris and London (1913) and Tokyo (1919).

The University of Calcutta awarded him an honorary Doctor of Literature in 1950.

 

 

Nandlal Bose:

Nandlal Bose (1882-1966), a student of Abanindranath Tagore, was a crucial figure in the Bengal School of Art and a key contributor to the renaissance of Indian art in the early 20th century. A staunch nationalist and an advocate of ‘swadeshi’, he emphasised on reviving traditional Indian artistic styles and themes. He drew inspiration from Mughal miniatures, Ajanta cave paintings, and folk art forms. He often depicted women in his art, along with scenes from mythology and rural life.

Bose was a master muralist, creating large-scale artworks for public spaces such as the murals at Kala Bhavana, Shantiniketan, and the Calcutta High Court. He made several insightful portraits and landscapes. Bose is recognised for his series – ‘Chaitanya’, ‘Haripura-Posters’ and ‘Natir-Puja Murals’.

Bose was given the work of creating the iconic design for the Indian Constitution, which was entirely handcrafted by artists of Shantiniketan under his guidance, further solidifying his place in the nation’s artistic history. He was commissioned by Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, to illustrate the emblems of Government of India’s top civilian awards such as the Bharat Ratna and the Padma Awards.

In 1976, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) declared Nandlal Bose’s works as “national treasures,” acknowledging their immense artistic and cultural significance and ensuring their protection within the country.

He was bestowed with several honours and awards including Padma Vibhushan (1954), Fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi (1956) and Desikottama by Visva Bharati University.

 

Raja Ravi Verma:

Raja Ravi Verma (1848-1906) was born into an aristocratic family in Kilimanoor, Kerala, and displayed artistic talent from a young age. Verma’s style can be characterized by its blend of Western academic realism, Indian miniature painting traditions, and his own theatrical flair. He established a lithographic press which facilitated reproduction and circulation of his images widely throughout India.

Ravi Verma’s Notable works include: ‘Shakuntala‘, ‘Hamsa Damayanti‘ and ‘Nair Lady Adorning Her Hair’ (1873), besides his illustrations of ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’. Aside from mythological subjects, Verma also created commissioned portraits of royalty and notable figures. These portraits exhibit his mastery of realistic painting techniques.

He won a Gold Medal at the Vienna Art Exhibition (1873) for his painting ‘Shakuntala‘, which marked a turning point in his career, giving him international recognition and highlighting his mastery of Western painting techniques. He also won three Gold Medals at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago (1893) and was conferred with the title ‘Kaisar-i-Hind‘ by the British Viceroy Lord Curzon in 1904.

 

 

Jamini Roy:


Jamini Roy (1887-1972) was a very renowned modern Indian painter who depicted everyday people of rural Bengal in his pantings. He was inspired by the Kalighat paintings and works of the village patuas and tried to model his work on the folk art of Bengal. He rejected the dominance of Western-style art in India and paved the way for a more ‘Indian’ form of modern art.

Roy used simplified forms with bold outlines and flat, vibrant colours, using mostly the village dyes in his paintings. This minimalism conveyed a sense of directness and emotional power.

Some of his acclaimed works include: ‘Mother and Child‘, ‘Village Scenes‘, ‘Three Pujarins‘, ‘Santhal Dancers‘, and several paintings of animals. He also created some religious and mythological series such as ‘Ramayana Series‘, ‘Krishna and Radha Series‘ and ‘Jesus Christ‘.

He is the recipient of the Padma Bhushan Award (1955) and the Lalit Kala Akademi (1955).

 

Amrita Sher-Gil :


Amrita Sher-Gil (1913-1941), born in 1913 in Budapest, was a revolutionary figure among the modern Indian painters. She received formal art training in Paris, being exposed to European influences like Post-Impressionism, particularly that of the painter Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin, who had a profound influence on her paintings.

She was known for her focus on female subjects, portraying them with complexity and empathy. Sher-Gil died tragically young at the age of 28, leaving behind a powerful artistic legacy.

Notable paintings of Amrita Sher-Gil include: ‘Three Girls‘ (1935), ‘Hill Women’ (1935), ‘The Child Bride‘ (1936), ‘Bride’s Toilet‘ (1937), ‘South Indian Villagers Going to Market‘ (1937), ‘Siesta‘ (1937), ‘Brahmacharis‘ (1937) and ‘Banana Sellers‘ (1937).

Amrita Sher-Gil’s talent was not only recognized but celebrated. She holds the distinction of being the youngest ever member and the first Asian to be elected as an Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris, a prestigious art exhibition showcasing the work of contemporary artists. In 1933, her painting ‘Young Girls’ was awarded a gold medal at the Grand Salon, a testament to her exceptional skill and artistic prowess.

 

 

M.F.Hussain:


M.F. Husain (1915-2011) is considered one of the foremost modern Indian painters. He was a founding member of the Progressive Artists’ Group (PAG) in the 1940s, which aimed to break away from the traditional styles of the Bengal School and experiment with modern art forms.

Husain achieved international recognition with his bold, often stylised depictions of Indian figures, horses, and themes from mythology and religion. He painted several important series of paintings like the ‘Mahabharata and Ramayana’, ‘Christ and the Lamb’, ‘Peace Doves’, ‘Women with Roosters’ and ‘Mother Teresa’.

One of Husain’s earliest notable solo shows took place in Zurich (1952), which was instrumental in introducing Husain’s work to a European audience. He also had a well-received solo exhibition in Bombay (1953) showcasing a range of his paintings, solidifying his presence within the Indian art scene.

In his early years, long before becoming a renowned artist, Husain worked as a painter of Bollywood cinema posters. Years later, in 1966, he made a debut experimental film, ‘Through the Eyes of a Painter’, which offered a visual exploration of Rajasthan through his artistic lens. It received the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival as well as the National Film Award for Best Experimental Film in 1967. Husain took a great fascination for the cine actress Madhuri Dixit and made her the subject of many of his paintings. He also produced a film, ‘Gaja Gamini’ (2000), featuring the iconic actress. He directed another film ‘Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities’ (2004) with Tabu in the lead.

Husain had great admiration for Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. He famously painted onstage during Bhimsen Joshi’s live performances, responding in real-time to the music and creating a captivating dialogue between the singer and the painter. Some critics perceived M.F. Husain’s act of “painting the music,” particularly his live performances with Bhimsen Joshi, as a gimmick or a publicity stunt.

Hussain was conferred with many honours and awards, including the Padma Shri (1955), Padma Bhushan (1973), and Padma Vibhushan (1991), in addition to Raja Ravi Varma Puraskaram (1991). He was also nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1986.

Husain’s portrayal of Hindu deities in a non-traditional manner sparked intense controversy and led to legal cases and protests against him, which compelled him to go on a self-imposed exile in 2016 and obtain Qatari citizenship. He breathed his last on June 9, 2011 at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London at the age of 95.

 

 

Sayed Haider Raza (S.H. Raza):

Sayed Haider Raza (1922-2016) was a towering figure in Indian modern art, known for his vibrant geometric abstractions and deeply spiritual explorations of colour and form. He received formal art education at the Nagpur School of Art and later at the prestigious Sir J.J. School of Art in Mumbai. He was the Founding Member of the Progressive Artists’ Group in 1947, along with F.N. Souza and M.F. Husain. He moved to Paris in 1950 where he immersed himself in Western modernist movements.

Raza’s art is deeply influenced by Indian philosophy, spirituality, and symbolic forms like the mandala. The concept of the “Bindu” (a dot) became central to Raza’s artistic and spiritual exploration. Some of his notable works include: ‘Saurashtra‘ (1958), ‘Taaza‘ (1976), ‘La Terre‘ (1977), ‘Nada Bindu‘ (1980s), ‘Ma‘ (1980s), ‘Prakruti‘ (1990s) and ‘Kundalini‘.

He was the recipient of several awards including: Padma Shri (1981), Padma Bhushan (2007), Padma Vibhushan (2013) and Kalidas Samman (1981). He also won prestigious French awards such as Prix de la critique (1956) and Commandeur de la Legion d’Honneur (2015).  

 

Dhiraj Choudhury ​:

Dhiraj Choudhury (1936-2018) experienced the turmoil of the partition of India, which significantly influenced his artistic sensibilities. He studied at the College of Art, New Delhi, where he encountered Western modernist influences. Choudhury primarily worked in figurative styles, centring his paintings on human figures and their lived experiences. His paintings often carry an expressive quality and a social consciousness addressing themes of human suffering, inequality, and social injustice.

Some of the early works of Dhiraj Choudhury include: ‘The Colours of St. Albans‘, ‘Youth An Illustration – A‘ and ‘Drawing 1975‘. His two significant works are ‘50 Years of Struggle for Freedom‘ (1998), which commemorated the 50th anniversary of India’s independence, offering a retrospective on the struggles and sacrifices of India’s freedom movement, and ‘Love at the Threshold of the new Millennium‘ (1999), focusing on the intimate and universal theme of love.

Dhiraj Choudhury has been conferred with many awards, including the Lalit Kala Akademi Award.

 

 

Jahar Dasgupta​:

Jahar Dasgupta (b.1942) is a significant figure in modern Indian painting, especially for his contributions in portraying everyday life in Bengal. He received his formal art education at the renowned Kala Bhavan in Shantiniketan, where he was exposed to the rich legacy of the Bengal School of Art.

Jahar Dasgupta developed his own distinct style that combined modern artistic approaches with an emphasis on depicting relatable subjects. He is known for his straight, firm, deep-rooted drawings and paintings with a meaningful message. His paintings often portray ordinary people engaged in day-to-day activities.

Some of his notable works include: ‘End of an Era‘, ‘Genocide’, ‘Dark side of Civilisation‘, ‘Confrontation‘, ‘Shelter‘, ‘Mermaid‘, ‘Fall of Radhika‘ and ‘Eternal Love‘.

 

Satish Gujral:

Satish Gujral (1925-2020) was a versatile painter, sculptor, muralist, architect and writer of rare genius. Gujral’s paintings often fall under the categories of Expressionism and New Objectivity. They are characterised by bold colours, textured surfaces, and emotive depictions of human figures. He worked with several mediums like clay, paint, wood, ceramic, glass and metal.

He was the recipient of several honours and awards including the National Award for Painting (1956), National Award for Sculpture (1972), Padma Vibhushan (1999) and Leonardo Da Vinci Award (1996). The ‘Order of the Crown’ was conferred on Gujral by Belgium, acknowledging his efforts in bridging the artistic communities of India and Belgium together.

 

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