THE COURT ARTISANS AND SEARCH FOR A NATIONAL ART- THE CHANGING WORLD OF VISUAL ARTS
There were miniature artists in the courts of kingsand there were different trends in different courts depending upon the kings.
In Mysore, Tipu Sultan resisted the cultural traditions associated with the British. He continued to encourage local traditions.
He had the walls of his palace at Seringapatam covered with mural paintings done by local artists.
The court at Murshidabad encouraged local miniature artists to absorb the tastes and artistic styles of the British.
The local miniature artists at Murshidabad began adopting elements of European realism. They use perspective, which creates a sense of distance between objects that are near and those at a distance.
They use light and shade to make the figures look lifelike and real.
With the establishment of British power, many of the local courts lost their influence and wealth. They could no longer support painters and pay them to paint for the court.
At the same time, British officials, who found the world in the colonies different from that back home, wanted images through which they could understand India, remember their life in India, and depict India to the Western world.
Local painters thus started producing a vast number of images of local plants and animals, historical buildings and monuments, festivals and processions, trades and crafts, castes and communities.
These pictures, eagerly collected by the East India Company officials, came to be known as Company paintings.
New Popular Indian Art
In the nineteenth century, a new world of popular art developed in many of the cities of India created by the artists outside the court.
In Bengal, around the pilgrimage centre of the temple of Kalighat, local village scroll painters (called patuas) and potters (called kumorsin eastern India) began developing a new style of art.
They moved from the surrounding villages into Calcutta during the time when the city was expanding as a commercial and administrative centre.
Colonial offices were coming up, new buildings and roadswere being built, marketswere being established. The city appeared as a place of opportunity where people could come to make a new living.
Village artists too came and settled in the cityin the hope of new patrons and new buyers of their art.
Before the nineteenth century, the village patuas and kumors had worked on mythological themes and produced images of gods and goddesses.
On shifting to Kalighat, they continued to paint these religious images. Traditionally, the figures in scroll paintings looked flat, not rounded.
Kalighat painters began to use shading to give them a rounded form, to make the images look three-dimensional. Yet the images were not realistic and lifelike.
In the early Kalighat paintings is the use of a bold, deliberately non-realistic style, where the figures emerge large and powerful, with a minimum of lines, detail and colours.
After the 1840s the Kalighat painters started adapting to the changing world around them and produced paintings on social and political themes.
The artists mocked at the changes they saw around, ridiculing the new tastes of those who spoke in English and adopted Western habits, dressed like sahibs, smoked cigarettes, or sat on chairs.
They made fun of the westernised baboo, criticised the corrupt priests, and warned against women moving out of their homes.
They often expressed the anger of common people against the rich, and the fear many people had about dramatic changes in social norms.
Initially, the images were engraved in wooden blocks. The carved block was inked, pressed against paper, and then the woodcut prints that were produced were coloured by hand.
By the late 19th century, mechanical printing presses were set up in different parts of India, which allowed prints to be produced in even larger numbers.
These prints could therefore be sold cheap in the market and even the poor could buy them.
Popular prints were not painted only by the poor village Kalighat Patuas but also middle-class Indian artists set up printing presses and produced prints for a wide market.
They were trained in British art schools in new methods of life study, oil painting and printmaking.
One of the most successful of these presses that were set up in late-nineteenth-century Calcutta was the Calcutta Art Studio.
It produced lifelike images of eminent Bengali personalities as well as mythological pictures. But these mythological pictures were realistic.
The figures were located in picturesque landscape settings, with mountains, lakes, rivers and forests.
The characteristic elementsof these pictures came into being in the late nineteenth century.
These types of popular pictures were printed and circulated in other parts of India too. With the spreadof nationalism, popular prints of the early twentieth century began carrying nationalist messages.
In many of them, Bharat Mata appeared as a goddess carrying the national flag, or nationalist heroes sacrificing their head to the Mata, and gods and goddesses slaughtering the British.
Search for the National Art
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, a stronger connection was established between art and nationalism. Many painters tried to develop a style that could be considered both modern and Indian.
Raja Ravi Varma was one of the first artists who tried to create a style that was both modern and national.
He belonged to the family of the Maharajas of Travancore in Kerala, and was addressed as Raja and mastered the Western art of oil painting and real-life study, but painted themes from Indian mythology.
He painted scene from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, drawing on the theatrical performances of mythological stories that he witnessed during his tour of the Bombay Presidency.
From the 1880s, Ravi Varma’s mythological paintings became the rage among Indian princes and art collectors.
Due to the huge popular appeal of such paintings, Ravi Varma decided to set up a picture production team and printing press on the outskirts of Bombay.
The colour prints of his religious paintings were mass-produced and even the poor could now buy these cheap prints.
In Bengal, a new group of nationalist artists gathered around Abanindranath Tagore (1871-1951), the nephew of Rabindranath Tagore and rejected the art of Ravi Verma.
They declared it imitative and westernised and declared that such a style was unsuitable for depicting the nation’s ancient myths and legends.
They felt that a genuine Indian style of painting had to draw inspiration from non-Western art traditions and try to capture the spiritual essence of the East.
Thus they broke away from the convention of oil painting and the realistic style, turned for inspiration to medieval Indian traditions of miniature painting and the ancient art of mural painting in the Ajanta caves.
They were also influenced by the art of Japanese artists who visited Indiaat that time to develop an Asian art movement.
After the 1920s, a new generation of artistsbegan to break away from the style popularized by Abanindranath Tagore.
Some of them saw it as sentimental, others thought that spiritualism could not be seen as the centralfeature of Indian culture.
They felt that artists had to explore real-life instead of illustrating ancient booksand look for inspiration from living folk art and tribal designs rather than ancient art forms.
With the continued debates, new movements of art grew and styles of painting evolved.