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Artist in Focus : Nondolal Bose

In this section for D’s Art Takes, we pick one artist to showcase their work and creative journey so far. Today, we look at the Indian artist Nondolal Bose.

 Nondolal Bose

Nondolal Bose, one of the stalwarts of the Bengal School of art and a visionary in the field of art, deepely revered and respected in the art world even today.

Bose was born in Kharagpur, in Bihar 1882. His father worked in Bihar and his mother was ahome maker, but one who had a talent for dressing and painting toys fro her son. Thus from an early age, young Nondolal was intrigued with the colours, the transformation and the entire process of creation. He was eager to participate and so he did.

He found his mein when he found Abanondranath Tagore as his mentor. As a young artist, Bose was deeply influenced by the murals of Ajanta Caves. In the backdrop of the Indian freedom struggle, Bose along with other artists of the Bengal School  (including his mentor Abanindranath Tagore) worked towards reviving the Indian style of art, moving away from European techniques that had become prevalent in art-schools at the time.

Born to a pre Independent India, Bose’s involvement in India’s freedom movement would mark a shift in his intent, thoughts and ideas. In 1930s he created a linocut print of Mahatma Gandhi walking with a stick. It was created to mark and honor Gandhi’s arrest for starting the Dandi March and protesting the British tax on Salt, the image evoked a sense of strong will to overcome all obstacles.  It quickly became an icon of sorts for the Non-Violent Freedom Movement. 

For Bose this was just the beginning.

Incidentally, Nandalal did not come to know Gandhi personally until 1935 when Gandhi sought Bose’s help to install an art and craft exhibition at the Lucknow session of Congress. Eventually, Bose went on to build a team that would create artwork and installations for Congress Sessions in Indore, Faizpur, and finally Haripura (Gujarat). Before this, Nandalal Bose was known amidst the elite art circles – but with Gandhi’s praise of his art, he became a household name.  Soon, he was entrusted with other projects too, including the illustration of the Constitution and the design of Bharat Ratna & Padma Shri emblems.
The fervor of the Independence Movement swept all over the country and the members of the Constituent Assembly thought it would only be befitting if the Constitution could somehow represent India’s journey and heritage.

Thus the extremely honorable responsibility fell on the trusted shoulders and the delicate pen of Bose, as the Congress entrusted him with the task illustrating the pages. He carefully selected a team of artists (including Biswarup, Gouri, Jamuna, Perumal, Kripal Singh and other students of Kala Bhavana) who fashioned twenty-two images on the manuscript of the Indian Constitution, to depict a fragment of India’s vast historical and cultural heritage.

Arranged chronologically, the illustrations were created using indigenous techniques of applying gold-leaf and stone colours. While Beohar Rammanohar Sinha is credited with the Preamble Page it was his student Dinanath Bhargava who sketched the National Emblem.
There are more than 7000 artworks by Nandalal Bose at the National Gallery of Modern Art Delhi.

Among the most well-known works of the master are the Haripura panel paintings. A series of 77 panels executed on handmade paper in 1938, Bose painted these on Mahatma Gandhi’s request to mark the Congress session in Gujarat. These dynamic portraits of everyday Indian life cover every aspect of rural existence. Subjects like the humble cobbler, tailor, farmer or a woman milking a cow, were handled with superb artistic discipline and with the greatest economy of strokes.

The blending of classical formal technique with the vibrant rural subject matter and themes drawn from rural India that gave his art its great composure and fundamental directness.

NAnadala Bose won several accolades :

  • Padma Vibhushan – In the year 1954, the Government of India honored him with the country’s second highest civilian award.
  • Fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi – In 1956, India’s National Academy of Art honored him by electing him as the Fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi. He was only the second artist to be honored by the National Academy of Art.
  • Deshikottama – Vishvabharati University conferred the title ‘Deshikottama’ on him.
  • Honorary D.Litt – The University of Calcutta honored him with the honorary D. Litt for his contribution towards the field of art in the year 1957.
  • Silver Jubilee Medal – The Academy of Fine Arts honored him with this particular award.
  • The Tagore Birth Centenary Medal – In 1965, the Asiatic Society of Bengal honored him with this prestigious award.

Nandalal Bose passed away on 16 April 1966.

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