First published on 26th February 2024

It must have been the quietest show to be staged at the India Art Fair, 2024. Softened with age, bearing none of the self-consciousness that one may trace even in the Haripura panels, this small collection of Mastermoshai’s pocket-sized works revealed the man as he was --spontaneous, contemplative and utterly modest.

It is touted that the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), New Delhi, has 7000 of Nandalal Bose’s works. Most of these are postcards that he would carry in a shoulder bag, as he stepped out to draw. It is also recorded that before 1920, Bose worked in the historicist mode, largely directed by Abanindranath Tagore, and his own extensive copying of the Ajanta frescoes in 1909-1910. According to R. Siva Kumar, once the artist moved to Santiniketan in 1920, “Nandalal discarded mythological and historical subject matter favoured by fellow artists and gravitated towards nature and everyday life.” [1]

It is this aspect of the artist that is on display at the ongoing exhibition, “Mastermoshai: Nandalal Bose”, at Akar Prakar, New Delhi. Here, Bose’s dictum that the spontaneity of drawing should resemble the drop of dew falling from a leaf in the morning light comes into play. The artist with little other than his postcards and conte captured sights of the Khoai’s undulating red-soil tracks, children playing, tethered animals and figures at work. Even in the small postcards, we gain a sense of the expansive landscape around Santiniketan, or that of the hills and mountains of North Bengal that Bose loved to visit. What is apparent is that under Rabindranath Tagore’s inspiration, Santiniketan yielded an aesthetic approach towards the landscape, one to which Bose contributed in the fullest sense. Curator Debdutta Gupta additionally makes the important point that Bose’s visits to East Asia underscored his belief and investment in monochrome, as well as in the spiritual essence of nature, rendered in his woodcuts, brush and ink drawings. In the depictions of an isolated figure among the trees, weeds bending in the breeze, and the profile of a child, there is a tenderness and a palpable negative capability, of emotional engagement. An absolute delight are the small paper collages of animals, made with the most economical of materials -- waste paper. The exhibition also carries two of Bose’s signal contributions -- his woodcut of Gandhi walking, and a copy of the manuscript of the Indian Constitution he illustrated with a team from Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan. More than ever, it is these 22 illustrations of Indian cultural inheritance that have become critically important today. As the only illuminated Constitution in the world, what Bose has left for posterity is a syncretic modernism, that easily combined Mughal borders with Jain or Hindu Puranic and epic imagery, and an eclecticism that equally honoured Ranjit Singh, Rani Laxmi Bai and Tipu Sultan. To see this work then is to gain not only the material view, but also the affect of the integrity of the artist’s spirit of a genuine, cultural nationalism.

Mastermoshai Nandalal Bose in on at Akar Prakar, New Delhi, from January 31 to February 29, 2024.


[1] R. Siva Kumar, “From Swadeshi to the Constitution: Nandalal Bose and the Nationalist Project,” History for Peace, August 17, 2021.

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