It is commonly believed that Mr. Havell, the Principal of the Government school of Art, made the first move towards revival of Indian art. My feelings for Mr. Havell are like those for a guru, yet I shall unhesitatingly say that he did not start the move, for I know how the whole thing developed.
The story of the period immediately before Mr. Havell's coming to Calcutta is that he had built up the art school in Madras as a suitable institution for training in Indian art. The story of Calcutta at that time is that Rabikaka had planned to illustrate the two journals Balak and Sadhana, and his play Chitrangada, and had sent for me. Nothing but pictures in a hybrid style were available in our art schools and studios. In the art galleries were only Western style pictures, none with an Indian background. At that time illustrations for Dwijendranath Tagore's Swapnaprayan were lithographed with the help of an upcountry craftsman called Iswariprasad and used in Sadhana. And, under Rabikaka's advice, I read all the Vaishnava lyrics and started painting episodes from Krishnalila in the Indian technique.
About this time I first saw a collection of Ravi Varma's paintings, which Rabikaka had with him. About this time, too, I happened to receive from England an album of paintings done in the traditional Western techniques, and another of paintings by Indian artists, in similar Indian style. Seeing the collection in the latter album, the late Balendranath Tagore wrote an article, "The Art Treasures of Delhi", which Rabikaka published in Sadhana. This was how the people of Bengal made their first acquaintance with the art of our country.
You will be surprised when I tell you that it took me a full year to finish the twenty paintings from Krishnalila. The mornings were spent in painting them, the evenings, in music and literature at Rabikaka's "Khamkheyali Sabha". While this was the order of the day-you may call it the disorder of the day-Mr. Havell arrived in Calcutta.
It was not as a student of the Government School of Art that I came to know him
-I was never a student of that school-but through my Krishnalila pictures and following this, I became familiar with Mughal and other art mainly through his help. That is why I call him my guru, but Mr. Havell always described me as his collaborator-sometimes, affectionately, as his chela. The poet of Bengal opened the door to Indian art and, following in his footsteps, the artist of Bengal worked in solitude for long. Later came the votaries of Indian art-Nandalal, Surendra Gangoly Ordhendra Gangoly, Coomaraswamy, Mr. Woodroffe, Mr. Havell and the Indian Society of Oriental Art.
When after Mr. Havell had lost his health and gone away, and I, with my pupils and some English friends, was trying to keep alive our artists together with our art when I had left the Government job and had emerged out of the art school, Santiniketan was but a small tol or pathsala. I was going my way, Rabindranath his. Then, while I was trudging along with the Indian Society of Oriental Art as my sole wherewithal, came a day when I saw the same fear, out of which I had left the art school, now take the shape of Government patronage and leave the once independent Society ,a mere cage for keeping the artist-birds.
Just before this stage was reached, came the message of hope from Rabikaka-
Vichitra-Bhavan was opened in Calcutta for the artists, From there the tale goes on to Santiniketan, where a tiny home was established for artists amidst God's light and air -Rabindranath's gift to India's art students.