The winter show of the Academy of Fine arts in Calcutta is a happy, hardy Annual, which, several weeks ahead, keeps busy three lively groups of our citizens, artists giving finishing touches to their pictures, lovers and connoisseurs of pictures looking out for new aesthetic thrills, and keen critics and reviewers assiduously wiping their glasses and polishing their adjectives.
This year’s show, the 24th Annual event of the Academy, is invested with a new halo, being set up on the walls of the spacious Hall of their new premises on Cathedral Road, opposite the Victoria Memorial. The New Buildings in a splendid setting provide a brilliant landmark in the 25 years’ bright career of the Academy which has year after year, illuminated the cultural life of Calcutta, the foremost Art-Centre of India. In this permanent and happy home of the Academy it will be easy to hold a succession of many exhibitions instead of the single exhibition hitherto, held in the borrowed corridors of the Indian Museum.
Many people claim, and very rightfully claim, that the Calcutta Academy has built up in the course of its long career rich traditions in showmanship and patronage which in many respects surpass its counterpart at New Delhi. As an all-India show this assembly of painting and sculptures reflect all the new currents in art and the novel experiments in plastic creations - contributed by all the distant art-centres of India. This claim can be easily verified by a cursory glance at the exhibits which have come from all corners of India, Delhi, Bombay, Lucknow, Nagpur, Madras, Mysore and various other centres. Though the artists contributing from Bengal are very many, their numbers do not discount the All-India character of the show as a liberal forum for judging all contemporary tendencies developing in all distant regional centres.
It has been the fashion on the part of some critics to complain that the Academy’s show does provide sufficient emphasis on the products of the national Indian schools of painting, considering that this city is the birthplace of the New Renaissance in Indian Painting founded by Abanindranath Tagore. But for this, the Academy cannot be blamed. For though many of the great disciples of Tagore are still living, they are not contributing to any new development in the national phases of Indian Painting, and very few new devotees of the Indian manner have come forward to continue the movements begun by Tagore and his brilliant disciples.
This is evident from the exhibits in the Indian section. The pictures in this section do not maintain a very high level in spite of three contributions from Santiniketan. The honours of the Indian tradition have been sought to be maintained by Kalipada Ghoshal by his “Shiva Drinking the Poison” and by a new recruit from Lucknow, Manahar Makwana, who contributes two pulsating pieces “Marriage Party” and a lively “Market Scene”. As in former years A. Almelkar of Bombay contributes such stirring pieces -- of which the best is “Boat-Jetty”. Sudhanshu Basu is a senior practitioner of Calcutta, who made himself famous by his brilliant jungle scenes from Assam (illustrated the water-colour section) has contributed two distinguished pieces to the India section of which his “Lotus after the Rain happily combines realism with romance. Kalyani Chakravarty’s “Uma’s toilette” though a striking piece, does not sufficiently uphold her former reputation. G. D. Roy’s “Kavi” is a striking effort in Rajput manners with considerate charm and originality. Radha Bagchi’s “Sleeping Princess”, though honour the correct atmosphere of the theme, is short of a happy success. Narendran Sarkar’s “Hara Parvati” is a tiny masterpiece of lively originality, challenged by the lesser efforts of Tarapada Basu - with his “Ganesa Janani”. Sunil Pal’s “Damsel” is a new courageous presentation of familiar type deserving highest praise. The “Pet Queen” of Ganesh Pyne and Ramendra Bannerjee’s “Pot seller” was sure to win many admirers. But on the whole, the section is disappointing and a standard is sought to be raised by introducing two pieces from the brush of the famous master Dr. Nandalal Bose “Fish in the current” and “Evening”. By the shining highlight of the section is the silk kakemono of Radha Bagchi depicting “Kumar-Sambhava”. In the watercolour section, magnificently painted and magnificently mounted there are several distinguished pieces of which “Construction” by Anil Baran Shah elevates unromantic subjects to romantic heights. In this section, there are several thrilling compositions, the most daring modernistic manners which will extort admiration from all sensible critics. But many well prefer the beauty and astonishing technique Gopal Ghose in his masterly presentation of six pieces of “Landscape” which highlight this section in a charmingly low-key.
In the technique of the Tempera there are several striking exhibits, “Naga Dance” by Manahar Makwana, “Gopis and Krishna” by Almelkar, and”In the Doorway” by Prafulla Tana. The best piece in this section is a large picture of a “Devotee” by Sudhir Khastagir who has at last freed himself from the momentous formulae of his dancing figures to present a stately static figure vibrating with expressive emotion. In the Oil section - there are not many pictures to appeal. Of several portraits in oil, Atul Bose’s ostentatious presentation of a “Gentlemen in Masonic Robes” is successfully challenged by Kisory Rai’s charming study of a little girl entitled “Green Ribbon”. Of other studies in oil, a beautiful study of a “Pot with a Flower” by Benode Shah deserves special mention.
Undoubtedly - the black-bone of the exhibition provided by the rows of pictures arrayed on opposite walls in a formidable battalion of about 100 pieces, painted in the challenging techniques and the modernistic manners of the Indian Post-Impressionists, Cubists, and Abstractionist painters, who have deliberately despised all academic traditions as well as the rich spiritual language of Indian National Schools of painting. It must be conceded that the Modernists of India, many of them richly possessed of talent and vision, have successfully imitated the famous masters of Modernistic art of Europe in all their many moods, tricks and inventions, sometimes applied to familiar Indian subjects with striking effects, produced by the disconcerting and daring bravados of brush work imported from the French studios, -- now famous throughout the world. But this borrowed brilliance of these Indian Modernists signally fail to impress these products of the Indian brush in any manner of Indian-ness, or any flavour remotely suggestive of the smell of Indian soil. Yet, in spite of all their faults and all their virtues, these brilliant essays will undoubtedly provide to the sensitive connoisseurs of the language of forms and colours, many surprising shocks and many new aesthetic thrills as in the enigmatic compositions ofS.S.Kadamwhich he calls the “Urge”, in the “Pot with a flower” painted by Binode Shah, in the lyrical interpretation of a “Message” by S. K. Shinde and in the imposing composition of a “Mother and Child” by D. N. Joshi. In the graphic art section there are interesting items none achieving a very high level. The series of crayon studies of “Horses” by Sunil Das provide striking highlights to the black and white section. The sculpture section, though confined to 25 pieces, has many attractive items - of which the best is the study of Rabindranath Tagore - contributed by Ram Kinkar Baij, “the Man and the Moon” by Kumar Robin Roy and the “Dipa-Lakshmi” excellently interpreted by Deva V Chakravarty.
This distinguished array of exhibits rigorously selected from 3,000 pieces of submissions is a rich fair in the aesthetic delights of diverse flavours and divergent tastes and will happily cater to all varieties of picture-lovers and devotes at the shrines of beauty. *
*By the courtesy of the All-India Radio, Calcutta
Published in the Modern Review, 1960