Artists: Notes on Art Making

The works of Gogonendranath Tagore, the elder brother of Abanindranath have not received the just recognition that they deserve. Like his gifted brother he has also been influenced by various forces at one time of his life or another, though these influences were for the most part ephemeral. The dashing bravura of his brush-work in the earlier stages of his artistic life reminds one of Kenzan and Mokkei and reaches its perfection in his famous studies of crows, published by the Indian Society of Oriental Art about 20 years ago. He has extensively worked on silk and gold-boards like the Japanese masters Sotatsu, Kiitsn and others and like them possessed the singular power of working directly with the brush with­out any preliminary sketching. His moods are many and varied, and his versatility amazing. Side by side he has painted the most delicate fantasies on silk as well as vigorous caricatures full of Rabelaisian humour. Nobody who has seen his delicate studies of the Himalayas-notably those of the Kanchinjinga-can ever guess that these serious studies were interspersed with such caricatures of mordant sarcasm as were subsequently collected and published as "Virupa-vajra" and "Advuta-loka".

As a landscape painter Gogonendranath Tagore stands supreme. His style is mainly impressionistic and like James McNeill Whistler he has a predilection for evening effects and nocturnes. The flickering mystery of evening lamps, whether at Benares, Puri or Calcutta has no abler delineator than "G.T." as he likes to sign himself. Such pictures of his as the "Song of the Ruined Temple", "The Madan Theatre, Calcutta" (in the possession of the author), "Benares Ghats", "Inside the Jagannath Temple, Puri", "The Immersion Ceremony on the Hoogly " are indeed gems of an impressionist painter's art and can easily stand com­parison with the celebrated nocturnes of Whistler or James McBey. "If Whistler showed London the beauty of the Thames at Chelsea, Mr. G. N. Tagore has taught the Ditchers to adore the sights of Calcutta".

The exhibition of the works of ultra-modern artists like Kandiusky, Paul Klee, etc., at the Indian Society of Oriental Art in 1920 together with the sympathetic encouragement of Dr. Stella Kramrisch of Vienna gave a new impetus to Mr. Tagore's art in another interesting direction. While his famous brother and his disciples looked upon the modern movement with suspicion and distrust, Mr. G.N.Tagore devoted himself whole heartedly to Cubism in all its various phases and with his usual prolific profusion began to produce such wonderful fantasies as "The Dream Staircase", "The Evening Stars", "The Waking Moment of Midnight", "The Captive Princess" etc.

The following note by Mr. O. C. Gangoly the Editor of the "RUPAM" is bound to be of great value to serious connoi­sseurs of Mr. G. N. Tagore's cubistic creations.

"In European experiments, Cubism ruins decorations to set up architecture and tramples on representation and symbolism in an empty show of geometrical abstraction. In Mr. Tagore's ex­periments architectonic invention is happily crowned with a rich and plastic imagination. Even from the most fantastic arabesques of cubes and parallels, Mr. Tagore always succeeds in spelling out a subject. With the aid of the most abstract parallelograms, he pictures a very charming "Rainy Landscape in the Himalayas", in the setting of a long series of never-ending triangles of lights and shadows, he suggests the romantic story of a "Captive Princess", by an emphasis laid on the radiating folds of the skirt of a "Dancing Girl" he develops a cubistic formula which does not wholly submerge the subject matter. But sometimes his designs attain an abstraction which is midway between allegory and illustration - a feature which is characteristically derived from his native Indian inheritance."

Sarada Charan Ukil, Mukul Chandra Dey and N. D, Natesen come to the forefront of the second batch of Mr. Abanindranath Tagore's pupils at about the same time. Mr. Natesan, though the youngest, was the most promising of the three. His admirable picture of the " Mendicant" singing the 'Bhajan' to the staccato rhythm of his castanets, (now preserved in the gallery of the Indian Society of Oriental Art), is a typical example of his riper technique. It is a matter of profound regret that the artist died at Benares while on a sketching tour and the promise of his early success remained unfulfilled forever.

Sarada Charan Ukil won fame early in life by such mythological pictures as "Sita in the Asoka Grove", "Rama slaying the Golden Deer", " Sita and Lakshmana", "The Beggars" etc. In the prolific fecundity of his powers he is next to Mr. G. N. Tagore and Abdur Rahman Chughtai and he has produced innumerable paintings, drawings and sketches - all remarkable for their rhythmic harmony of form and subtlety of colouring. Most of his unostentatious pieces are prompted by genuine feeling and poetic instinct, which are absent in similar works of his countless imitators. The strength of Mr. Ukil lies in his soft and charming colouring and he has justly been acclaimed as one of the foremost colourists among the pupils of Mr. Tagore.

The early promise of Mr. Mukul Chandra Dey's work's like "Holi", "At the Crossing", The Lunar Eclipse" etc., was not unfortunately kept up by other notable examples from his brush, nor was the masterly handling of his famous " Twelve Portraits" of the most celebrated sons of Bengal ever repeated in his future work. His etchings, though often surprisingly good, hardly bear full testimony to what is best in him. He would have made a very successful painter of portraits either on canvas or on the copper plate and it is very much to be regretted that his present duties as the Principal of the Government School of Arts, Calcutta, leave him hardly any time to devote to his art.

Charu Chandra Roy, now famous as a movie-producer, made, like Mr. Gordon Craig, his name as an artist first. He was famous for his rich glowing colours and rembrandtesque effects long before he won his laurels in "Shiraj" and "Anarkali". The products of his facile genius can be seen in the back numbers of the Modern Review and in such richly illustrated editions of famous Indian Classics as the "Twelve Indian Princesses", the "Meghadutam" of Kalidasa or the "Geeta-Govindam" of Jayadeva.

Devi Prasad Roy Chowdhary, now Principal of the School of Arts and Crafts, Madras, made his debut as an artist in the same year as the writer of the present article and Mr. Charu Chandra Roy. Till Mr. Roy Chawdhury found himself, hehad meticulously triedtoimitatethe inimitable and Protean technique of Mr. A. N. Tagore. Unflinching study and hard work has raised him to his present position and he is undoubtedly one of the fore­most men in the last batch of Mr. Tagore's personal pupils. An almost unerring and instinctive perception of form and colour is the dominant feature of Mr. Roy Chowdhury's art and the soft impressionistic charm of most of his paintings like the "Bhutia Girl" (in the possession of Mr. Mukandi Lai). "In the Temple", "The Blind Boy", etc., remind one some of Tagore's marvellous technique. Portrait painting attracted Roy Chowdhury early in his career and he has made some remarkable portraits in water-colour of Mr. G. N. Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore,

Mr. Percy Brown, Miss Buckland, Mr. O. C. Gangoly, etc. Such masterly proficiency in so many branches of art would have done credit to any young man of 30 or thereabout, but Devi Prasad's was a restless genius. Soon after tackling portrait painting in water-colours, he took up modelling under the guidance of Hironmoy Roy Choudhury, the first Indian Associate of the Royal College of Art, London. As in the other medium, Devi Prasad had no difficulty in picking up the prime essentials and soon became one of the foremost portrait-sculptors of Bengal. His fine and sensitive modelling of the heads of his own father, of Mr. Chanchal Kumar Bannerjea, of Mr. Percy Brown and a host of other people are triumphant achievements for so young an artist and it is to be hoped that his colossal full-length statue of the late Sir Asbutosh Mookerjea will be one of the finest pieces of sculpture in his native city, which boasts of the works of such celebrated men as Flaxman, Chantrey, Hilton, Colton, Goscombe John, Brook and Thornycroft.

In Chanchal Kumar Bannerjea, the caricaturistic vein of Mr. G. N. Tagore reaches its culmination. Practically self-educated in art, Mr. Bannerjea possesses the facile genius and penetrating insight into human character of Caran D'Ache and Phil May. Though seldom consciously imitative of other peoples' technique, his work somehow reminds one of the happy characterizations of H. M. Bateman, with whose works those of Mr. Bannerjea may be very favourably compared.

The work of Durga Shankar Bhattacharya follows closely the footsteps of Mr. Nandalal Bose in many respects. While pos­sessing little of the spiritual greatness or the vigorous technique of Bose, his work is sometimes deliberately imitative of the creator of the ' Grief of Siva'. He in his turn is closely followed by such artists as Aswini Kumar Roy and Asit Kumar Roy, who imitate all his mannerisms and weaknesses.

The works of Nabendranath Tagore and Bratindranath Tagore have many points in common, though the former certainly possesses a much more vigorous technique and sounder draftsman­ship. Protima Devi's water colours are distinguished by a charm and refinement which are absent in the unsophisticated, though much eulogized, spontaneity of her aunt Sunayani Devi.

The Bolpur group of artists comprise mainly of the pupils trained under Asit Kumar Haldar and Nandalal Bose. Almost all of them work in the same manner and it is sometimes very difficult to distinguish between the work of one artist and another. It is a pity that a good many of these really gifted young men seek to imitate the superficial mannerisms of Mr. Bose without trying to absorb the spiritual greatness of their master. Like Mr. Bose's later technique, most of them work after the Sino-Japanese manner, tinged with reminiscences of Ajanta and the Bengal style of Pata-painting. The most notable artists among this younger group are Dhirendra Krishna Dev Barman, Ramendranath Chakravarti, Binode Mookerjea, Ardhendu Prasad Bannerjea, Manindra Bhusan Gupta, Satyendranath Bannerjea, Sukumari Devi, Kironbala Devi and Sabita Devi.

In 1920, the Indian Society of Oriental Art opened its classes under Kshitindranath Mazumdar and Sailendranath De. A large number of the pupils recruited at about this time have done very good work, notably Bishnupada Roy Chowdhury, precocious genius, Kalipado Ghoshal, Ranada Ukil, Sudhangshu Shekhar Choudhury and Chaitanyadev Chatterjea. Most of these artists are strongly influenc­ed by Mr. Mazumdar's technique just as the Bolpur group is influenced by

Mr. Bose's. The works of Shudhangshu Shekhar Choudhury and C. D. Chatterjea are strongly reminiscent of the earlier decorative style of the present writer, under whose influence they came during the impressionable years of their creative activity. Inspite of the present Sino-Siamese mannerisms of Mr. Choudhury's works, they still remain undesirably dominated by the earlier style and technique of the present writer, just as the works of his later pupils A. D. Thomas, H. L. Merh, Sri Ram, R. S. Bhatnagar, B. N. Jijja and others are similarly influenced by his later mode of expression.

Promode Kumar Chatterjea, now well known for his artistic activities in the Andhra Jateeya Kalashala, was originally trained in Western style at the Government School of Arts, Calcutta. He is a contemporary of Nandalal Bose and Asit K. Haldar, although the real flowering of his genius came about 15 years later than those of his co-students. Most of his works are remarkable for their spirituality, mysticism and nobility of conception, notably such pieces as the "Three Gayatris", "Varuna and Ushas", "Manasha", " Siva-Chandrashekhara" etc. He left an abiding impression of his forceful personality on the boys of the Andhra School at Masulipatam, who are gradually coming to hold their own against the rival students of other art-schools.

It is very gratifying to see that the new movement started by Abanindranath Tagore is gradually gaining in strength and solidarity throughout India and that the Governments of almost all the provinces of India have very kindly extended their sympathetic patronage to this great artistic revival by appointing the heads of provincial art-institutions from among Mr. Tagore's pupils. The popularity of the new movement is also evident from the numerous art-exhibitions that are being held all over the country throughout the year and the increasingly high prices that are being commanded by Indian paintings. There is every reason to believe that with the coming years the art of India will be more and more influenced by the present incipient art-revival till the time would come when India would count among her treasured possessions the works of her present-day artists, in the same way as the work of the Pre-Raphaelites is carefully preserved and worshipfully venerated in the echo­ing galleries of sunny Italy.

Published in Roopa-Lekha, 1930

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