Show of rare oils and lithographs

by Team ACF
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Exhibiting a rare collection of oil paintings, lithographs and oleographs from the 19th century in an exhibition titled Swadeshi Art, Akar Prakar gallery is bringing to Delhi audience what is also famously known as “pre-Bengal school” art.
“Some rare oil, litho and oleograph paintings of the Pre-Bengal School from 19th century are collected here. Most of the time there is no mention of the artist and the period, but these paintings help to develop an idea of the nature of the work of the artists and the era of these paintings. At that time, religious and mythological paintings were more popular. Besides the paintings, the litho prints and oleographs also reveal the trends of the Pre-Bengal School. There are also oleographs of Bamapada Bandyopadhyay besides the litho prints of Calcutta Art Studio and Kansaripara Art Studio,” says Reena Lath, Director, Akar Prakar.
In the 19th century, the Mughal era, famous for its art and architecture, was coming to an end and the French and Portuguese had established their trading outposts during the time of Aurangzeb. Like the Mughals, these traders used local artists to satisfy their aesthetic sense and in places like Chinsurah, Chandarnagar and Serampore, these artists were commissioned for portrait paintings. To follow the orders of their patrons these artists would paint the lords and ladies of the household, their pets and the houses as well. During this time, many of these local artists became familiar with the landscape paintings of the European painters, Sheikh Mansoor Ali of Kareya being one whose name crops up often, imitated the Europeans and the paintings came to be known as belonging to the Company School. Some of these paintings are called ‘Dutch Bengal’ or ‘French Bengal’ according to their antecedents.
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Though the foreigners were pleased by the efforts of the local artists, the latter’s sense of perspective or figure left much to be desired. To correct this, an art school was set up in Calcutta (Calcutta School of Art) in 1854 CE to teach the techniques of painting. From 1864, its administration was completely taken over by the government. Henry Hoover Locke was sent by the British government as Director of the school. He introduced the teaching methodology of South Kensington School of London which followed the Naturalism style of Joshua Reynolds.
Curator Ashit Paul says: “The products of this school brought a radical change in the scenario of art in Calcutta from the mid of 19th century, these works are now named, the Pre-Bengal School. These artists also strengthened the base of the Bengal School to come. Both the British rulers and art connoisseurs of our country started to admit that the artists of this school could form a platform for ‘High Art’.”
Pat painting of Kalighat became popular at that time in Calcutta. Everything was depicted through this medium. Mythology, religion, social scandals, and social satire—nothing was beyond the reach of the Potuas. Popularity of this form inspired the wood cut artists of Battala. They also appeared in the market with huge, hand painted, wood cut paintings. Not only this, these artists painted for books and magazines, even panjikas and captured the market. The Potuas took the help of the ‘litho’ print to stay in the competition. The outlines of the pictures would be printed and the potuas would only fill them with colours.
Formal art-educated artists of that time were Annadaprasad Bagchi (1849-1905), Shyamacharan Shrimani, Nabakumar Bishwas (1861-1935), Phanibhushan Sen, Krishnachandra Pal, Yogendranath Mukhopadhyay, Bamapada Bandyopadhyay (1851-1932), Shashikumar Hem, Bhabanicharan Laha (1880-1946) and many others. These artists used to depict perspectives, figures, and landscapes in oil and water colours following the European method. Many portraits, religious paintings and other paintings were also painted by them for personal purposes of the Company officers or native patrons. These paintings were placed beside the European paintings in exhibitions and competitions.  Their paintings gained the appreciation from intellectuals and art lovers.
These works can be viewed at Akar Prakar till October 15.

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