16 April 1966: Nandalal Bose, painter of the Bengal School of Art, died

Nandalal Bose, an influential Indian painter belonging to the Bengal School of Art, was born on 3 December 1882 in the Munger district of present-day Bihar to a Bengali family. He died on 16 April 1966.

His father, Purnachandra, worked at the Darbhanga Estate. Nandalal got interested in images from an early age as his mother, Kshetramonidevi, would make toy models for him. He studied at Calcutta’s Central Collegiate School and married Sudhiradevi in 1902.

Though he was keen to formally learn art, his family was less than enthusiastic, and he was forced to study other subjects. They finally relented and allowed him to study art.

Nandalal’s mentor was the artist Abanindranath Tagore, who led the Bengal School.

“As a young man Bose’s major crisis was the European denial of an indigenous Indian artistry. He followed Tagore’s example of blending the Japanese Nihonga traditions with Mughal miniature figurativeness for an atmospheric ‘wash’ colouring — swadeshi demi-mode,” Gaurav Jain wrote in the Tehelka magazine. 

Later he went through a phase where he preferred line drawing. 

With Tagore and Gandhi

In 1922, Nandalal was chosen by the poet Rabindranath Tagore to teach at Santiniketan’s Kala Bhavan. Nandalal told his students to look at the environment around them for inspiration and then create their artworks. He also stressed on the importance of being aware of India’s literary and classical heritage.

His own unique style and content evolved over the years. He used historical references and was among the first artists to combine folk art with classical content. Bose formed a special bond with Mahatma Gandhi, who often invited the artist and his team to do special theme works for political pavilions.

In 1936, Gandhi asked Bose to decorate the Congress pavilion at Lucknow. He and his students from Santiniketan did so with the help of basic materials like reed and bamboo.

In a speech after the work was completed, the Mahatma said: “This exhibition to my mind brings out concretely for the first time the conception of a true rural exhibition. . . . [Nandalal] . . . and his co-workers who have tried to represent all the villagers’ craft in simple artistic symbols, have done a great job. And when you go inside the art gallery on which Babu Nandalal has lavished his labours for weeks, you will feel, as I did, like spending there hours together.”

Portrait of an artist

Nandalal’s six decades of output is very diverse. A feature on him at indianartcircle.com says: “Bose’s experimentation and versatility enfolded numerous influences and traits. Ancient and folk traditions co-existed with the naturalism and Modernist persuasions. Tested conventions of art did not counter his involvement with actual life-people and impetus. Artistic subtleties and ethereal tones were frequently flavoured with vigour and energy. His mellow, restrained washes allied with the rhythmic, yet strong line dictating his compositions.”

Besides being a pioneering Indian modernist artist, his influence on modern Indian art was also amplified through the scores of students whom he taught. 

Nandalal Bose died on 16 April 1966 in Calcutta.

Commenting on his contribution to Indian art, the critic Gayatri Sinha said (quoted in the Outlook magazine): “In comparison to the tradition of society portraiture in western academic training, which favoured the rich and powerful, Bose’s paintings drew on an older tradition that accorded dignity to every aspect of society: from the mother putting her child to bed, to the carpenter and the buttermilk churner. In his political and social inclusivity was his vision of an independent Indian republic.”


Also on this day: 

1978 — Lara Dutta, Indian model and actress, was born  

2010 — C.P. Prahalad, influential business thinker, passed away


  • Wikipedia
  • M.K. Gandhi website


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