Journal of Arts & Ideas, no. 14-15 (July-Dec 1987) p. 5.


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Nationalism and Form in Indian Painting

A Study of the Bengal School

Ratnabali Chattopadhyay

JUST BY painting in India, one does not produce Indian painting/1 This cryptic remark by the historian Akshay Maitreya directed at the attempts ofAbanindranath and his students indicated the rise

of a new consciousness among the Indian art-loving public. Used as interchangeable, the terms Indian' and 'national' were introduced in the early twentieth century as new evaluative categories By 1905 this awareness was expressed through a number of debates, both in the British Indian educational circles as well as among the Bengali intelligentsia. The first.known as the Bums-Havell debate, gained significance in the formulation of art education policies. The second housed by popular Bengali monthlies like Prabashi and Bharat-barsha and the English art journal Rupam revealed the cross-currents of modernist vs traditionalist attitudes. The range and variety in the structuring of arguments show how the Bengali 'bhadralok'was coming to grips with multiple sources of knowledge. Art' assumed an importance unprecedented in British Indian history. For the first time an art movement began which came to be recognized as 'national' paradoxically by both the Bengali intellectual in his Swadeshi fervour' as well as the British media at the same time. By 1910, the attempts of Orientalists to reveal Indian art to the west were over. Indian art was supposed to have 'arrived'. The approval of the British liberal intellectuals, which included a number of artists, made it clear that the art pursuits ofAbanin -dranath and his followers had succeeded in linking Indian art to a glorious past.

Journal of Arts & Ideas 5


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