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Paintings that pioneered modern art in India to get a permanent gallery in Kolkata

Victoria Memorial Hall is all set to unlock a set of 5,000 paintings from the Bengal School that paved the path of modernism in Indian art.

Updated: Sep 19, 2018 12:46:53

By Snigdhendu Bhattacharya

Abanindranath Tagore’s Passing of Shah Jahan is one of the iconic paintings in the collection. (Photo courtesy: Victoria Memorial Hall)

Victoria Memorial Hall (VMH), one of the museums with the highest footfalls in the country, is all set to unlock a a set of 5,000 paintings from the Bengal School that paved the path of modernism in Indian art.

“This winter we will open a permanent gallery dedicated to this collection. It includes the largest and most important collections of the works of Abanindranath Tagore and Gaganendranath Tagore, two of the pioneering figures of modern Indian art,” said Jayanta Sengupta, curator and secretary of VMH.

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Notable among this collection are the works by cousins Abanindranath and Gaganendranath, as well as Nandalal Bose. The three are among India’s nine artists of national importance whose works cannot be taken outside the country.

Gaganendranath Tagore’s work Japanese Women. ( Photo courtesy: Victoria Memorial Hall )

“This collection is one of the most important in the context of Indian modern art because modern art movement in India centred on Kolkata, and this collection comprises works of the formative days,” said Sushobhan Adhikary, art critique and former curator of the museum at Kala Bhavana of Visva Bharati.



The Bengal School art movement that started in the late 19th century led to the development of modern Indian art during the early 20th century.

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The 300-odd works of Abanindranath is the most exhaustive collection of his works and include the iconic series on Arabian Nights, Mughal Empire, Mangalkabya and the mask series. Among most famous paintings are ‘Bharat Mata’ (1905) and ‘Passing of Shah Jahan’ (1902), Krishna Lila series and the 12 original illustrations for Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat (1909-1911).

Gaganendranath’s 200-odd works include those of cubist style and his signature-style of satiric works and caricature.

Another work of Gaganendranath Tagore titled Rabindranath on a flight abroad. ( Photo courtesy: Victoria Memorial Hall )

Besides, there are pencil sketches of Jyotirindranath Tagore, Rabindranath’s elder brother whose art influenced the poet’s drawings in his early days.

“The permanent gallery will be a treat for art lovers,” Adhikary added.

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“Jyotirindranath had the unique habit of sketching people sitting in front of him and then to get the sketch signed by the person. The collection comprises several dozen of such signed portraits,” said Subhashis Mukherjee, treasurer, Rabindra Bharati Society (RBS).

The collection of about 5,100 paintings, sketches and doodles was in the strong-room of RBS from 1945 to 2011, when it was handed over to VMH on enduring loan.

The authentication and cataloguing was going on over the past six years and is now complete. The framing and mounting has been done afresh in most cases.

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The gallery, which is almost ready, will be able to display about 250-300 paintings. The works from the collection will be put on display in turns.

“We already had an exhaustive collection of the Company school of art. Now, we have a great collection of modern Indian art. At present we are equipped to provide one of the best visual documentations in India of late-medieval and modern South Asian history from the late 17th century to the middle of the 20th century,” Sengupta said.

Among other important artists in this treasure trove are Mukul Dey, Radha Charan Bagchi and Sunayani Devi, Asit Haldar, Sudhir Khastagir and Sarada Ukil – all important personalities of Bengal art.

There is also a set of about 100 paintings of ‘unknown artists’, belonging to the Bengal school and the Rajput school.

First Published: Sep 19, 2018 12:46:53

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