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Remembering an artist of note

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"LIFE OF THE MEDIEVAL SAINTS": A work by Benodebehari Mukherjee.
"LIFE OF THE MEDIEVAL SAINTS": A work by Benodebehari Mukherjee.

A wide selection of works by eminent artist Benodebehari Mukherjee in watercolour, ink and tempera in the format of large scrolls and screens opens at the National Gallery of Modern Art in the Capital this Saturday.

Titled "Benodebehari Mukherjee: A Centenary Retrospective'', the six-week-long exhibition showcases the artist's work dating from 1921 to 1957. As Benodebehari produced a series of works in murals, prints and sculptures, the exhibition will include digital enlargements of his murals including the famous magnum opus "Life of the Medieval Saints" at Hindi Bhavan. All the mural reproductions are being shown for the first time outside the venue of the originals.

Born in 1904, Benodebehari is remembered as a distinguished artist and teacher. He was also a thoughtful writer. After completing his studies at Santiniketan he became a member of the teaching faculty there and helped in making it the most important centre of art in the country.

The first of his more significant murals is a representation of the local landscape he painted on the ceiling of a hostel dormitory at Santiniketan in 1940. In this mural, he gathered his experience of the local villages in an encyclopaedic manner and unrolled it around a central pond like an intricate web of images.

His next mural done two years later at Cheena Bhavan knits together vignettes of campus life.

In 1949, Benodebehari left Santiniketan to join as a curator at the Nepal Government Museum in Kathmandu. Drawn by the landscape, the people of Nepal and their colourful life, he recorded these in a series of drawings and watercolours.

Although Benodebehari shunned fame and preferred to work in self-imposed isolation, the art world began to take notice of his works and acknowledged his contribution in the 1970s.

In 1973, noted filmmaker Satyajit Ray made a celebrated documentary on his work titled "The Inner Eye". When Benodebehari died at the age of 76 in 1980, his influence on the Indian art scene at large was at its peak. -- Madhur Tankha

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