A journey to the roots of Jamini Roy’s art

‘Three Pujarins’ byJamini Roy. Photo: Special Arrangement  

Jamini Roy, the eminent Bengali artist, counted among the early modernists of twentieth century Indian art, is being featured in a new exhibition in Mumbai at the National Gallery of Modern Art. Titled ‘Jamini Roy (1887 - 1972): Journey to the Roots’, the exhibition is curated by art historian and critic Ella Datta, and comprises 200 artworks that chart the development of the artist’s unique aesthetic and visual language.

Born in Beliatore village in Bankura, West Bengal, Jamini Roy holds an indelible place in the history of twentieth century Indian art as a pioneer — in that he was among the significant Indian artists to forge a visual style that was both modern in its sensibilities and resolutely Indian. For Roy, this comprised a journey from the European naturalism in which he was trained to finally the folk pictorial arts of Bengal that he would embrace and make his own.

This ‘journey’ to his ‘roots’, involved a period of experimentation with technique, materials and forms to arrive at the quintessential ‘Jamini Roy’ that was to become all the rage in middle class Bengal during his time; and that remains his aesthetic legacy. This journey as the title suggests, informs the underlying logic of the NGMA exhibition.

Major milestones

Organised thematically, not least because of the difficulty of chronologically arranging Roy’s paintings — given his apathy for dating his artworks — the exhibition is likely to strike the visitor as an experimental lab in visual imagery.

For the Jamini Roy lover, this means a chance to see his lesser known works that involve elements very uncharacteristic of his eventual destination in his artistic journey, besides a chance to behold the full range of his oeuvre.

Ms. Datta has carefully included the major milestones in his aesthetic development with specific regard for the range of his artistic expression. If the art lover, familiar with what was to become Roy’s quintessential style, is surprised by what she sees, this would not be wholly accidental. Ms. Datta highlighted these aspects during her curator’s walk and called specific attention to certain milestones in his development.

Look out then for the painting of the Santhal woman on the ground floor, which surprises one with its sensuousness — so uncharacteristic of Roy’s later almond-eyed women, a stellar example of which lies just a few feet away ,under the staircase, in the form of the famous ‘Three Pujarinis’.


Look out also for the development of the minimalism that would define his style, in the drawings of Bengali women that quite transparently show the source of his inspiration in Chinese calligraphy, particularly in the volume of the brush strokes he achieves.

As Ms. Datta pointed out, Roy was to reject this style eventually since he found it too urbane and sophisticated for his purpose — which was to make his art accessible to the Indian public and not just the art connoisseur.

This purpose becomes apparent as one traverses the wall and becomes wonderfully striking in the ‘blue boy’ and the almost graphic art style rendering of the ’three Vaishnavites’ — which marks the beginnings of another Roy quintessential in the use of colour.

For the uninitiated, the NGMA exhibition is an excellent introduction to one of India’s preeminent artists and an insight into how an artist develops her art and finds her voice.

In the words of Ms. Datta, “Jamini Roy emerged at a time when there was no one doing the kind of work that he attempted to do and the strength and boldness of his work is still manifest to us today.”

The exhibition closes on July 12.

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Printable version | Oct 15, 2021 11:17:45 AM |

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