Friday, February 08, 2019

The Bengali artist who popularised the ‘wet sari effect’ and invented a new genre of figure painting


Through his intimate works, Hemen Mazumdar changed the way women were depicted in Indian art.

Partha Mitter
Feb 06, 2019 · 11:30 am
'Monsoon', 25.5x36.7 cm, watercolour on paper. | Image courtesy: Kumar Collection.

Hemendranath Mazumdar (1898-1948) was born in a landowning family in Bengal. He enrolled at the art school in Calcutta against his father’s wishes. Having fallen out with the authorities, he then moved to the privately-owned Jubilee Academy. Disillusioned with both art schools, he decided to teach himself figure drawing by means of books obtained from England. The role of reproductions in art books in the formation of colonial artists cannot be gainsaid. In the 1920s, he, Atul Bose, and the great Jamini Roy – the last two completed the course at Calcutta government art school – became close friends, making ends meet with artistic odd jobs, such as painting scenes for the theatre, or producing portraits of the deceased for the family based on photographs, which was a popular ‘Victorian’ custom in Bengal.

The group decided to set up an academic artists’ circle to challenge the onslaught of the Bengal School against academic artists. The group brought out an influential illustrated journal, Indian Academy of Art, in 1920, to win the Bengali public, and organised exhibitions to showcase academic artists from all around India. In addition, they needed to counteract the Bengal School journal, Rupam’s dominance. To ensure wide readership, the modestly priced but elegantly produced Indian Academy of Art covered a wide variety of topics. In addition to articles on art theory that expatiated on naturalism, it supplied art news and gossip, travelogues, short stories and humorous pieces. However, the ultimate intention of the Indian Academy of Art was to publicise the works of Mazumdar, Bose and Jamini Roy (who remained with them for a while but was gradually moving away from academic naturalism.) Colour plates of their prize-winning pictures dominated the issues. Here among other paintings, Mazumdar’s first major painting, Palli Pran (Soul of the Village), on the ‘wet sari effect’ was published.

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