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The Genius of Jamini Roy

Arts & Entertainment

The Genius of Jamini Roy

The famed Bengal artist Jamini Roy spent almost his entire life in a hunt for a unique vision of what he thought Indian modern art should reflect. His was a lifetime’s journey in search of a pictorial idiom which would be unique, Indian and, at the same time, modern. The Indianness emerged from the tradition of Bengal – Kalighat, terracotta temples and the patuas. As time went by, this tradition that he imbibed evolved into a more formal and less emotional look. It became more about the economy of style,” says Nirmalya Kumar of the London Business School and an avid art collector whose collection is focused on the Old Bengal school.

Jamini Roy’s early phase was decorative to an extent. There was a fair deal of colour and motifs. Later, his paintings turned minimalistic. “It was like Matisse’s works. A look that screams Jamini Roy. He spent decades before his final phase arrived. This is because he was a conceptual artist,” Prof Kumar says.

“Before shifting to an indigenous style of painting, Jamini Roy used to make portraits of foreigners and Indians. Like Atul Bose, he was one of the most accomplished portrait painters of his time. His Impressionist style of landscapes was also very popular,” says Dr Prakash Kejariwal, art connoisseur and founder-director of Chitrakoot, Kolkata’s oldest private modern art gallery.

It happened that Abanindranath Tagore’s idea of Indianisation of art and Rabindranath Tagore’s essay, “The Hermitage,” published in Prabasi, the famous Bengali literary magazine of the time, in 1908, which Jamini Roy read thoroughly in 1923, inspired him towards nationalism and searching for his roots.

“Being a highly talented Western-style artist, he brought his own genius into the patua style of works and created beautiful images on the Ramayana and Mahabharata and his iconic ‘Mother and Child’ pictures. That his work has artistic genius cannot be denied which is apparent from his following then and now,” Dr Kejariwal says.

Interestingly, his art drew the attention of great painters such as the three legendary Tagores – Rabindranath, Abanindranath and Gaganendranath. Even foreign art lovers like J.B.S. Haldane and his sister, Naomi Mitchison, said, “How is it that Jamini Roy’s pictures are so simple, but you go on looking at them for years and don’t get tired?” English painter Frederick Harry Baines (1910-1995) wrote in Art News and Reviews that Jamini Roy’s best paintings showed increased tension and economy.

Famed Russian film director Vsevolod Illarionovich Pudovkin (1893-1953) and renowned actor Nikolai Cherkasov (1903-66) used to collect his paintings, while a range of critics from different countries, including famous British novelist E.M. Forster wrote on Jamini Roy’s works.“True to his patua upbringing, he started churning out works for the masses by reproducing his own works. He did not want his paintings to be just museum and gallery pieces. His magnificent lines remained, while the colours were filled by his two disciples who worked devoutly with him for the last 15 years of his life. These are none other than Jamini Roy’s studio works, signed and approved by him. This was triggered by the huge demand for his works and the great artist wanted to make them available to people at large at affordable tags,” Dr Kejariwal says.

Jamini Roy once said, “Peace is not good for an artist. How can that happen? The mind strives and burns all the time in the creative activity of art.”

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