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The first traveling exhibition outside Asia to highlight the works of Nandalal Bose (1882-1966) will make its only East Coast stop at the Philadelphia Museum of Art this summer. Rhythms of India: The Art of Nandalal Bose (June 27 – Sept. 1, 2008) includes nearly 100 of the artist’s finest paintings in a variety of styles and media. Considered the father of modern art in India, Bose worked to regenerate and redefine India’s art during the region’s emergence from British colonial rule and transition to an independent nation in 1947. The San Diego Museum of Art organized the exhibition in collaboration with the government of India and the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi. The paintings on display were selected from nearly 7,000 of the artist’s works, all of which are held by the NGMA as the result of a gift to India from the artist’s family. The exhibition marks the first time a survey of Bose’s artworks — which are considered Indian National Treasures — has traveled to the United States.
“We are delighted to present this rare retrospective that examines one of South Asia’s great 20th century artists,” said Darielle Mason, the Stella Kramrisch Curator of Indian and Himalayan Art. “Bose’s art is inextricably bound to the story of India’s national awakening and independence, and at the same time is deeply personal and nuanced. Although he was highly influential to a younger generation of artists, his work represents an area of modern art that has been little understood in the United States. We are particularly delighted to introduce these works to a broad public in the context of this Museum’s fine collections of earlier painting and sculpture from India.”
Throughout his 60-year career, Bose utilized a wide range of styles and techniques. Many of his works depict devotional and literary subjects and natural, tribal and village life scenes in modes that draw from indigenous Indian, Japanese and Chinese sources. The exhibition, organized by Sonya Rhie Quintinilla, the San Diego Museum of Art’s Curator of Asian Art, contains six sections that highlight the depth and variety of Bose’s work and the different formats he used, from intimate monochrome sketches on postcards or scroll-like wash paintings to brightly colored monumental murals. It also examines his relationships with key figures including Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) — a major political and spiritual leader during the independence movement — and the writer, educator and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941).
Among the exhibition’s key works is an image of Gandhi, whose use of non-violent resistance to gain Indian independence inspired subsequent civil rights leaders around the world. The striking black-and-white linocut Dandi March (1930) depicts Gandhi on the famous 248-mile journey he and his followers took to make salt from seawater in defiance of a British colonial tax. Bose’s image is now considered one of the most iconic portrayals of the leader. The section devoted to Gandhi also includes seven posters that Bose created at Gandhi’s request for the 1938 Haripura Session of the Indian National Congress — a group at the center of the independence movement. To produce these striking posters, Bose used local materials, including handmade paper and colors ground and mixed from the earth. The large-scale paintings celebrate Indian village life and culture in bright colors and lively scenes. Flute and Drum Players (Shanaiwala) (1937) illustrates one such energetic scene in which a pair of village musicians engage in an enthusiastic musical performance.
Bose’s adoption of Japanese and Chinese techniques to illustrate India’s heritage, national pride, and spirituality is evident throughout the exhibition. Many of these Asian-inspired paintings evoke scenes from nature. In Darjeeling and Fog (1945), Bose captured the picturesque Bengal village of Darjeeling in the style of a Chinese landscape painting. He borrowed from East Asian artistic traditions again in Floating a Canoe (1947), in which two Eastern Indian tribal fisherman move with the rhythm of the sea. In Dolan Champa (1952), a delicate depiction of a flower common in Bengal, Bose went so far as to write his name vertically in a Chinese-style seal.
Bose also depicted traditional Indian religious icons in modern styles, as illustrated in Saraswati (1941), a fresh take on the Indian goddess of knowledge, learning and music. In Annapurna (1943), he depicts the Hindu god Shiva’s wife — whose name translates as “abundance of food” — together with her ascetically emaciated husband, as a comment on the great Bengal famine of the same year, caused by the British stockpiling rice for World War II military rations. In Sati (recreated in 1943 from a prize-winning work he did as a student in 1907), Bose reveals one of Siva’s other wives in a moment of supreme devotion. He painted it in a style reflecting the delicacy of Indian Mughal “miniatures” while using a Japanese-inspired wash technique.
Visitors to a simultaneous exhibition, Multiple Modernities: India, 1905-2005, can see more than 25 drawings, prints and watercolor paintings created by Bose’s contemporaries and successors. Multiple Modernities (on view in the Museum’s second floor Gallery 227 from June 14 – Dec. 7, 2008) reveals the broad range of artistic sources, traditions and experiments in visual culture that emerged before and after Indian independence. “These wide-ranging works by many of India’s preeminent 20th and 21st century artists offer visitors an excellent context in which to view Nandalal Bose’s art and connect it with South Asia’s vibrant contemporary art scene,” Mason said. The works drawn from the Museum’s own collection include a rare and never-before-exhibited group by Rabindranath Tagore. Nine other works are lent by the Herwitz Collection of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. Multiple Modernities was organized together with graduate students in a Halpern-Rogath Curatorial Seminar at the University of Pennsylvania.
Following its showings in the United States, Rhythms of India will tour museums throughout India. The exhibition is organized by the San Diego Museum of Art in collaboration with the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi. Rhythms of India is made possible by the generosity of Roohi and Rajiv Savara, the Savara Art Foundation, Priya and Mukesh Assomull, the Arts and Culture Fund of The San Diego Foundation, and Gayatri and C.K. Prahalad.
In Philadelphia, the exhibition is made possible by Reed Smith LLP and BNY Mellon. Major support is provided by a grant from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, with additional funding from The Pew Charitable Trusts, Rajiv and Kamla Gupta, Dr. David R. Nalin, Sundaram Tagore, and other generous donors.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the San Diego Museum of Art has published a 304-page catalogue with nearly 100 color plates, along with essays by a renowned and international group of art historians, historians and contemporary Indian artists ($44.95 paperback, $64.95 cloth).
About Nandalal Bose
India’s changing political climate influenced Bose’s life and art greatly. When Bose was born in 1882, Britain had ruled India for nearly 25 years, and anti-British sentiment was at an all-time high. Indian artistic traditions had been pushed aside by rapid westernization and mass production, and most artists were forced to work in either European or photographic modes. As a child, Bose exhibited an extraordinary facility for drawing, and in 1905, he enrolled in Calcutta’s Government School of Art to study with the modern master Abanindranath Tagore.
At the outset of his career, Bose worked closely with Abanindranath and his visionary uncle, the writer and educator Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), on a cultural regeneration movement sometimes known as the “Bengal Renaissance.” Bose studied earlier Indian art, including Mughal “miniature” painting and the 5th-century Buddhist murals at Ajanta. In 1919, Rabindranath selected him as the first director of art at Visva-Bharati University. The Nobel laureate (1913) had founded this experimental institution at Santiniketan in rural Bengal in order to foster traditional Indian teaching methods instead of British-style education.
There, Bose developed his interest in indigenous Indian art and village craft traditions — passions he continued to cultivate throughout his life. Bose’s portrayals of everyday Indians as strong, proud people caught the attention of Mahatma Gandhi, and, in 1925, the two met through a mutual friend. Gandhi commended Bose’s ability to create beautiful works of art from simple materials, and urged the artist to build and decorate a township from local materials in celebration of the Indian National Congress’s session in 1936. Gandhi was impressed by Bose’s creation, and asked him to make more elaborate settings for subsequent Congress sessions, including the 1938 session at Haripura. Although Bose had previously been recognized as an important artist, his relationship with Gandhi helped transform him into a national icon, and he was even contracted to design and decorate the new Constitution of India, which came into effect in 1950.
After Bose retired from teaching in 1951, he produced highly personal monochromatic ink paintings that pare his home landscape to a few essential lines. In his years as an art instructor, his openness to various styles and techniques made his students feel free to work in whichever medium best suited their talents. Many of his students became major names in Indian contemporary art, and their works are also represented in the exhibition.
About the Collection of Indian and Himalayan Art
The Philadelphia Museum of Art houses one of the finest collections of South Asian art in the United States, including the spectacular Pillared Temple Hall (16th century) from Southern India; paintings and sculptures from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet; an important group of textiles; and a variety of decorative arts. Works from the Indian and Himalayan Art Collections are displayed in a series of galleries (224, 227, 229–232) on the second floor. The William P. Wood Gallery hosts changing collection exhibitions primarily devoted to 16th- through 20th-century art from India. Gallery 232 presents art from the Himalayan region, including Buddhist and Hindu paintings, metal images, and ritual implements.