Born On: December 3, 1882
Born In: Haveli Kharagpur, Bihar
Died On: April 16, 1966
Highly influenced by renowned artist Abanindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose gave India its first experience of modern Indian style of painting. With an exemplary touch of renaissance in Indian painting, Nandalal Bose played a significant role in shaping up the modern face of traditional art through his deep thoughts of nationalism, philosophical inclination, awareness of the classical and folk art, all derived from his mentor and guide - Abanindranath Tagore. Apart from Tagore, E.B. Havell (principal of Calcutta Government Art School), Ananda Coomaraswami (famous art critic and historian), and Sister Nivedita (disciple of Swami Vivekananda) helped Bose in his transformation in his later years. Through his discoveries and experiences, he was able to present India with the modern face of art, while keeping the innate, indigenous roots intact.
Nandalal Bose was born to Purnachandra Bose and Kshetramani Devi in the obscure town of Haveli Kharagpur in Monghyr district of Bihar Province. His father was the manager of Kharagpur Tehsil of the Raja of Dharbhanga, while his mother was an orthodox woman with great beliefs in God and rituals. Nandalal was the third amongst five children. The eldest was brother Gokulchandra, followed by sister Kiran Bala. He was succeeded by sister Kamala and a younger brother Nimai. Nandalal was fortunate to inherit some of the painting virtues from his parents. While he attained the discipline and a hardworking nature from his father, his mother's interests for drawing and craftsmanship helped him move ahead. Thus, Nandalal gained interest in modeling images since childhood and created images of Durga, Ganesh, elephants, and bulls that were exhibited in fairs and festivals.
Such was Nandalal's fascination for colored pictures that he searched for them in his old books and magazines during his formal education. This drew more attention towards his hobby that was evident from his making sketches instead of taking down notes in school. At 15 years in 1897, Nandalal moved to Calcutta to pursue his higher studies. He took admission in Central Collegiate School and befriended Kantichandra Ghosh, who later became the famous translator of Omar Khayyam. He, later, joined General Assembly College to study for F.A. examination, though his first interest was still art. As expected, Nandalal failed to clear the examination and joined Metropolitan College. To his dismay, he failed to clear the examination this time as well. However, this did not reduce his love for art even a single bit.
After marriage, Nandalal was advised by his father-in-law, Prakashchandra Pal, to join Presidency College in 1905 to study commerce. However, he was still unable to concentrate on his studies due to his constant passion for drawing and painting. Not leaving his passion behind, Nandalal learnt model drawings, still life, and sauce painting from his cousin, Atul Mitra. He tried copying paintings of European painters, the most famous being Raphael's "Madonna". He was highly influenced by Raja Ravi Varma's paintings as well. One such example was Nandalal's original painting "Mahasveta", inspired by this great painter. While he was still in search of a mentor, he came across Abanindranath's paintings, "Buddha", "Sujata", and "Bajra-Mukut" that elated Nandalal instantly. He started regarding Tagore as his Guru and thus, worked on similar themes. Too shy to ask Abanindranath to accept him as a disciple, Nandalal took his classmate Satyen, along, whom he entrusted the task of speaking on his behalf. He had also taken with him the paintings that he had made. Not just Abanindranath, E.B. Havell who was present there too was taken aback by the paintings, especially his re-creation of the European painting "Mahasveta".
Abanindranath himself was an artist, apart from being just a teacher. Hence, he learned whatever came across from his students. This quality was perfectly absorbed by Nandalal. Though initially, Nandalal was guided by Harinarayan Basu and Iswari Prasad, Abanindranath himself started supervising him later on. At this time, Nandalal was his only student and served as his disciple for five years. He also earned a scholarship of Rs. 12. Abanindranath emphasized highly on the mythological stories of Ramayana and Mahabharatha. But Nandalal was extremely impressed by Buddha's and Bethala Panchavimshathi's stories. One such highly acclaimed work was "Sati". He accepted the modern western techniques of painting and portraiture, such as stained glass, gesso work, frescoes painting, and stencil cutting and printing. Nandalal, along with Surendranath Ganguly, was very close to his master Abanindranath, who proudly declared the two guys as his right and left hand. In 1907, the Indian Society of Oriental Art was formed by some English enthusiasts of Indian culture and few Indian artists and scholars. In an exhibition organized by the association, Nandalal displayed his two works "Sati and Siva" and "Sati". He was awarded a cash prize of Rs. 500 which he utilized for touring the entire nation, along with another artist, Priyanatha Sinha. Both of them visited Gaya, Banaras, Agra, Delhi, Mathura, and Brindavan. He was a common man's artist and wanted every person to have his painting in their homes. On his trip to Banupur, he sketched a number of pictures and sold each for 4 annas (25 paise). On discovering this act, Abanindranath went to Banupur and purchased the entire lot.
Association With Sister Nivedita
Apart from Abanindranath Tagore and E.B. Havell, Nandalal was highly inspired by Sister Nivedita as well, who was a dedicated disciple of Swami Vivekananda. Her initial training in painting was an insight for Indian culture that touched Nandalal to a great extent. She visited Calcutta with Jagdishchandra Bose to see Nandalal's paintings and was highly moved. She advised him to make paintings of Ajanta Frescoes. He went to Gwalior, assisted by Venkatappa Halder and Samarendra Gupta, and made copies of the frescoes. On her death, Nandalal stated "I have lost my guardian angel. I was introduced to Ramakrishna and Vivekananda by her".
Association with Rabindranath Tagore
Nandalal Bose drew inspiration from Rabindranath Tagore as well, who in turn was highly impressed by Nandalal's works. As such, Nandalal sketched many of Tagore's works, like "Chayanika", "Crescent Moon", "Gitanjali", and "Fruit Gathering". He became the principal of Kala Bhavan (Art Department) at Shantiniketan in 1922. He used to prepare the stage for Tagore's plays. Both traveled to China, Japan, Malaya, and Burma in 1924. The two visited Ceylon ten years later in 1934.
Nandalal Bose was bestowed with several awards and accolades. He was conferred with the title "Deshikottama" by Vishvabharati University. He was honored with the Silver Jubilee Medal by the Academy of Fine Arts in Calcutta. It was during those years that the Government of India started the awards of "Padma Shri", "Padma Bhushan", "Padma Vibhushan", and "Bharat Ratna". Jawaharlal Nehru asked Nandalal Bose to design the emblem of these awards. In the year 1954, he was honored with the Padma Vibhushan award. He was the second artist to be elected as the Fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi (India's National Academy of Art) in 1956. Later in 1965, the Asiatic Society of Bengal presented him with the Tagore Birth Cenetary Medal.
Nandalal Bose was married to 12-year old young girl, Sudhira Devi in 1903. The match was fixed by Nandalal's mother Kshetramani Devi during childhood who promised Sudhira Devi's mother to marry her as her future daughter-in-law. Though his mother passed away, the promise was fulfilled. His first daughter, Gauri, was born in 1907-08 who brought in good luck to Nandalal's life in terms of monetary aspects.
Nandalal Bose's health started deteriorating in his old age and he gave up all hopes of physical powers. Even his mental illness started playing hide and seek with him. Towards the end, he was unable to recollect faces ever. Bose breathed his last on April 16, 1966. Condolences poured in from people all over on the demise of a master artist.
1882: Was born in Haveli Kharagpur, Monghyr district, Bihar
1897: Took admission in Central Collegiate School, Calcutta
1903: Married Sudhira Devi
1905: Entered Presidency College
1906: Visited Abanindranath Tagore
1907: Awarded Rs. 500 for "Sati" at Indian Society of Oriental Art exhibition
1907-08: Daughter Gauri was born
1922: Became Principal of Kala Bhavan at Shantiniketan
1924: Toured China, Japan, Malaya, and Burma with Rabindranath Tagore
1954: Was honored with Padma Vibhushan Award
1956: Elected as Fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi
1965: Conferred upon with Tagore Birth Cenetary Medal
1966: Passed away at the age of 82 years in Calcutta