Born On: July 23, 1895
Born In: Sridharkhola, Bangladesh
Died On: March 1, 1989
An established artist and one of the brightest students from Santiniketan during Rabindranath Tagore's era, Mukul Chandra Dey was the first Indian to go overseas to study printmaking as a form of art and profession. Mukul Chandra Dey traveled to different cities across America and Japan to learn printmaking from established artists in the western world. Often Rabindranath Tagore accompanied his student during these journeys, both of them putting up as guests of imminent people from the world of art. Mukul Chandra Dey's journey abroad was not only for exploration of the western art world, but also to learn various nuances of art from the experts. Mukul Chandra Dey returned to India where he had spent much of his childhood and took up drypoint-etching as a profession. He is considered to have established this art form in India.
Mukul Chandra Dey was born on July 23, in the year 1895, in the Sridharkhola region of Bangladesh. Nothing much about his childhood has been recorded and therefore nothing about Mukul Chandra Dey's life in Bangladesh is known. It is from his learning years in Santiniketan that most of us have become aware of the extraordinary talent of Mukul Chandra Dey. He took lessons in Santiniketan from none other than the maestro Rabindranath Tagore himself and it is said that Dey was one of the most popular students in Santiniketan and also a favorite with Tagore. Many of his later travels to study art around the world were made in the company of Tagore who became Mukul Chandra Dey's mentor.
After completing his studies in Santiniketan, Mukul Chandra Dey made his first travel overseas to America in the year 1916. The purpose for which he had left for America was to study printmaking and later adapt the same as his profession. He was the first Indian to study printmaking abroad. After spending a few months in America, Mukul Chandra Dey traveled to Japan in the same year, this time to learn and master the technique of the art of etching. In America, he settled in Chicago to train under the expert hands of Bertha E Jaques and James Blanding Sloane. American artist Roi Partridge and his family were also constant companions of Mukul Chandra Dey during his stay in the country. It was within days of his stay in Chicago that Mukul Chandra Dey became a member of the Chicago Society of Etchers, a membership that he retained throughout his life even after he left America, traveled to Japan and subsequently returned to India to start his own work.
His mentor Rabindranath Tagore accompanied Mukul Chandra Dey in his journeys to Japan. The master and the student settled in the Japanese cities of Tokyo and Yokohama for their research on etching and printmaking. Mukul Chandra Dey got his initial lessons in Japan from stalwarts in the world of art Yokoyama Taikan and Kanzan Shimomura. Both Rabindranath Tagore and Mukul Chandra Dey stayed in Yokohama as the guests of the famous silk merchant Tomitaro Hara. His sprawling complex the Sankeien housed the best collection of Nihonga Japanese and Chinese paintings. The works of the renowned Sesshu Toyo were also housed at Sankein, thus providing Mukul Chandra Dey an opportunity to take a look at some of the most wonderful pieces of creations in art.
Brief Halt in India
Mukul Chandra Dey spent only one year in America and Japan, returning to India in the year 1917 to put to work the different art forms which he had learnt in both countries. Etching was the personal favorite of Mukul Chandra Dey and he made etchings as a form of fine art. In order to make a living out of painting, Mukul Chandra Dey started drawing portraits of the famous and the rich in India. Sometimes he turned these portraits into etchings, a practice which helped Mukul Chandra Dey to practice his choice of art as well as to earn a living out of the passion of his life. He stayed in India for three years before making a journey to Europe.
Travel to Europe
In the year 1920, Mukul Chandra Dey set out on a journey abroad yet again. This time too it was for the purpose of studying different forms of painting. His first stop in Europe was London where Mukul Chandra Dey enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art, learning under Professor Henry Tonks and then at the Royal College of Art in London. Throughout his stay in London, Mukul Chandra Dey practiced etching and engraving under established English artists Muirhead Bone and Frank Short. Though he had always dreamt of visiting Paris at some point of time in his life to complete his education in etching and printmaking, he never did so, choosing to return to Santiniketan following the words of his much loved teacher and world famous sculptor Stanislaw Szukalski. A report claims that it was the Polish sculptor who had convinced Mukul Chandra Dey to relinquish his Paris dreams. Stanislaw Szukalski was much impressed with the drawings of Mukul Chandra Dey and told him that just going to Paris or for that matter any other European nation will not help anything in his style. Rather, Mukul Chandra Dey may get engulfed in the culture of Paris, a city which has the capacity of brainwashing the people of all regions around the world with its glamour and grandeur!
Return to India
Mukul Chandra Dey's mentor Rabindranath Tagore was also against the idea of his pupil traveling and settling in any European city. Needless to say, Tagore was very happy when the former returned to India forever. Mukul Chandra Dey went on to introduce the concept of drypoint etching in the world of Indian art, a concept popular only in European art. What made the works of Mukul Chandra Dey so different from his contemporaries was the fact that he used the concept of drypoint etching to portray objects that were very familiar to Indian pattern of life. For instance, the subjects of his paintings always revolved around the rivers and streams, the baul singers, the marketplace of Calcutta and the distinct ways of life of the Santhal tribes which lived in and around the district of Birbhum in West Bengal.
The drypoint etchings may have used a concept seen only in the West, but the subjects were always as seen near Santiniketan, his alma mater. Therefore, Mukul Chandra Dey's art pieces gradually became popular not only with critics but also among the common man. Moreover, Rabindranath Tagore also provided Mukul Chandra Dey the opportunity to experiment with other different art forms when he opened the Vichitra Club in Jorasanko, a club that was set up to encourage young and upcoming artists to give expressions to their ideas.
Keeping in mind his growing popularity, Mukul Chandra Dey was offered the position of the Principal of the Government School of Art in Calcutta in the year 1928. He was the first Indian to hold this position of importance in the art circuit of Calcutta. His contribution to the school, apart from improving the quality of art produced, lay in the fact that he made it possible for girls to become a part of the institution of art. Prior to Mukul Chandra Dey's stint as principal, the Government School of Art was open to only boys.
Masterpieces by Mukul Chandra Dey
Mukul Chandra Dey was best known for drypoint etchings of villagers from Bengal. Sometimes, Mukul Chandra Dey painted drypoint etching creations with watercolors, colored pencils or mere ink. Dey continued to paint the portraits of famous people from India and abroad, a trait which he had started during the early stages of his career. Some of the most famous personalities that Mukul Chandra Dey painted are Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Albert Einstein, members of the Tata family and Josephine MacLeod.
Mukul Chandra Dey died on March 1, 1989. The artist's home in Santiniketan, Chitralekha, has been transformed into the Mukul Dey Archives by the Government of Bengal.
Mukul Chandra Dey's paintings and other works of art are housed at museums across different cities in India and abroad. The Indian Mueum in Kolkata, the National Gallery of Modern Art in Mumbai, the National Gallery of Art in New Delhi and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London are some places where we will find the maximum collection of Mukul Chandra Dey art pieces.
1895: Mukul Chandra Dey is born on July 23.
1916: Made his first journey abroad to America.
1916: Made his first journey to Japan. Mukul Dey learned printmaking and drypoint etching in both countries.
1917: Returned to India for a period of 3 years.
1920: Made his first journey to London to study.
1928: Became first Indian principal of Government School of Art in Calcutta.
1989: Died on March 1.