The Light of Vision

A product of the Bengal School, Benode Behari Mukherjee found his own individual path and that made him different from most of his contemporaries on the Indian art scene, says Dr Varsha Das

Bengal had taken the lead in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in re-establishing a special place for Indian art. Rabindranath Tagore in Santiniketan and Abanindranath Tagore in Kolkata were as if crusaders, fighting in their own way, against the British influence in arts and culture. Abindranath himself painted the forms which were unique in their style and presentation, and it was not easy for anyone to imitate him. But just as Vishwa Bharati University at Santiniketan plays a significant role in the education of the day, Kala Bhavan, the Department of Art, made a place of its own on the Indian Art scene. It produced talents who not only enriched the art of India, but also evolved significant new trends which were noticed and appreciated in other parts of the world. Benode Behari Mukherjee was the product of the art movement popularly known as the Bengal School. He was born in Behala in Bengal in 1904. He studied in different local schools but could not cope with their demands due to his weak health. He had to discontinue his studies. The education at Santiniketan was of a different kind. The emphasis was at the flowering of one’s personality in the midst of nature.

Benode Behari joined Santiniketan in1917. Rabindrananth Tagore had invited Nandalal Bose to take charge of Kala Bhavan. This seemed quite suitable for Benode Behari. He joined Kala Bhavan in 1919. Nandalal Bose being a close associate of Abanindranath Tagore, had imbibed his style and themes, mythological and legendary figures portrayed in romantic colours and compositions. Later on Nandababu was ideologically influenced by Gandhi ji and began to paint the common man in bold lines and colours. But till then he too taught his students the same romanticism of Bengal School. Benode Behari learnt all that was taught to him and found his own individual path on which his creative freedom could flourish. That made him a little different from most of his contemporaries on the Indian art scene. He refrained from painting romantic and sentimental work as was being done by the artists of the Bengal School. His contemporaries in other parts of the country were either following European academic style or Indian miniatures. Benode Behari imitated neither. Following the aesthetic ideals of creation he explored different dimensions of wall and ceiling paintings, scrolls and screens. His themes were from everyday life, all that was around him, which included flora, fauna and man. Even arid, flat landscape of Birbhum, the northern most district of Burdwan Division of West Bengal, became immortal on his canvases.

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