Jamini Roy born on 11th April 1887 was a masterful artist. He was a pupil of Abanindranath Tagore and is lauded for his originality and contribution to the Indian Modern Art scene.
You might know him from his bold and iconic folk style paintings with flat figures and bold outlines. He was formally trained in western art at the Government Art College, Kolkata and got his diploma in fine arts from here and began his career as a portrait painter. His creative mind however soon rejected his academic training for a unique style inspired from Bengali folk traditions. His paintings hence provided the optimum contrast of traditional ideas being executed with a modern sensibility earning him a reputation during the late 20s and early ’30s. His works display a strong influence of the Kalighat Pat style which was also an art form that led to him developing his signature artistic style.
Roy is described as a machine because he created over 20,000 paintings during his lifetime which averages to 10 paintings daily and yet managed to maintain his artistic integrity and quality of work.
Roy’s work gravitated towards images of Santhals and simple villagers. His work was targetted at the ordinary middle class in spite of being adored by the rich and powerful. Even the former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi applauded his work and declared him a “national artist” but he never gave it too much thought because he thought ordinary people were the voice of his work. His reputation even managed to cross the seas and his work was and is appreciated in cities like London and New York where he displayed his works.
In the year 1934, he was facilitated with the Viceroy’s gold medal and over 20 years later given the title of the Padma Bhushan. He died in Calcutta on the 24th of April 1972, at 85, irrespective his legacy lived on and the honours kept rolling in.
Following his death, Indira Gandhi ordered that a section of his house for the preservation of a section of his house as an art gallery. The Ministry of Culture also posthumously declared him one of the “nine masters” and his work was considered a national treasure.He was a class-conscious painter who contributed to the creation of a new image and message of art.
Roy grew up in a small village called Belliatore in West Bengal. His journey with art began with imitation of the designs of carpenters, the local doll makers, and even the potters and weavers in his village. Clearly, for him the medium of art didn’t matter, it was all about the message. His love for bold and expressive contours comes from the time he spent with the local village idol-makers.
Though Roy rejects his initial art training at Calcutta School of Art his technical prowess can be attributed to this education which is also the skill that enabled him to earn a livelihood when he first started out. He began expressing his ideas of impressionism only in later paintings.
By 1930, he completely switched to traditional styles inspired from Patua scroll paintings and Kalighat Pat style. He used natural pigments from flowers, chalk, mud, local rock dust mixed with glue from tamarind seeds and sometimes even the white of an egg.
Sources reveal that he never sold a painting for over Rs 350 during his lifetime. He did this so that it could be afforded by the middle class who was the focus of his art. Unfortunately for his message, his art ended up selling for $10,000 after gaining international traction.
Roy’s paintings like Christ with the Cross was estimated at £8,000-£12,000a and Santal Drummers costed close to £8,000-£12,000. His ardent followers, however, believe that the iconic artist would disapprove of the exorbitant commercial value of his art if he were alive today.
His most iconic piece of work is “Ramayana“, created in 1946. The magnificent piece is spread across 17 canvases and is considered his magnum opus. This masterpiece was created in Kalighat pata style using natural colours, instead of dyes. Roy later on his life also created individual pieces which were replicas capturing the various moments from the series. A few of these paintings are being preserved and displayed at the National Art Gallery of India. They are also on display at the Victoria Memorial Hall. The story of Ramayana he narrates begins with the story of sage Valmiki. Through the series, he completes a circle and takes us to the hermitage after Sita’s aagnipariksha. The canvases are frequently characterized by loud, decorative flowers, beautiful landscapes, and animated birds and animals which are representative of the Bengal School of Art. The lines in his paintings are simple, bold and roundish derived from clay images. The imagery leads to complex moments which express subtle yet powerful emotions. The complete series collection can be found at Sarada Charan Das’ residence “Rossogolla Bhavan” accompanied by 8 other large-scale originals. The Das residence now the harbours the largest private collection of the legend’s paintings with over 25 of the master’s originals on display.
Another one of his notable works is “Bride and two Companions” made in 1952. It is tempera made on a card of 75 x 39 cm. The painting champions the magnificent indigo which is representative of classical Bengal. The traditional elements like the red sandal paste on the bride’s hands add to the indigenous aspects of the art. Jamini Roy uses colours that at first seem merely decorative but actually have a meaning and reason. The figures in the paintings are very flat and the painting as a whole is heavily outlined. Roy displays the sensibilities of a traditional woman with no addition of artificial beauty. The mythological background shows the folk-art inspiration that is quintessential of his work.
Roy’s work is a journey to the folk style traditions and a tribute to his homegoing. He opened up a new field of art presenting a perfect mix of indigenous and ingenious.