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Jamini Roy (11 April 1887 – 24 April 1972) was an Indian painter. He was honoured with the State award of Padma Bhushan in 1955. He was one of the most famous pupils of Abanindranath Tagore, whose artistic originality and contribution to the emergence of modern art in India remains unquestionable.
Jamini Roy was born on 11 April 1887 into a moderately prosperous family of land-owners in Beliatore village of the Bankura district, West Bengal.
When he was sixteen he was sent to study at the Government College of Art, Kolkata. Abanindranath Tagore, the founder of Bengal school was vice principal at the institution. He was taught to paint in the prevailing academic tradition drawing Classical nudes and painting in oils and in 1908 he received his Diploma in Fine Art.
However, he soon realised that he needed to draw inspiration, not from Western traditions, but from his own culture, and so he looked to the living folk and tribal art for inspiration. He was most influenced by the Kalighat Pat (Kalighat painting), which was a style of art with bold sweeping brush-strokes. He moved away from his earlier impressionist landscapes and portraits and between 1921 and 1924 began his first period of experimentation with the Santhal dance as his starting point. Jamini Roy had 4 sons and 1 daughter.
Roy began his career as a commissioned portrait painter. Somewhat abruptly in the early 1920s, he gave up commissioned portrait painting in an effort to discover his own.
Roy changed style from his academic Western training, and featured a new style based on Bengali folk traditions.
His underlying quest was threefold: to capture the essence of simplicity embodied in the life of the folk people; to make art accessible to a wider section of people and to give Indian art its own identity. Jamini Roy’s paintings were put on exhibition for the first time in the British India Street of Calcutta (Kolkata) in 1938. During the 1940s, his popularity touched new highs, with the Bengali middle class and the European community becoming his main clientele. In 1946, his work was exhibited in London and in 1953, in the New York City. He was awarded the Padma Bhusan in 1954. His work has been exhibited extensively in international exhibitions and can be found in many private and public collections such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. He spent most of his life living and working in Calcutta. Initially he experimented with Kalighat paintings but found that it has ceased to be strictly a “patua” and went to learn from village patuas. Consequently, his techniques as well as subject matter was influenced by traditional art of Bengal.
He preferred himself to be called a patua. Jamini Roy died in 1972. He was survived by four sons and a daughter. Currently his successors (daughters-in-law and grand children and their children) stay at the home he had built in Ballygunge Place, Kolkata. His works can be found in various museums and galleries across the globe.
In 1934, he received a Viceroy’s gold medal in an all India exhibition for one of his work. In 1954 he was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India, the third highest award a civilian can be given. In 1955, he was made the first Fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi, the highest honour in the fine arts conferred by the Lalit Kala Akademi, India’s National Academy of Art, Government of India.
In 1976, the Archaeological Survey of India, Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India declared his works among the “Nine Masters” whose work, to be henceforth considered “to be art treasures, having regard to their artistic and aesthetic value”.
On 11 April 2017 Google India dedicated a Google Doodle to celebrate Roy on what would have been his 130th birthday.
In 1929 while inaugurating Roy’s exhibition sponsored by Mukul Dey at Calcutta, the then Statesman Editor Sir Alfred Watson said:
“Those who study the various pictures will be able to trace the development of the mind of an artist constantly seeking his own mode of expression. His earlier work done under purely Western influence and consisting largely of small copies of larger works must be regarded as the exercises of one learning to use the tools of his craft competently and never quite at ease with his models. From this phase we see him gradually breaking away to a style of his own.
You must judge for yourselves how far Mr. Roy has been able to achieve the ends at which he is obviously aiming. His work will repay study. I see in it as I see in much of the painting in India today a real endeavour to recover a national art that shall be free from the sophisticated tradition of other countries, which have had a continuous art history. The work of those who are endeavouring to revive Indian art is commonly not appreciated in its true significance. It is sometimes assumed that revival means no more than a return to the methods and traditions of the past. That would be to create a school of copyists without visions and ideals of their own.
Art in any form cannot progress without encouragement. The artist must live and he must live by the sale of his work. In India as elsewhere the days when the churches and the princes were the patrons of art have passed. Encouragement today must come from a wider circle. I would say to those who have money to spare buy Indian art with courage. You may obtain some things of little worth; you may, on the other hand, acquire cheaply something that is destined to have great value. What does it matter whether you make mistakes or not. By encouraging those who are striving to give in line and colour a fresh expression to Indian thought you are helping forward a movement that we all hope is destined to add a fresh lustre to the country.”