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Ramkinkar Baij (Bengali: রামকিঙ্কর বেইজ) (26 May 1906 – 2 August 1980) was an Indian sculptor and painter, one of the pioneers of modern Indian sculpture and a key figure of Contextual Modernism.
Baij was born in an economically modest family in the Bankura district of the modern state of West Bengal in India. In that sense, he was a Bengali, not an Adivasi, as many people usually think. The surname Baij derived from Boidda and Boijo consequently. His family surname was Poramanik and was abandoned by him in the early 1925. However, many of his artistic creations have been inspired by the lifestyles of rural dalit or Adivasi (Santhal) communities living in and around his place of work Santiniketan.
While in his mid-teens Ramkinkar used to paint portraits of Indian freedom fighters involved in the Non-Cooperation Movement against the British rulers of India. At age of 16 he got noticed by the renowned journalist Ramananda Chatterjee. Four years later Ramkinkar joined the Visva-Bharati University at Santiniketan as a student of fine arts. After obtaining a diploma from the university he went on to head the sculpture department. Eminent painters like Beohar Rammanohar Sinha and Jahar Dasgupta, both students of Shantiniketan were his disciple.
Professor R. Siva Kumar, an authority on the Santiniketan School of Art wrote, “Ramkinkar Baij was born on 25 May 1906 in Bankura in West Bengal, into a family of little economic and social standing, and grew, by the sheer dint of talent and determination, into one of the most distinguished early modernists in Indian art. As a young boy he grew up watching local craftsmen and image-makers at work; and making small clay figurines and paintings with whatever came his way. His talent, prodigious for his age, attracted the attention of local people, especially of the nationalists with whom he was associated. This led him in 1925, on the advice of Ramananda Chatterjee the nationalist publisher and apologist for the new Indian art movement, to mark his way to Kala Bhavana, the art school at Santiniketan. At Santiniketan, under the guidance of Nandalal Bose and encouraged by its liberating intellectual environment, shaped by Rabindranath Tagore, his artistic skills and intellectual horizons acquired new depth and complexity. Soon after completing his studies at Kala Bhavana he became a member of its faculty, and along with Nandalal and Benodebehari Mujhrejee played a decisive role in making Santiniketan the most important centre for modern art in pre-Independent India.
Ramkinkar Baij responded to the natural zest for life, and took a great interest in human figures, body language, and in the general human drama. Modern Western art and pre and post-classical Indian art were his main point of reference. He used local material advantageously, and worked combining the skills of a modeller and a carver. His paintings too take on expressionist dimensions like his sculptures, which are filled with force and vitality. While Baij was making a portrait of Tagore, during one sitting, the old poet advised him to approach the subject as a tiger and through the observation suck into its blood. After this, in Baij’s own words, he “did not look back”.
Some of his sculptures are preserved and displayed at locations including Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan, Late Rani Chanda Collection & Academy of Fine Arts, Calcutta, H.K. Kejriwal Collection & Karnataka Chitrakala Parishat, Bangalore, Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, Reserve Bank of India, New Delhi, Jane and Kito de Boer, Dubai, and the Delhi Art Gallery in New Delhi.
A bronze bust of Rabindranath Tagore made by Baij was placed in 1984 at an outdoor monument in Balatonfüred, Hungary, on a promenade named for Tagore alongside Lake Balaton. Tagore had received cardiac treatment at the (Szívkórház) at Balatonfüred in 1926.
The bust had been sculpted as Rabindranath neared the final year of his life. According one source, Baij regretted for doing it because there was a belief that completion of any sculpture or portrait of living person might cause an early death, and Rabindranath died right after making the bust.
The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in New Delhi has the original concrete casting of the bust, from which the bronze bust was prepared, and dates the original to 1940, one year before Tagore’s death. Apparently Tagore did not die “right after” the bust was completed.
When “West Bengal Culture Minister Jatin Chakraborty unveiled Ramkinkar’s bust of Tagore in Hungary, he had remarked that it did not “look” like Tagore, and should probably be replaced. When people like Satyajit Ray swiftly responded, the matter was laid to rest”.
A differing view holds that many prominent persons including Maitreyi Devi (poet and novelist) supported Chakraborty, and that later the effort to replace the bust was cancelled by then cultural minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.
The once controversial bust has been replicated by the Indian government and given by it to a number of foreign countries including Columbia, Finland and Israel.
Some time between 2003 and 2009, the outdoor sculpture at Balatonfüred was replaced with a different appearing bust of Tagore, and the original bust by Baij was moved to room 220 of the State Hospital for Cardiology in Balatonfüred, which is the same room where Rabindranath Tagore had stayed in 1926.
Ramkinkar was a bachelor throughout his life; he lived with Radharani Dashi. He didn’t want to have any bindings in his life and never married despite insistence by his parents. While was in Shantineketon he used to have negative remark by his known faces for this kind of lifestyle. He had a melodious voice and good sense of music. Though he liked to sing Tagore song and Lalongiti he also listened to the western classics provided by Satyajit Ray (film maker). He liked animals as much as he liked children. He made Radharani and his nephew Dibakar Baij as his legal heirs. He came to Shantiniketon at his 19 years and stayed there till his death.
On 23 March 1980, Baij was admitted to P G Hospital. He was suffering from disease of the prostate gland and lost all sense of appetite. Doctors performed a shunt operation. Expenses of his treatment were borne by the West Bengal government and the principal of Visva Bharati. He died on 2 August in Kolkata. His body was cremated by his nephew at Shantiniketan. He made his last sculpture Durgamurti during his stay at hospital.