A celebrated painter of modern India. A genius who was admired in many countries. His was an attractive personality, which combined boundless learning and a unique genius with unaffected modesty and gentle humor.
Nandalal’s father, Purnachandra Bose, was the manager of the Karagpur Tahsil of the Raja of Darbhanga. On 3rd December 1883 Nandalal Bose was born in Kharagpur, in Monghyr District of Bihar Province. His mother Kshetramani Devi died when he was eight years old. But her influence on him was strong. Kharagpur was a small village. The beauty of nature in Kharagpur made a profound impression on the young mind of Nandalal. The river that divides the village, the blue mountain range to the south, and all around, the paddy fields that changed colors every season; river, lake, forest, birds and animals – with this background naturally Nandalal was attracted to art.
At fifteen, Nandalal went to Calcutta to continue his education. There he studied at the Central Collegiate School for his Entrance Examination. Then he joined the General Assembly College to study for the F. A. examination. His heart was in art. He spent all his time collecting books and magazines to be able to study the works of great painters. He spent even the money meant for his school fees on art. Besides, in his house in Hatibagan he reared a number of pets. After he failed in the F. A. examination he joined the Metropolitan College. Even there he did not pass the examination. But his repeated failures did not lessen his interest in art.
To escape from the noises of the city he would often go to Banupur. At that time Banupur was undergoing a change and Nandalal noticed it. The new jute factory had ruined the beauty of the surroundings. Another factor that disturbed him was the condition of the laborers. He used to visit them where they lived and he felt sad. In addition to the exploitation of the poor, there was the British rule and the evils of casteism. Under such circumstances, naturally, he turned a revolutionary. At this time Devavrata Bose, who was his friend, relative and also Aurobindo’s follower, had a great influence on Nandalal.
He was married in his 20th year, when he was still a student. His wife Sudhira Devi was the beautiful daughter of Prakashchandra Pal. Pal was a rich man; he lived on one bank of the river, Nandalal on the other bank. After his marriage, his father-in-law took interest in his studies. Nandalal joined Presidency College. Even here he could not concentrate on his studies because he was passionately interested in drawing and painting.
Nandalal tried unceasingly to learn to paint. From his cousin Atul Mitra he learnt model-drawings, still-life and sauce painting. He copied the paintings of European masters. One such painting was Raphael’s ‘Madonna’. At this time Nandalal was also enthusiastic about Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings. One of Nandalal’s original paintings, ‘Mahasveta’, shows the influence of Ravi Varma. When he was yet feeling his way, Abanindranath’s paintings like ‘Buddha’ and ‘Sujata’, and ‘Bajra-Mukut’ suddenly lit up his path. Nandalal was overjoyed; and he recognized his Guru (the Master) in Abanindranath Tagore. What Swami Vivekananda was to Ramakrishna, Nandalal Bose was to Abanindranath Tagore.
One opinion Abanindranath used to express often: The disciple does not become an artist because of teacher; the disciple has to shape himself into an artist. But the Guru takes care of the disciple just as the gardener takes care of the sapling. Under such a Guru, Bose grew into a fine artist. Abanindranath was not just a teacher, he was a devoted artist. Bose spent five years as a disciple. He was given a monthly scholarship of Rs. 12.
Nandalal Bose was not only a great painter; he played a leading role in the renaissance of art. Bose’s genius and his original style were recognized by famous artists and art critics like Gaganendranath Tagore, Anand Coomaraswamy and O.C.Ganguli; these lovers of art felt that objective criticism was necessary for the development of painting and founded the Indian Society of Oriental Art. Nandalal Bose was awarded a prize of RS. 500 at the first art exhibition organized by this Society.
Rabindranath Tagore was very fond of Nandalal Bose. When Nandalal Bose took charge of the Art Department at Santiniketan, Rabindranath Tagore was extremely happy. Tagore honored Nandalal Bose with a welcome song. When Abanindranath saw Nandalal Bose’s ‘Swayamvara of Damayanthi’ he said, “I can smell the sweet scent wafted from the marriage mantapa.” (A mantapa is a special structure for an auspicious occasion.) The Japanese artist Okakura commented on Bose’s painting ‘Agni’ (Fire): “It has every thing, but the only thing it lacked was fire.”
Nandalal Bose illustrated many of Rabindranath Tagore’s works. ‘Chayanika’, ‘Crescent Moon’, ‘Gitanjali’ and ‘The Fruit Gathering’ are some of these works. Tagore wrote a poem about a painting called ‘Diksha’. Nandalal used to prepare the stage setting for Tagore’s plays. In 1924 Bose traveled with Rabindranath Tagore in China, Japan, Malaya and Burma. Ten years later the visited Ceylon (Sri Lanka) together. Nandalal was a great scholar and had keen powers of observation. During his travels he recognized elements common to Indian music and painting, and Chinese music and painting.
Gandhiji and Nandalal Bose were great friends. To this day there is a painting drawn by Nandalal Bose on a wall in Gandhiji’s Ashram in Sevagram. The painting shows Buddha carrying a lamb, which was chosen to be sacrificed at Bimbasara’s yajna, and which he saved.
Nandalal used a variety of subjects and materials for his paintings. His imagination could deal with material drawn from the Ramayana, the Mahabharatha, Sanskrit poems, the Puranas, from the lives of Buddha, Christ and Gandhiji and from Nature, and human life. He used different kinds of paper, cotton and silk canvasses. He used a ‘variety of colors. Sometimes instead of brush he used rags. His paintings were of various sizes. Nandalal Bose was given all the honors, which an artist can get. At the Allahabad Paintings Exhibition he was awarded a silver medal, and later, at Lucknow, gold medal. The Lalit Kala Akademi of India honored Bose by electing him as one of its fellows. Several universities conferred honorary Doctorates on him. Visvabharati University honored him by conferring on him the title of ‘Deshikottama’. The Government of India confers awards like ‘Padmashri’, ‘Padmabhushana’ and ‘Bharatha Ratna’ on those who have rendered meritorious services to the country. Jawaharlal Nehru requested Nandalal Bose to prepare the emblems for these awards. In 1954, Bose himself was given the award of ‘Padmavibhushana’. Bose wrote an important work on painting called ‘Shilpa-Charcha’. The Academy of Fine Arts in Calcutta honored Nandalal with the Silver Jubilee Medal. The Tagore Birth Centenary Medal was awarded to Nandalal Bose in 1965 by the Asiatic Society of Bengal.
Nandalal Bose died on April 16, 1966 at the age of 83.
As the melody lingers in the ear even after the song is over, the fragrance of Nandalal Bose’s personality survives though he has become a part of history. He has become immortal by the vast treasure of art he created.