Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Painter Jamini Roy by Anjan Sen



JAMINI ROY (1887-1972) was one of the most innovative Indian painter of the 20th century. Perhaps he is the most prolific Indian painter who has painted and drawn more than 15,000 paintings and drawings. When he started painting, there were few trends in Bengal:

1. European academic style, painters like Bamapada Bandhadhaya(1851-1932), Sashi Hesh(1869-?), Hemen Majumdar (1894-1948) Atul Bose(1898-1977).

2. Bengal school led by Abanindranath Tagore (1871-1951) and his student like K.N Majumdar (1891-1979), Mukul Dey (1895-1992) and many others.

3. Indian cubism of Gagendranath Tagore (1867-1938)

4. Late Bengal school of Nandalal Bose (1882-1966)

5. Above all the appearance of Rabindranath Tagore(1861-1941) as a painter from 1928.

6. Thereafter younger contemporaries - Binode Behari Mukherjee (1904 - 80) and Ramkinkar Beij (1910-80)

Jamini Roy started his training in art from Calcutta Art School around1903 when the Italian artist O.Ghilardy was the Asst. Superintendent (till 1905). He also learned from Percy Brown who was the principal of the Art School from 1909. Abnindranath Tagore was the acting principal of the college from 1906 to 1909 and Jamini Roy might have learned from him also. He started as a painter of academic style and became a significant painter of that style. However, he did not complete his art education then and went instead to Allahabad for a job. Later he went back and took again art education which he continued up to 1916 (according to the artist Purnachandra Chakrabarty he was a student of the art school from 1903 to 1916, 13 long years, according to art historian Kamal Sarkar he was with Art School from 1905 to 1916 ). He drew the attention of Abanindranath Tagore who requested him to paint the portrait of Debendranath Tagore in 1914.

Portrait by Jamini Roy

He was invited by Abanindranath Tagore to participate in the exhibition for the ex-students of the art school in 1908. This was the time when he discontinued from art college for sometime. In the meanwhile Jamini Roy entered various occupations. He worked at the printing press in Allahabad, worked in a litho press in north Calcutta, worked in the theatres, worked for a Jewish greeting card dealer and used to paint greeting cards in hundreds. He also worked for a cloth shop and for a wood-engraver in North Calcutta.

Jamini Roy was born in Beliatore village of Bankura district. Bankura is famous for traditional art and crafts. It had close contact with the neighbouring state of Orissa and traditional art of Orissa had an impact on Bankura art. Rajput miniature painters settled there and they had interaction with local artists. The strong group of Fauzdar community artists existed in Bishupur,the cultural capital of Bankura district, till last century. From childhood he was travelling through the district and noticed all the art forms. His father was interested in art and used to teach him drawing by using his nails. His father realised his interest in art and even the district officials felt the same. He was sent to Calcutta for admission into art school. He was very successful in Western style of academic painting. Painter, Atul Bose said "Our most competent portrait painter in the Western realistic academic mode." But Jamini Roy was feeling something different. He spent his childhood in village in and he developed his art base through traditional art forms. His training in Western art gave him some kind of refinement.

Sketch by Jamini Roy - reminds of Paul Klee

Till 1920s he continued painting in oil in western style following the Impressionist and post-impressionists. He had also assimilated Egyptian, Byzantine and Classical European art. From late twenties onwards he realised that the Western style is not working for him although he was appreciated for his work. In the language of Stella Kramrisch(1898-1993), "his home is a village of Bengal and in his art he has returned there, portraying such gods and people as he knows and loves." He started painting in a traditional manner with elements from the folk paintings, kalighat patas, scroll paintings of patuas, motifs terracotta temples of Bengal, clay and wooden dolls, maxi kanthas (embroidered quills), designs of Baluchari sarees and tribal art of Santhals and other elements of the local community.

In his art, there can be noticed elements of Dainhata (Burdwan district,centre for traditional stone sculpture of Bengal) in particular the stone sculptures. He has seen prints of Impressionist and post Impressionist Western art but till 1940 or later he had not seen the prints of Picasso or of contemporary French painters. Abanindranath’s article about Indianisation of art and Rabindranath Tagore's essay “The Hermitage” ("Tapaban") published in Prabasi ,1316 Bengali Year or 1909 (which Jamini Roy read thoroughly and underlined some portions in 1923 as observed by Bishnu Dey) inspired him in the search of his roots.

Jamini Roy - Figure in white

Perhaps Sunayani Devi (1875-1962), sister of Gaganendra and Abanindra was the first non-traditional and self trained artist who used pata, folk dolls and folk motifs in her painting. Jamini Roy was in touch with the Tagore family. He had seen her paintings inspired by her works and acknowledged her unique style. No information is available whether he has learnt from Jhareswar Chakraborty, a painter of patua tradition who initially taught at the famous Bengal School together with the artist Asit Kumar Halder(1890-1964).

Their drawings and sketches reveal their connection with traditional art forms and some of them are uncommon like the drawings which remind us of the embroidered quills and the Baluchari sarees. Also there can be detected elements of Dasavatara cards and manuscripts, as well as of paintings of the Bankura region. The designs of alpana and tribal wall paintings of the Western part of West-Bengal is strongly present. The clay toys and horses and other animals were translated into paintings. Jamini Roy also wrote an essay in Bengali called: "Patua Silpa". In it he details his observation of pata (scroll painting and square patas-non kalighat style). He was associated with Gurusaday Dutta's (1882-1941) scheme of collection of patas. In a letter Jamini Roy wrote: "I could have given you the best collection since I had seen so many of them." Even few years back Patua painters existed in his village Beliatore. Jamini Roy presented 5 of his folk style paintings, 3 of them being about the Western Bengal's Raibense folk dance (dance of war). They were bought in 1935 for the collection for the museum started by Gurusaday Dutta. Here we may mention about the difference between Kalighat patas and Jamini Roys drawings and paintings. Kalighat Patuas are trained indigenously and they are traditional artists for generations, shifted to Calcutta from various parts of Bengal . Though Jamini Roy belonged to a family of rural origin he was trained in an art school. Jamini Roy later realised that merely copying from the Western style will not make him become a true artist; also he wanted to go a different path from the Bengal school of Abanindranath (though for a little while he tried out that Bengal School style) and started painting in indigenous style with his own innovation. He mentioned that, "painting like Europeans is not possible for me - I cannot paint like the Chinese, Persians or Mongols, for all this is not possible since I am not in that atmosphere. Therefore I have to search for my way out of my own quest. My aim is to have a different style. Now it is accepted that I am having a different style." (Interview with Bishnu Dey in Bengali, translated by the author).

Jamini Roy - Riverside

This made him an unique painter and a great artist of 20th century. This style also added a new dimension to Indian art.

Interestingly enough, Jamini Roy continued for some time to paint parallel in Western style. In an exhibition review of 1929, The Statesman wrote, "he is still experimenting with Western idioms and particularly with Western colour schemes." Again in 1938 when reviewing another exhibition, The Statesman wrote: "There is also a painting called Two Gentleman; it is very much in the manner of Cezanne and post-impressionist school." (Hamal Sarkar, 1979, Baromas). He made few portraits in 1936-37 for Kamal Sarkar's family in Rajsahi.

Jamini Roy - man with yellow face

He drew the attention of great painters like Gagendranath Tagore, Ababnindranath Tagore and Rabindranath Tagore and Indian intelligentia like Dineshchandra Sen, Jadunath Sarkar. Bhandarkar, Dr. Sunitikumar Chattopadhyaya, Shahid Suhrawardy, poet Bishnu De, scholar Dr.Sarasikumar Saraswati and poet Sudhirndaranath Dutta. Even foreign art lovers highly appreciated him. JBS Haldene and his sisters Naomi Mitichison said how is that "Jamini Roys pictures are so simple, but you go on looking at them for once or years and you don't get tired."

Jamini Roy - Houses


Jamini Roy - Hillscape


The English painter Harry Bainess wrote in Art News and Reviews, he found that Jamini Roy’s work had in no way suffered in the contrary his best paintings showed increased tension and economy. A French critic Harve Masson-A wrote an article on him in L'Art: "He was a son of the Conquest who wanted to be the son of Independence". Famous Russian film director Pudovkin and actor Cherkasov collected his paintings. Various critics from different countries including English novelist Foster wrote about his works. Also various collectors from China, France, Russia, England, Germany, USA collected his paintings. In Jamini Roy's drawings and paintings figures of Ramayana, Krishnaleela, Gasthaleela ,Radha-Krishna, Christ, Shiva-Parvati-Ganesha, mother and child, kirtaniyas, folk dancing, village man and woman, Chaitanya Deva, decorative flowers, landscape, birds and animals frequently appeared. His lines are simple but leads to complex moments. In the Kalighat patas lines are simple, bold and roundish initially derived from clay images. Nandalal Bose's drawing originated from sophistication of Classical Indian sculpture, Ajanta, Japanese wash, Bengal school of painting and also from traditional painting. Comparing Jamini Roy and Nandalal Bose Dr.Kalyankumar Ganguli wrote,"Thus Pata mannerism revealed by them was improvised as they thought fit and not in the practised technology hereditary preserved from remote times. Nandalal had been probably quite aware of this drawback and thus had avoided to adopt the pata linearism and had saved his works being cast in pata style."

Jamini Roy wanted his art to be spread among common people and not to be considered only as a museum piece or gallery show. He sold his paintings at very affordable price .He made copies of his paintings, sometime around 50 copies of the same painting to meet the collectors' demands. Apparent simplicity of his paintings attracted common people apart from art lovers and critics.

Jamini Roy - mother and child

Jamini Roy told Mrs.Milford that "peace is not good for an artist. How can it be? The mind strives and burns all the time in the creative activity of art ." He struggled throughout his life and showed a path how tradition can be interpreted in contemporary world and how to spread art to common people.

Part II

In this book less known examples of painter Jamini Roy’s drawings, sketches and designs are discussed. They can be sub-divided into four groups:

  1. Sketches in pen and ink – which resembles Bankura style of pata paintings, terracotta, and clay toys. These are basically key drawings for final paintings. Though he has taken the elements from the above mentioned items lines are more sophisticated in nature, which reminds us to his training in art school. In the patas of Bankura traditions there are a few groups and styles.


Jamini Roy - sketches of women


Jamini Roy - sketches

Beliatore Patas are more primitive, closer to Santhal Patas. Jamini Roy born in Beliatore watched the patuas from his childhood. Famous patua of that time was Dayal Chitrakar whose son Gokul Chitrakar informed that Jamini Roy spent lot of time with the patuas in his childhood and learned colours and lines from them initially.

Jamini Roy’s sketches are mixture of these two styles of patuas. Terracotta motif off course elements of Beliatori patuas are there. Perhaps the primitiveness in his sketches has come from Beliatore patas.

2. The style of Bankura clays toys and dolls has been followed by Jamini Roy who presented it like a series of designs, some of them are made in paper stencils and afterwards touch up with colours have being carried out. These are all in colours – gouache. Here Jamini Roy was experimenting how those figures can be presented in paintings.

Jamini Roy - devotion

3. Embroidered Kantha and Baluchari saree designs.


4. Few designs are drawn repeatedly in a similar way on papers. These are also planning of artists how these designs can be combined with other figures and motif in a painting. All these combinations in the background helped him in the preparation of his final painting.


Jamini Roy - pen and ink


Jamini Roy - pen and ink


These are the works of 30’s and 40’s when Jamini Roy was shifting from his impressionistic style and academic painting towards folk art. It is also observed lines of these preparatory sketches having better movement than his final paintings in some cases.

Examples are there a 3 – 4 figures and motifs are drawn on a single page to study how they can be structured in the final paintings. These sketches are unique in nature giving us some exceptional presentation from the mythic world, the world of folk tales, tribal man and village girls. It is interesting to view how nature has transformed into his arts.

In traditional paintings of Bengal of post Pala period faces with protruding eyes are strongly drawn. Similar protruding eyes can be seen in mediaeval Jain paintings. Jamini Roy followed the similar style his own way. It is not similar to this style of traditional image makers of Bengal who are painting long eyes.

Jamini Roy - tempera on canvas (20 by 26.5 inches)

Jamini Roy’s pattern of form in his drawings and sketches is the main key note to the ultimate expression in his paintings. This sense of form derived from the Western method of determining from in divided planes which, surprisingly, is also is the method found mostly in our folk tradition of paintings as well as in wooden and clay toys. This simplified basic form of our own folk tradition attracted Jamini Roy, who, already adept in the Western conception of form found an easy way of expressing himself in the folk manner. Jamini Roy, in order to achieve the folk manner ( or rather Indian manner) tried to soften down the rigid squares of the planes by eliminating the angularities and bringing the lines into a rounded suave form, [Pradosh Dasgupta].

Jamini Roy - rickshaw

Another feature of the sketches of Jamini Roy is that absence of decorative elements which are strongly present in his finished paintings. However his sketches and drawings are two dimensional like his paintings.

Percy Brown said that the chief characteristic of the art of Ajanta, and in fact, all oriental painting, lies in its adaptation of line. The painting of the East is largely an art of line [Indian Painting].

Jamini Roy - mosaic pattern

Same is true in the case of Jamini Roy, specially with regards to his sketches and drawings collected in this book. Even Jamini Roy’s paintings are drawing oriented.


Anjan Sen


Note: In this article some references are quoted from Bishnu Dey's review in Visha Bharati Quarterly XXXV/I; Agnibarna Baduri, E. Kaaler Silpachinta, 1966; Jogehchandra Bagal, History of Govt. College of Arts and Crafts, 1966; Kamal Sarkar. Jamini Ray Prosonge, Baromas, Mar-Apr. 1979.


^ Top

« Emergence of Sri Chaitanya Cult in Bengal | Anjan Sen Literary Bio Data »