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Do You Know How the Bengal School of Art Contributed to Indian Nationalism?

The Bengal School of Art played a pivotal role in fostering Indian nationalism during the British Raj. Led by figures like Abanindranath Tagore and Nandalal Bose, the movement rejected British artistic norms and revived indigenous styles, drawing inspiration from Indian mythology, folk traditions and Mughal miniatures. By promoting a distinct Indian aesthetic and cultural identity through their art, the Bengal School artists contributed significantly to the resurgence of national pride and cultural independence, influencing the broader Indian nationalist movement of the early 20th century.

Their works not only celebrated India's heritage but also served as a powerful tool for cultural resistance against colonial dominance, inspiring generations to embrace their own artistic traditions and assert their cultural autonomy says one of India’s leading new-generation contemporary artists Shantala Palat in this blog.

bendal school of art contribution to Indian nationalism


What are some of the facts about the Bengal School of Art’s contribution to Indian Nationalism?


The Bengal School emerged from the Swadeshi movement.

The Bengal School emerged from the Swadeshi movement, which promoted self-reliance in early 20th-century India, particularly in Bengal, to resist British colonization. Swadeshi movement called for social, cultural, political, and especially economic reforms to free India from British control. It encouraged boycotting of British goods in favor of domestic products to boost Indian industry. Culturally, it aimed to replace Western literature and arts with works reflecting uniquely Indian qualities, focusing on Hindu themes and ancient Indian painting styles.


The Bengal School was a form of artistic resistance that fueled Indian nationalism.

During the British Raj (1858-1947), traditional Indian painting lost popularity as British collectors favored European styles and Company Paintings. These works depicted Indian subjects through a European lens, reducing rich cultural traditions to mere exotica. The Bengal School arose to counter this, drawing on Mughal influences and Rajasthani and Pahari styles to celebrate Indian traditions and daily life.


The Bengal School had contemporary British supporters.

Despite rejecting British artistic traditions, the Bengal School was significantly influenced by one of its founders, Ernest Binfield Havell, an English art historian. As principal of the government school of art in Calcutta, Havell encouraged students to draw inspiration from Mughal miniatures instead of British models. He played a crucial role in helping artists like Abanindranath Tagore and Sunayani Devi develop and promote the Bengal School's distinct style through educational systems.


Nandalal Bose, a Bengal School artist, had a special relationship with Gandhi.

Nandalal Bose, a student of Bengal School leader Abanindranath Tagore, became a key artist of the movement. Frustrated by British disregard for Indian art traditions, Bose embraced Swadeshi ideals to create distinctly Indian modern art. Inspired by the Ajanta murals, he depicted Indian mythology and village life. In the 1920s and 30s, he formed a close relationship with Gandhi, who commissioned him for political works. Bose's sketches of Gandhi’s 1930 Dandi March portrayed him as a humble yet strong hero, contributing significantly to Indian modernism, identity, and nationalism.


Asit Kumar Haldar was a prominent artist of the Bengal Renaissance.

Asit Kumar Haldar, the nephew of Rabindranath Tagore, a prominent figure in Bengal's literature, music, and art scene, studied painting under Jadu Pal and Bakkeswar Pal, both esteemed Bengal artists. He collaborated with Nandalal Bose to document the Ajanta cave paintings and frescoes from 1909 to 1911. Haldar's artworks blend Buddhist art with Indian history, imbued with a sense of idealism.

He was the first Indian appointed as principal of a Government Art School and became the first Indian elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, London, in 1934. Beyond his artistic and poetic endeavours, Haldar, like his peers from the Bengal Art School, dedicated himself to social reforms and educational initiatives aimed at fostering Indian nationalism among present and future generations.


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