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Evolution Of Kalighat Painting: History, Themes, Techniques

Kalighat painting, originating in 19th-century Kolkata is a significant Indian art form known for its bold outlines, vibrant colors, and expressive themes. Reflecting the culture, society, and beliefs of its time, it has left a lasting legacy despite facing challenges influenced by societal changes. Despite its ups and downs, Kalighat painting remains an integral part of India's artistic heritage, deserving further exploration says, the leading contemporary artist in India, Shantala Palat.


What is the Origin of Kalighat Painting?

The exact origins of Kalighat painting are debated, but it likely began in the early 19th century, possibly coinciding with the construction of Kolkata's Kalighat Temple. As Kolkata grew in economic and administrative importance under British rule, the temple drew both devotees and European visitors, providing employment opportunities for rural artisans, including patuas, or scroll painters, from West Bengal. These artists, known for their Patachitra scrolls depicting mythological tales, contributed to the emergence of Kalighat painting as a vibrant artistic expression and storytelling medium.


What about the History of Kalighat Painting?

Patuas migrating to Kolkata initially sold Patachitra scrolls but shifted to paintings on chouka frames due to rising demand and time constraints. These paintings, often featuring deities like Kali, were minimalistic, lacking backgrounds or excessive decorations, typically portraying one or two figures with basic colors. This adaptation marked the origin of Kalighat painting, which responded to its era's needs by utilizing British-made mill paper and chemical paints instead of traditional materials. Unlike many traditional art forms, Kalighat painters embraced these innovations for faster, more economical, and more efficient creative processes.


The Method & Techniques of Kalighat Paintings - Kalighat painting often involved a collaborative effort within families or groups, with different members handling tasks like outlining, coloring, and final touches. Basic materials like natural colors sourced from plants and household items such as oil lamp soot and turmeric roots were used. Initially done on cloth scrolls or canvas, the art later transitioned to paper from mills. Brushes were rudimentary, made from goat tail or squirrel hair. This simplicity lent Kalighat paintings their distinctive charm.


Religious Paintings - In addition to religious themes, Kalighat paintings also popularized the Bazaar Style, blending traditional and Western styles by depicting deities as everyday individuals, as seen in "Shiva's Outing with Family," where Shiva is portrayed as a father carrying his son Ganesha, with Parvati dressed as an ordinary Bengali woman.


Kalighat Paintings of Society - The Kalighat painters, known for their astute observations of political and social changes, depicted societal issues such as the zamindari system and murder cases, alongside positive achievements like Shyamakanta Banerjee's heroic deeds, reflecting both the evils and triumphs of their time.


Babu and Bibi Kalighat Paintings - The iconic babu and bibi paintings of Kalighat depict the pretentiousness and Westernization of the upper middle class, reflecting complex social and cultural dynamics including the position of women, the influence of Western culture, and religious and social double standards, offering insight into the evolving urban life of 19th-century Kolkata.

The Decline of Kalighat Painting - The decline of Kalighat paintings in the early 20th century was attributed to the popularity of cheap printed copies, leading many painters to abandon the art form, yet its legacy endured through the inspiration it provided to future artists, notably influencing renowned painters like Jamini Roy.


What about Some of the Famous Kalighat Paintings and Artists?

While many Kalighat paintings were created anonymously due to the collaborative nature of their production, contemporary artists like Jamini Roy were heavily influenced by the style, with their bold brushwork and themes depicting everyday life, inspiring a new generation of artists such as Anwar Chitrakar, Kalam Patua, and Bhaskar Chitrakar to carry forward this traditional art form.

Where Are the Kalighat Paintings?

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London boasts the largest collection of Kalighat paintings worldwide, including over 600 pieces donated by Rudyard Kipling's son in 1917, while other museums such as the National Museum of Wales, Indian Museum in Kolkata, Naprstek Museum in Prague, and Pushkin Museum in Moscow also feature notable collections of this traditional Indian art form.

Kalighat Painting Today

Despite facing challenges and declining popularity since the 19th century, Kalighat painting persists in West Bengal, with Chitrakars continuing the tradition alongside descendants of the Patua family, who have diversified their professions but still engage in this art form, hoping for its continued survival and recognition.


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