Contemporary Art of Bengal

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It is often said that like figurative work, water colour as a medium had always been the staple of Bengali artists. Though artists of Bengal had worked in variety of medium , more that what we can see in any other part of India, it nevertheless true that they have all shown a natural inclination towards watercolour.

Company-style water colour

 A water colour painting of the Company School whic shows a mix of opaque and transparent patches.

In fact though in rest of India, water colour came with the British, there is evidence that Bengali artists who worked in the courts of Nawabs of Awadh and Murshidabad also practised water colours. In the 19th century Alam Musabbir a painter from Dhaka had made a water-colour series of eid and Muharram processions.

Bengal also had seen the first surge of colonial English education. With it came a time of mushrooming in-house presses which needed water-colour works in two or three tones for illustrations. this gave a fillip to water-colour art. At Santiniketan artists developed a new style of water colour called the Wash-technique.

Even today while most national art competitions have abandoned the distinction between oil and water-colour works, in the Academy of fine arts , Kolkata a seperate award is given to watercolour entrees. 




        For long time in Europe, water colour was called a medium for the apprentice. It was what was to be learnt by a new artist before graduating to oil. Even Tempera was higher in status than water color. Besides water colour which was to be used on paper was always difficult to restore. This all changed with the beginning of the twentieth century , when newer techniques, better quality papers made restoration easy.

Watercolour painting of Nandlal Bose

        Also the invention of photography rendered the need for realistic painters unnecessary. Artists now started exploring their world beyond the confines of realism.

        Artists now started exploring their world beyond the confines of realism. Impressionism where vague impressions of nature became the style, gave water color new respectability and many artists took up water colour as their primary medium. Abanindranath Tagore improvised a new water color technique called the ‘Wash Technique’. It soon became so popular that it was adopted by almost all the newer artists of the time like Abani Sen and Pradosh Dasgupta.

Wash painting by Nandalal Bose

        In the post-independence phase, artists of the Society of Contemporary Artists and other important groups like Bikash Bhattacharya , Ganesh Paine , etc have all worked in water colours. Sanjay Bhattacharya and Paresh Maity too had started with water colours. However the problems with water colour are many fold. They have to be painted on paper for best effect. The quality of paper decides how long the colours would remain the same. And irrespective of all this it still remains more difficult to restore than work in any other medium.

Bikash Bhattacharjee's regular water-colour style

Painting by Bikash Bhattacharya

Watercolor by Paresh Maiti

        This problem is sending newer generation painters like Maiti himself towards Acrylic. With Acrylic, one can paint like water colour on paper and acrylic is easier to restore. Devajyoti Ray , one of the newer exponents of acrylic works in Bengal, uses the medium even on paper to get a water-colour like effect.

        But irrespective of all it limitations, water colour remains an important medium to which painters particulalry those from Bengal feel a romantic attachment.

Painting by Paresh Maity




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