Manindra Bhushan Gupta (1898 – 1968)

Manindra Bhushan Gupta

There are several artists in our country whom we fail to remember, but whose unparalleled contribution to the art in our country has given it a new dimension. Manindra Bhushan Gupta is one such artist.

He was born in 1898 in a village called Autshahi in Dhaka. Back then Dhaka was a part of undivided Bengal. Manindra Bhushan was raised in this village till he was 11 years old. His education was taken care of by a private tutor at home. It is said that Manindra Bhushan’s interest in art was roused by the artists near his neighbourhood who used to work at making idols for Puja and he even started to sketch on slate with chalks from an early age. Slowly he moved on to paper. The year 1909 is an important chapter in Manindra Bhushan’s life. He had come to Santiniketan to study at the Brahmacharya Ashram, a decision that changed his life forever.

Manindra Bhushan used to sketch in his personal style when at Santiniketan. A few years later artist Asit Haldar arrived in town. Under his tutelage Manindra Bhushan formally started to learn the craft of painting. At that time Manindra Bhushan and his classmates published a handwritten journal, Prabhat. Back then it was the norm for the young boys and girls at Santiniketan to go over to Jorashako Thakurbari during the festivals in the month of Maagh. Manindra Bhushan was one of the many young boys who brought his sketches to show to Abanindranath Tagore, who in turn used to pore over the sketches and critique them for their benefit. Lord Carmichael inaugurated the art exhibition at Society of Oriental Art in 1916 in which four of Manindra Bhushan’s paintings were displayed. This was how he came to know and be associated with the art world.

Abanindranath Tagore advised Manindra Bhushan to carry on with his artistic endeavours at the end of his term at the Brahmacharya Ashram but Manindra Bhushan wanted to be a graduate and so he left for Dhaka’s Jagannath College, although art remained his relentless companion throughout. Soon most exhibitions at Dhaka began to feature clay statuettes and slate engravings created by him. Kala Bhavana was established around this time and Nandalal Bose had taken the reigns as the chief tutor there. Asit Haldar had joined the institution too. Around this time Manindra Bhushan had joined the Non-cooperation Movement under Gandhiji’s leadership in Dhaka which resulted in his failure to obtain a degree from his college. He finally joined Kala Bhavana in 1921. Ramendranath Chakraborty, Benodebehari Mukherjee, Ramkinkar Baij were his contemporaries. The current exhibitions follow sequentially from the exhibitions back then.

Alongside Nandalal, Benodebehari, and Ramkinkar, Manindra Bhushan remains an exceptional example from the first generation of students at Kala Bhavana.

Benodebehari Mukherjee says about him,

“Manindra Bhushan was my classmate and intimate friend. It is not possible for me, therefore, to discuss in an impersonal manner his life and work as an artist…

Manindra Bhushan received his first lessons in art under Asit Kumar Haldar in the olden days when the school at Santiniketan was a Brahmacharya Ashram. Thereafter he joined Kala Bhavana as a regular student and had systematic training in drawing and painting under Nandalal Bose. If Nandalal laid the foundation of his art education, the superstructure was raised by Manindra Bhushan himself. His wide study of the art of China and Japan, and the acquaintance that he developed with the impressionistic and other European schools of modern art, helped him towards a broad based and catholic view of art.

Along with his academic pursuit of the history of the origin and development of art in different parts of the world there was in him an extraordinary desire to see and to understand the life around him in all its variety and movement. He visited a great number of places in India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), covering miles after miles on foot.

The work of Manindra Bhushan shows both variety and range of his subject-interest and technique. He has done landscapes, treated puranic and historical themes, and, occasionally dealt with the life of the people in the countryside. On the technical side, he was an indefatigable experimenter. He freely used wood-cuts and lino-cuts for the graphics. For painting proper, he made use of water colours, oils and tempera…

We may take for example the elements of Chinese and Japanese art of which traces may now and again be found in modern Indian art. It is true that Nandalal Bose, following in the footsteps of Abanindranath, was one of the first to acclimatize those foreign elements with the art of India, and Manindra Bhushan derived his Asian outlook from his masters. But, it is equally true that Manindra Bhushan added a great deal to this heritage.”

Benodebehari Mukherjee has touched upon every aspect of his artistic endeavour. We too have tried to encapsulate the various aspects of his art in the current exhibition. Just as the tales from the Puran as illustrated by him are important, so is the facet of Asian influences and outlook that have influenced his work. The Himalayas, nature, and the tales of the Puran are the inspiration behind his body of work. Russian artist Nicholas Roerich, an authority on the Himalayas says,

“In your art you express the traditions of the great Bharata and this is so near to my heart. It gives me great joy to see that in your art you are an untiring seeker and precisely this gives vitality and strength to your creativeness. Multifacedness of Nature, great Teachers and Heroism all these great images resound in your heart, and he who continuously aspires to the great carries in himself a seed of this essence. The artist and the author show their inner self in their aspirations. In your pilgrimage to the sanctuaries of the Himalayas you show the same heroic understanding of the paths of ascent. For many people such sanctuaries as Kedarnath and Badrinath have lost their meaning, but he who thinks of true evolution guards in his heart also the reverence for sacred places, which are connected with heroic and historical unforgettable traditions.”

Through these one can fathom the extent of the genius of artist Manindra Bhushan. Despite learning his art from the Bengal School, he remained fascinated by the European study of human anatomy. One such rare notebook filled with sketches and studies of the European school of depicting anatomy has been kept at the exhibition.

Meanwhile Ananda Coomarswamy requested Rabindranath Tagore to send an artist to Ananda College in Sri Lanka to head the Department of Fine Arts. Manindra Bhushan was chosen to take up this responsibility and so he set sail for Colombo in 1925. Once there, he travelled extensively and copied the etchings on the walls of Sigiriya, Anuradhapura and Kandy. Local and modern reviews published his writings following this. This made the entire country take notice! Artists from the Bengal School had been copying the wall art from the caves of Ajanta and Baagh for a long time but Manindra Bhushan brought in a completely new dimension to this practice.

We have managed to unearth ten of these rare paintings which we present to you in this exhibition.

The exhibition is our homage to Manindra Bhushan, the artist, whose work has sunk under the forgetful rungs of public memory.

My heartfelt thanks to Reena and Abhijit Lath. I must acknowledge Rijusree Koley Paul, an upcoming artist herself, who has assisted me in curating this exhibition. I am also grateful to Ruchira Gupta, daughter of Manindra Bhushan Gupta from who I had the opportunity to look through the paintings. I would also like to thank the Akar Prakar team.

Debdutta Gupta

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