Birds, Animals, Figure Studies

1. Bishu, Santiniketan, 25 May 1921

2. Gora, Santiniketan, 25 May 1921

3. Hanuman, Baroda, 19 October 1939

This set of images, which range from a delicate pencil drawing of 1918 of a masonry painter in Calcutta to the characteristic vigour of Nandalal’s brush and ink sketches of the later decades, exemplifies the role of drawing as a live record of the seen form.

Moving from what the eye saw to what the mind remembered, the form then took shape by a recording eye and mind that motored the hand. In the words of Nandalal Bose’s colleague at Santiniketan, Dinkar Kowshik – “A drawing thus becomes a seismograph of the artist’s intimate personality. While drawing a form, the artist ‘draws’, ‘pulls’, ‘rigs’, ‘seizes’ towards himself the essential qualities of the observed object.” (Dinkar Kowshik, “The Drawings of Nandalal Bose”, Nandalal Bose Centenary Volume, Santiniketan: Vishvabharati, 1982) Transported from the sketch book to the postcard, Nandalal’s keen visual ‘recordings’ of living creatures, human and non-human, are always touched with empathy – whether it be for a cow and her calf, a mother hen and her chicks, a leaping langoor, a tousle-haired boy on a tree or a withered old lady cooking.

A historic site such as Bagh emerges here, not through a reference to the cave paintings that were being copied there by a team of Santiniketan artists in 1921, but through a dense sketch of a Bhil woman and a hut of the region. Similarly, Haripura as the site of the famous Congress pavilion and art exhibition of 1938 is seen here through a herd of grazing bullock. The master draughtsmen also kept turning from minutely detailed sketches to flowing lines, from painted blobs to rough paper collages, as he frenetically put images on postcards for his friend, Ramesh Charan, and for the many others he would be painting and writing to.