The Paintings Of the Colonial Period
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modern paintingThe British hired artists to paint pictures of their homes in India. They also collected sets of paintings of Indian rulers, plants, animals, and birds. Outstanding works of this type were produced in the 1770's and 1780's by Shaykh Zayn al-Din for Lady Mary Impey, wife of a Supreme Court judge in Calcutta.

The British also established art schools in India. Traditionally, Indian artists had passed skills and techniques from father to son. Young artists had received their training in workshops. The new British-style art schools attracted many upper class students who were interested in Western techniques and styles. One of the best known of the early painters to work in oil on canvas was the portrait painter Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906).

The Tagore family of Bengal were important in shaping India's modern art. The Tagores stressed India's spiritual heritage. They felt it was important for an artist to use his or her "inner eye" rather than to follow the academic teachings of the British art schools. Abanindranath Tagore taught at the Government Art School in Calcutta only after he obtained the freedom to teach his students in his own way. Rabindranath Tagore, who won a Nobel Prize for literature, founded a new educational centre, Santiniketan, where art was an important concern.

Rabindranath Tagore brought together many different artists--from cities and villages, from Europe, and from other parts of Asia. He felt that students should see art in as many styles and media as possible and should have complete freedom in their form of expression. One of the most important contributions of the Tagores was bringing Indian artists in touch with their own heritage--ranging from the skilful paintings of Ajanta to the bold and beautiful art of village India. Rabindranath Tagore, interested mainly in literature, did not begin to draw or paint seriously until he was 67 years old. By the time of his death at the age of 81, he had produced nearly 2,000 works in ink and watercolour.

Amrita Sher-gil (1913-1941) gained international acclaim in the early 1900's. Her father was Indian, her mother Hungarian. Sher-gil studied in Paris but decided it was necessary to return to India to find her own style. Her paintings, many depicting village or country life, show both Indian and Western influences. Sher-gil's career was short; she died after a sudden illness aged 28.

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