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Benode Behari Mukherjee

(7th Feb 1904 - 11th Nov 1980)

Tribute to a key figure of contextual modernism

Artist's Profile

"The person who is not roused by a pulsating image, a small touch or sound, can make no sense of the word 'beauty'. A person who neither knows, nor thinks beyond his worldly needs has no use for beauty."

For someone who spent a majority of his life with weak sight and finally became blind at the age of 50 to produce such an enviable body of works in the field of art and literature, not getting deterred by disability, is the very personification of the above mentioned quote, a quote which he once wrote aptly describes him as someone who understands beauty and life, for the works of Binod Behari Mukherjee are themselves representation of beauty and life in all its forms. His work had always overflowed the banks of tradition and were based on his experience and understanding of nature. His murals, which display his understanding and the essence of environmental and architectural nuances, make him one of the stalwarts of Indian visual arts movement.

Childhood And Early Life

Binod Behari Mukherjee was born into a highly literate family in the year 1904. During his childhood, he suffered from an illness that affected his vision, making him blind in one eye and myopic in the other. As such, he was not able to pursue systematic education and instead, had to complete his schooling from a Brahmacharya Ashram. But he developed a passion for painting and in order to hone his talent, he, in 1919, joined Santiniketan's Kala Bhavan for a Diploma in Fine Arts, where Nandalal Bose and Rabindranath Tagore were his gurus, with the former being his art teacher. Mukherjee excelled in painting, a talent that was recognized and encouraged by his teachers. In 1925, he became an art teacher himself at the same institution and taught till 1949, inspiring many students, who would later become celebrated artists like Jahar Dasgupta, K.G. Subramanyan, sculptor & printmaker Somnath Hore, designer Riten Majumdar and filmmaker Satyajit Ray. During this period, along with teaching, Mukherjee also began painting and sculpting extensively, proving this to be one of his most creative periods.

Later Life

Mukherjee also began to travel widely to understand and experience the various forms of nature. In 1949, he was invited to the position of a curator of the Nepal government museum which he accepted. During his stay in Nepal, Mukherjee did a series of drawings and watercolors that captured the rich art of the kingdom. After his return from Nepal in 1951, he taught at the Banasthali Vidyapith, a women's educational center in Rajasthan for a year after finally, settling in Missouri in 1952, along with his wife Leela. Together, they started an art training school over there to provide training to artists and art teachers. The verdant mountains of the Himalayas inspired him to make landscape his major subject once again, creating works that captured the transient aspect of nature with mountains and mists being the dominant motifs. In 1958, Mukherjee joined Shantiniketan's Kala Bhavan again as a faculty and later became its principal. All these years, his eyesight was gradually failing and following an eye operation in 1956, Mukherjee completely lost his sight at the age of 52. But as with all great artists, physical disabilities couldn't stop him from his creative pursuits, even if it was the eyesight, perhaps the most important tool of an artist. But here he proved that it is the inner vision that makes a great artist and he began to paint, draw and sculpt depending only upon this quality to see from the 'inner eye'.

Works

At Shantiniketan, Mukherjee developed a style that veered away from overt symbolism of literary subjects and mythological descriptions to portraying simple representations of his surroundings, capturing the landscape and life in and around the university. He gave more importance to color, line and texture. His sketches, watercolors and drawings were a celebration of life. Apart from nature, Mukherjee took his inspiration from Chinese and Japanese art as well. During this time, he also began experimenting with mural paintings, which he felt were more expressive as murals were intricate and descriptive, allowing him to present his view of life more comprehensively. In 1940, Mukherjee painted a mural in the ceiling of the hostel dormitory, which is considered to be the first of his significant murals. This mural represented the landscape and essence of local villages that had been presented, as a critic puts it, in a 'continuous web of intricate images and unfolds it around the central pond to the four corners of the ceiling, constantly shifting the perspective and focus of the viewer.

With time, Mukherjee adopted different media to work on from sketches, calligraphy and watercolors at the start to tempera on wood and then gradually moving on to silk, textile block prints and finally, moving onto paper cuts. After losing his eyesight, he also started to write, taking the activity more seriously than before, writing about his experiences, history of art education and a series of incisive studies. The latter was published posthumously as a book. But the book that brought him fame as a writer in Bengali was 'Chitrakor' published in 1979, a collection of autobiographical pieces. 'Chitrakor' was landmark work of literature that won two awards in 1980, namely the Rabindra Puraskar and the Bhartiya Bhasha Parishad Award. Satyajit Ray who considered Binod Behari Mukherjee his mentor and inspiration was so impressed by the latter's paper cut works called 'The Inner Eye', that he made a small documentary on this work with the same title in the year 1973. This documentary was instrumental in bring the works of Binod Behari to a wider audience.

Honors And Awards

Vishva Bharti University recognizing his contribution in the fields of arts and literature, in the year 1977, awarded Mukherjee the honorary doctorate degree. He was also honored with Padma Vibhushan in 1974, India's second highest civilian award. In the year 1980, he was also bestowed with the Rabindra Puraskar and the Bhartiya Bhasha Parishad Award for his work 'Chitrakor'.

Death

The legendary painter of Indian modern art, Binod Behari Mukherjee left for the heavenly abode in 1980, at the age of 76. Despite being visually impaired, Mukherjee was never withheld by his inability to see and went on to create some of the most exquisite works that we cherish till date.

Timeline

1904: Binod Behari Mukherjee was born.

1919: Joined Shantiniketan for a diploma in Fine Arts.

1925: Joined his alma mater as a faculty.

1949: Became the curator of the Nepal government museum.

1951: Started to teach at the Banasthali Vidyapith.

1952: Started an art training school in Missouri.

1956: Lost his eyesight after an operation.

1958: Joined the faculty of Shantiniketan.

1973: Satyajit Ray made a documentary on Mukherjee's work 'The Inner Eye'.

1974: Received Padma Vibhushan.1977: Was awarded honorary doctorate degree.

1979: Published the autobiographical 'Chitrakor'.

1980: Awarded two literary prizes; passed away at the age of 76

 

 

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Mentor

Shri Adwaita Garanayak, Director General, NGMA

Curatorial Guideline

Dr. Shashi Bala, Curator

Concept, Design & Development

Shri S S Paul, Information Systems Manager, IT Section

Content Management

IT Section, NGMA

Image Reference for Artist's Profile

B B Mukherjee by E Brunner

Image Reference for Works of Art

NGMA Collection

Image Processing

Shri Deepak Negi

Image Reference for Poem

www.google.com | The Indian Express – The Lifestyle News

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Concept Note

 

Benodebehari Mukherjee (1904-1980) created art that was eclectic, intellectual and prolific. He was a painter, sculptor, muralist, writer and teacher. He created collages, prints and line drawings. His art practice was distinct from what his contemporaries at the Bengal School, were producing.

Born with weak eyesight which subsequently led to blindness in later life, he practiced his craft with no direct influence but his style reflected the basic constructional framework of any art practice. His art had originality, for it was free from a constant concern with being 'Indian', as was the case with other artists from the Bengal School. His art explored new directions and horizons, be it in the use of media or subject matter, and therefore his art legacy continues to be futuristic.

Benodebehari studied under Nandalal Bose at Kala Bhawan, Santiniketan. He was also schooled at the Patha Bhawan, the school created by Rabindranath Tagore at Santiniketan. He confessed that without the opportunity Tagore provided he would be a lost soul, as his weak eyesight barred him from normal education. Santiniketan also fed his literary interests and instilled a love for nature that helped him develop an analytical perspective towards his art practice. Comparing the influence of books, nature and Nandalal Bose on his art, he wrote, 'I often wonder where I got my early training from? From Nandalal, the library or this stark environment of Santiniketan? Without Nandalal I would not have learned my skills, without the library known what I know and without the experience of that stark image of Nature, painted as I did.'

  • NGMA India
  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1722 | Laughter, c.1921 | Tempera on Paper | 33x54 cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1723 | Birbhum Summer Landscape | Tempera on Cloth | 26.8x26.7 cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1724 | The Bridge | Tempera on Paper | 60.7x47.5 cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1725 | The Tree Lover (Portrait) | Tempera on Paper | 73.7x40 cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1726 | The Pal Grove | Tempera on Paper | 53.3x33 cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1727 | Wood Land | Tempera on Wood | 30.5x45.7 cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1728 | Man with Bird Cage | Oil on Cloth | 26x60.5 cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1729 | Sun Flower (Screen) c. 1940 | Oil on Cloth | 120.7x92.7 cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1731 | Lama | Oil on Wood | 26x46.3 cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1732 | Village Shop | Tempera on Paper | 49.5x49.5 cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1733 | Play Santhal Boys | Oil on Hard board | 61x44.5 cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1734 | Procession - Nepal, 5-7-1949 | Pen, Ink & wash on Paper | 35.5x25.4 cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1735 | Dhara - Nepal | Pen, Ink & wash on Paper | 12.7x17.3 cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1736 | Water Fall | Pen, Ink & wash on Paper | 25.4x17.3 cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1737 | Restaurant | Tempera on Silk | 30.5x30.5 cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1738 | Temple in Nepal | Lithograph on Paper | 28.2x38.4 cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1739 | Kitchen (Frying Fish) | Lithograph on Paper | 20.5x40.6 cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1740 | The Pond | Etching on Paper | 15.8x14 cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1741 | Pigs | Etching on Paper | 10x11cms

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1742 | Landscape with tree | Dry Point Etching on Paper | 14.7x21cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1743 | Dog | Dry Point Etching on Paper | 14.3x11cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1744 | Evening Accounts | Linocut on Paper | 23x18.5cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1745 | Man Seated (Self Portrait)
    Medium:Linocut on Paper | 16x19cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1746 | Girl | Woodcut on Paper | 15.8x23.7cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 1748 | Man in Dark | Woodcut on Paper | 9.5x15cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 3396 | No Title, June, 1971 (Curd Seller) | Lithograph on Paper | 26.8x37cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 3808 | Village scene I | Etching on Paper | 9.7x14.5cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 3809 | Village scene II | Etching on Paper | 12.5x8.4cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 12934 | Mother and Child | Tempera on board | 24x33 cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 14289 | Mother | Oil on Canvas | 44x74 cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 16100 | Fisher woman- 62 Collage | 28.5x22.5 cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 16101 | Rajgir Hat Springs | Collage | 39x27 cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 16102 | Adam and Eve | Collage | 21x33 cm

  • NGMA India

    Acc. No: 16362 | Untitled | Water color on Paper | 17x22 cm