The Babu & The Bazaar- Exhibition at DAG showcases a flurry of art forms from colonial Bengal

Showcasing a wide range of art forms like oil paintings, pat watercolours, prints, reverse and glass paintings, the recent exhibition (8 May – 8 July) at DAG, Delhi digs in 19th and early 20th Century Calcutta that drew inspiration from across the world yet remained local in technique.

Colonial Bengal’s art is profoundly influenced by the arrival of European traders and the subsequent establishment of the East India Company. As Calcutta was at the crossroads of trade, cultural exchange became the order of the city. Both local and foreign artists hobnobbed in the city of Joy, resulting in entwined cultures that influenced the art forms practiced during those times.

One of the highlights of the exhibition is the Kalighat pat paintings. These popular watercolor artworks flourished in the markets of Calcutta. They were primarily commissioned by wealthy individuals who desired unique art pieces. The artists drew inspiration from Hindu deities and used both traditional and Western mediums, such as watercolor and oil pigments on paper and canvas. These artworks were later replicated through printing technology, such as lithography and oleography.

The exhibition traces a transition from the initial wave of European influence to the rise of individually recognized artists like Raja Ravi Varma and Abanindranath Tagore. The artworks showcased reflect this period of evolving styles and techniques, from works that incorporate European naturalism to those that blend traditional tools and perspectives.

The lively Colors of Pat Paintings come from  natural pigments. Artists used a variety of materials, including broad bean leaves, indigo powder, turmeric, conch-shell powder, and various flower extracts. Some artists also imported synthetic oil paints. These materials, combined with the artists’ skillful techniques, resulted in stunning and vivid artworks.

To determine the exact timeline of artwork was the catch due to the lack of named artists and specific sources. However, experts have used various methods to decipher their approximate dates.

The technique utilized by artists and the presence of specific elements, such as recognizable buildings or referenced events, have helped in determining the timeframe of certain artworks. Additionally, the use of specific materials and printing technologies has also provided clues to their dating.

The fusion of different cultures and influences, reflecting the rich history and cultural heritage of the region remarkle . The accompanying publication offers a deeper understanding of the genres, techniques, and colors used by the artists, allowing viewers to grasp the historical perspective of particular artwork.

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