Artists from Santiniketan are to exhibit and sell their paintings in a unique London event aimed at showcasing the magic of India's first art school of international repute.
Kala Bhavan, the Santiniketan arts school that laid the foundations of modern art in India, will find a temporary home at the prestigious Royal College of Art Aug 27-Sep 1 in a long-overdue tribute to an institution that continues to produce some of India's finest artists.
However, with perhaps the sole exception of the poet Rabindranath Tagore and a few others, the artists of Santiniketan remain relatively unsung, overlooked and unexhibited in the West even as works of modern Indian art are snapped up for millions of dollars.
Now, a personal initiative by London-based art exhibitor Sangeeta Ahuja will see 120 works by 56 painters - ranging from old masters Tagore to young and emerging artists - being unveiled for British art lovers and collectors.
"Santiniketan is so unique, so utterly steeped in history. This is nothing like I have done before. It's an entirely new concept - to exhibit works by painters from a particular institution," said Ahuja, who runs a London art exhibition firm called S.A. Fine Arts.
Leading the star cast of painters at the prestigious London venue will be old masters Abanindranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore, the blind artist Benode Behari Mukherjee, Kala Bhavan's first principal Nandalal Bose - handpicked by Rabindranath in 1922 - Manishi Dey, Sunayani Devi and Sudhir Ranjan Khastagir.
Also on display will be canvasses by contemporary Santiniketan masters Bipin Goswami, Jogen Chowdhury, K.G. Subramanyam, Krishna Reddy, Lalu Prasad Shaw, Somenath Hore, Reba Hore and Nandalal Bose's eminent student Ramananda Bandopadhyay.
However, the surprise package are the young contemporaries, forming the bulk of the painters on display.
"The traditional element is there of course, but you will see far more of the Western influence among the younger artists," said Ahuja, who has curated the show.
Kala Bhavan was and remains a unique and visionary school outside the West.
It drew on a broad and eclectic range of influences, including Indian folk art, Southeast Asian traditions and Western experimental art at a time when many leading Indian painters were blindly copying British figurative art.
In the process, the school helped to develop Indian modern art.
At the London exhibition, viewers will have the opportunity to see the works of as many as 34 young contemporary painters. They have partnered with S.A. Fine Arts to organise the event, guided by veteran Indian painter Jogen Chowdhury, professor emeritus at Kala Bhavan.
All the paintings other than those by the old masters will be on sale.
Featuring works spanning several decades, the exhibition showcases not only the affinities of artists in Santiniketan but also the exchanges and differences with their predecessors.
It will present the history of the art movement in Santiniketan from the early 20th century to the present.
"This is still very much Bengal School of art. But we plan a separate, fuller exposition of Bengal School paintings in the future," Ahuja said.