Jamini Roy is one of the most significant modern artist of 20th century Indian Art. His search for the essence
of form led him to experiment with a variety of visual styles, language and diverse forms. He continues to be
one of the most respected artists in India to date.
Roy was born on April 11, 1887 at Beliatore village of Bankura district in West Bengal. His parents were
small estate landowners who chose to belong to a traditionally integrated community where no exclusivity
was dictated by class or caste. As a young child, Roy was fascinated with patuas and their craft, he spent most
days watching them work. With his interest and inclination on arts and crafts of his hometown, his father
eventually sent him to the Government School of Art in Kolkatta (Calcutta). Three years at art school and
soon thereafter were years of great financial hardship for Jamini Roy. He did many odd jobs like painting
theatre scenes, backdrops and the like for professional theatre companies that flourished in north Kolkata.
He finished his formal art education in 1916 and while he was still at the school he married Amiyasundari
Devi to whom he had five sons and a daughter with.
The state of financial stringency which Jamini Roy faced during his students years eased considerably when
he finished his stint there. He began to be well recognized as an academic painter as well as an excellent
portrait painter. Commissions kept pouring in and at his peak, it became a done thing to have a portrait
painted by him. Although already a skilled painter in the naturalistic style, he flirted with the Bengal School
style in an attempt to find another style of expression. It is around this time that he did a few paintings in the
misty wash style with delicate figuration. He emerged with this new style of painting with the Santal
community as the subject to wide acclaim. His work enjoyed positive response and found many buyers. He
decided later on that this style was not for him.
In Jamini Roy’s quest, he rejected the oil medium and decided not to accept portrait commissions. This
decision brought on financial constraints to his family but he was undeterred. He eventually found his own
metier and challenged the existing style of expression as his figuration underwent a radical change. He began
to seek a purity of form and his palette was awash with brilliant, saturated colours that brazenly defied the
norms of naturalism. He rejected academic realism and increasingly sought to express an indigenous voice.
Folk arts specifically Bengal art and crafts traditions influenced him a great deal. He sought inspiration from
Kalighat paintings and East Asian calligraphy as he made use of space division not unlike the vertical Bengal
scroll paintings as well as the narrative modes used in the temple friezes.1
It is during the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, a period of political and cultural unrest in
Bengal, that commenced a decade of ceaseless experiments (1920-1930) for Roy. He banished all traces of
naturalism from his work and from 1924 onwards, he limited his chromatic range and painted almost
monochromatic works. He began using rhythmic calligraphic lines to express volume and used subjects
ranging from his favorite mother and child figures, balls, and seated women among others. However, this
austere phase did not last long. Jamini Roy did not feel that the Kalighat style was an authentic expression of
the genuine folk spirit and in the latter half of the decade, he once again began experimenting. Consequently,
he found himself returning to his roots, where he discovered a rich storehouse of motifs, symbols and
narratives which formed an integral part of his consciousness. He changed his entire vocabulary in terms of
form, line, and colour. He opted for simplicity in form as evidenced of the distinctive way in which he
structured his figure and simplified his forms reducing them to their bare essentials. He played with lines,
space and lit the picture with an explosion of colours. He had finally found a way to communicate with his
people - the villagers of Beliatore. Surprisingly, this style also resonated and stirred the imagination of the
intellectual elite of Kolkata. At a time when there was much discussion and thinking of the modern Indian
identity, Roy brought the living traditions of Bengal centerstage as a valid mode of cultural expression.2
By 1929, Jamini Roy held his first solo exhibition at the Government Art School. Followed by some of his
noteworthy exhibitions, one held in 1937 at Kshitish Chandra Roy’s studio at British Indian street and the
other one, his big solo show held in the Indian Society of Oriental Art at Samabay Mansions in the heart of
Kolkata in 1938. These shows established Roy’s fame and further strengthened his interactions with the
intellectuals of Kolkata.
Besides being bold, experimental painter of his time, Jamini Roy enjoyed exploring different mediums and
materials as well. He did not mind experimenting with decorative arts and began painting on palm leaf
matting as well as designing crystalware for Steuben Glass where he etched idyllic pastoral scene on the glass
With his reputation established, the demand for Roy’s paintings kept growing through the decades; followed
by accolades and recognition. The Government of India awarded the Padma Bhushan on Jamini Roy in 1955.
The following year, he was chosen by Lalit Kala Akademi as a fellow and in 1961, he was given a special
ceremony honoring his achievements as an artist. From the 1960s onward however, his health declined. As a
result, his experimentation slowed but it was also during this time that he evolved his mosaic-like paintings,
inspired with the elongated faces and figurations hints of pre-Renaissance Byzantine icons, making texture a
much needed part of Roy’s visual language.
The eminent artist, Jamini Roy died 1972. Four years later, in 1976, the Government of India declared his
work, along with that of seven other artists, as National treasure.
1 2 3 Excerpts from the book Jamini Roy (1887-1972): Journey to the Roots, Ella Data, National Gallery of
Modern Art, India, 2013