Mukul Dey

Quinquennial Report of the Government School of Art,1927-1932: An introduction

— Satyasri Ukil

Photo: Mukul Dey ArchivesThe Quinquennial Report of the Government School of Art, Calcutta for the years 1927-1932, is a twenty-one page document created by Mukul Dey during his tenure as the first Indian Principal of that institution. The Report was printed at the Bengal Government Press in 1933.





The Report is important for various reasons. Firstly, at the very outset, it gives a brief history of the institution, which helps to set a perspective and context before the reader. It recalls the contribution by such eminent personalities as Rajendra Lal Mitra, Jotindra Mohan Tagore and Justice Pratt in forming the Industrial Art Society, which was instrumental in establishing the School of Industrial Art in Calcutta way back in 1854, as a private enterprise.

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Temple Terracottas of Bengal

— Mukul Dey

Reprinted from Illustrated Weekly of India, November 25, 1951.

Pancharatna or five-pinnacled terracotta temple at Surul, Birbhum
Photo: Mukul Dey
Folk arts and handicrafts occupied a conspicuous position in our national life in bygone days, and were centered mainly in rural areas, where they flourished for many centuries. The advent of the machine age changed the picture. The decay of rural life and culture set in with alarming rapidity. Indigenous arts and crafts fell into neglect and artisans had to migrate to cities in search of employment. By the end of the 19th century, folk arts and handicrafts almost vanished from Bengal.

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Jamini Roy: The First But Forgotten Exhibition

— Satyasri Ukil

Jamini Roy exhibition catalogue, Calcutta 1929
Photo: Mukul Dey Archives
This article is reprinted from ‘Art & Deal’, May-June, 2000.


It is proposed to record here, approximately seventy-one years after the event, the details of a one-man show where Jamini Roy presented for the first time his style of painting with folk idioms.

Except in the writings of Jogesh Chandra Bagal (Centenary Volume, p. 48) this particular exhibition of Roy fails to secure even a passing mention in the apparently erudite and informative writing of Shahid Suhrawardy, and Bishnu Dey and John Irwin (Jamini Roy) respectively. Surprisingly, in none of the subsequent literature on Roy do we find any mention of this particular exhibition. Why?

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Mukul Dey: Pioneering Indian Graphic Artist

— Satyasri Ukil

Mukul Dey working on his copper plate at Chitralekha, c. 1982
Photo: Keisuke Inano
Indian painter-engraver Mukul Chandra Dey (1895-1989) — better known as Mukul Dey — was an important personality of his time. A student of Rabindranath Tagore’s Santiniketan School during the early years of the 20th century (c. 1906-1912), he left his mark as a pioneer of drypoint-etching in India.

An extremely sensitive artist (perhaps temperamental at times), he chose an essentially Western medium to depict subjects of Indian life and legends from a common man’s viewpoint. The river scenes of Bengal, the baul singers, the bazaars of Calcutta or the life of Santhal villages in Birbhum — all these attracted his attention and he recorded his vision with deep feeling and a rare sureness of hand.

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My Reminiscences

— Mukul Dey

Mukul Dey’s portrait by noted London photographer Georges Maiteny
Photo: Georges Maiteny
My Reminiscences is a slim monograph by Mukul Dey, printed at The Statesman, Calcutta in 1938. It provides a rare insight into the early life and career of the author and his cross-cultural interaction with various personalities in the field of art and literature in an international arena.

Iwas born on July 23,1895, at Sridharkhola, a tiny village in the district of Dacca, East Bengal. This was my maternal home. My grandfather, Mahim Chandra Dey, was a leading Pleader of his time at Dhubri, Mymensingh, which is close to Dacca. My father, Kula Chandra Dey, was a poet and was in the service of the Government of Bengal. My mother, who is alive, is of a pious disposition and of the old school.

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Yokoyama Taikan: An Artist Remembered

— Satyasri Ukil

Monochrome reproduction of Japanese landscape with trees and boat by Yokoyama Taikan
Photo: Mukul Dey Archives
This article is reprinted from ‘Art & Deal’, March-April, 2001.

To get a perspective on Yokoyama Taikan and his role and influence in starting the revivalist / nationalist art movement in Bengal in the first decade of the last century, it would be fit to start the inquiry at the event of Okakura Kakuzo’s visit to the house of the Jorasanko Tagores in the year 1902.

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Mukul Dey's Letter from Sankeien

— Mukul Dey

Facsimile of Mukul Dey’s letter
Photo: Mukul Dey Archives
English Translation and Facsimile

Yokohama
19.6.1916

Dear Father,

Couple of days ago we came here from Tokyo. Gurudev and the others have arrived as well. We are staying with a very famous Japanese millionaire here.

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Remembering Tomitaro Hara

— Satyasri Ukil

‘Kiyo-san’, brush and ink sketch by Mukul Dey, done at Tomitaro Hara’s Sankeien, 1916.
Photo: Mukul Dey Archives
An Art Lover Extraordinaire of Meiji Japan

A successful silk merchant named Tomitaro Hara built a mansion by the sea in Honmoku. He bought exquisite teahouses and other ancient structures in Kyoto and elsewhere and had them dismantled and rebuilt in his garden. Hara named his garden Sankeien, for it was blessed with three glens, one of which opened out to a small beach and a view of the bay”

So wrote Kunio Francis Tanabe in his article Memories of Old Honmoku in The Japan Times of May 19, 1999.

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Which Way Indian Art?

— Mukul Dey

Dr. Abanindranath Tagore with his first batch of students. These were the founder students of Bengal School of Painting. Photograph taken at Govt. School of Art, Calcutta. Sarada Ukil standing on the right and Nandalal Bose sitting fourth from the left. Also present are Asit Kumar Haldar, Samarendranth Gupta, Shailendranath Dey, K. Venkatappa, Kshitindranath Majumdar and Shami-us Zama of Lucknow amongst others.
Photo: Mukul Dey Archives
An extremely important article, ‘Which Way Indian Art?’ by Mukul Dey, is reproduced below from the CENTENARY volume of the Govt. College of Art & Craft, Calcutta; published in 1966- Ed.

Bengal — Hundred Years Ago

About a century ago it was decided by the British Raj that modern education should be given to us through the medium of the English language. The younger generation in Bengal gradually got rid of their superstitions and prejudices, and broadened their minds by coming into contact with a virile literature. They were, for at least fifty years, completely overcome by British influence. Many at that time even tried to forget Bengali to learn English. Many even embraced Christianity mainly for the sake of its prestige, and young Bengal in general tended to look down upon anything, which had the slightest Indian flavour in it.

Indigenous literature and art found a precarious refuge in Bat Tala and Kalighat while the educated classes wore frock- coats, furnished their homes with plush furniture from European shops and gratified their artistic cravings with nude marble statues bought from undertakers, garnishing their conversation and letters with fluent quotations from Shakespeare, Milton and Byron.

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Drawings and Paintings of Kalighat

— Mukul Dey

Lovers. Early 20th. century Kalighat pata painting
Photo: Mukul Dey Archives
Mukul Dey was one of the earliest writers who drew the attention of the ‘educated’ Indians to their own original art forms. As early as 1936, he wanted to establish a national art museum in Calcutta, a project endorsed by Rabindranath Tagore.

However, that was not to be. During 1930s the bulk of Mukul Dey’s priceless Kalighat painting collection was acquired by W. G. Archer (ICS); and many of these found a permanent home in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The following article by Dey is reprinted from Advance, Calcutta, 1932. It gives an account of the artist colony at Kalighat as the writer knew it:

Strolling through the streets of South Calcutta a few years ago I chanced to get into the precincts of the old temple of Mother Kali. The lanes and bye-lanes leading to the temple courtyard were full of small shops dealing with everything interesting to the pilgrims, specially women-folk and children. There were sweetmeat shops in plenty, toys, utensils, bangles and what was most important to my eyes, pictures in colours as well as in lines, hung up in almost all the shops. These drawings had a pecularity of their own which attracted the attention and interest of any man who had any taste for art and drawings. The drawings were bold and attractive and at the same time their technique was so different and simple, that they looked something absolutely distinctive from their class found anywhere else.

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