Kalighat Painting

The Painters of Kalighat: 19th Century Relics of a Once Flourishing Indian Folk Art Industry Killed by Western Mass Production Methods

— Mukul Dey

Girl combing her hair. Nineteenth century Kalighat drawing.
Photo: Mukul Dey Archives
Reprinted from The Statesman, Calcutta, Sunday, October 22, 1933, p. 19, the following published article originally carried six Kalighat paintings from Dey’s collection as illustration, which exactly could not be reproduced here owing to the fragility of the newspaper clipping. In stead, we have included on this page some rare visuals from the old photographs of Mukul Dey’s collection of Kalighat pata paintings, which were photo-documented by him about eighty years ago. Emphasis added.

 

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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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