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date: 19 October 2019

Sunayani Devi locked

(b Calcutta, June 18, 1875; d Calcutta, Feb 23, 1962).
  • Partha Mitter

Extract

(b Calcutta, June 18, 1875; d Calcutta, Feb 23, 1962).

Indian painter. Sunyani belonged to the aristocratic Tagore family family of Calcutta that had led the literary and artistic Renaissance in Bengal in the 19th century. She was the niece of the great poet Rabindranath Tagore and her brother Abanindranath, who had inspired her, was leader of the nationalist art movement in India known as the Bengal school. The first woman artist of India to gain public recognition, she was included in the exhibition of the Society of Oriental Art held in Calcutta in 1922,which also showed the works of Klee, Kandinsky and other Bauhaus artists.

The Austrian art historian Stella Kramrisch became her fervent champion, publicizing her work in the German art magazine Der Cicerone in 1925. In 1927 she was invited to exhibit at the Women’s International Art Club in London. Sunyani’s sources were eclectic. As a child, she was drawn to the devotional pictures that hung in her aunt’s room and the popular mythological prints of the 19th-century academic painter, Ravi Varma. Through her brother Abanindranath, she discovered Rajput miniatures and, above all, the popular urban art of Kalighat, which was appreciated by the intelligentsia for the first time in the 1920s. However, the subject-matter of her art belonged to a private inner world: she claimed that most of her subjects first appeared to her in dreams. Her subject-matter ranged from religious subjects and mythology to portraits, done with simple and bold outlines in transparent watercolours on paper. Although she was the matriarch of a large household, during her most productive years (...

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