Contemporary Indian paintings: Western style, national sentiments!

By Adita Mehta


Painting is a very powerful source of expression. Indian paintings have a very long tradition and history in Indian art. Indian art originated about five thousand years ago, sometime during the peak of the Indus Valley civilization.Though there is no definite proof of its inception, it is believed that the oldest paintings are the wall art of the Bhimbetka caves in Madhya Pradesh. As said by Picasso, “Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.” Indian paintings can be classified as murals and miniatures.

Murals are aesthetic tasks executed on walls. Some such examples include paintings in Ajanta and Kailasanatha. These paintings were discovered in south-west India. Miniature paintings are those which are executed on small scale and on perishable material and not many are found today. Rajasthani and Mughal paintings are the examples of such paintings.

In Indian context, paintings served the purpose of documentation, demonstration and communication.

Indian paintings have become quite popular both at national as well as international levels. Colours play a major role in Indian paintings.  Indian art is known for using bold colours and colour symbolism in their paintings. Like red and saffron for valor, yellow for religion, black for evil and white for purity.

Indian history, which influenced art, is divided into four main periods:

Ancient era: Rock paintings and temple art can be traced back to the artistic expressions of ancient India.

Islamic ascendency: With the establishment of Islamic states, there was a gradual Muslim conquest in India. It led to the emergence of Mughal empire which ruled majority of India from 16th to mid 19th century. During Islamic rule, Mughal style of architecture flourished.

Colonial era  This era marks the time when European powers, through conquest and trade, were at their peak in India. By mid 19th century, British India was born under the governance of the British Empire. During this time, Bengal school of Art was established; also western style was introduced in Indian art.saif

Independence and post colonial era: After rule under the British Raj, India became independent on  August 15, 1947. During this time, ancient India was bifurcated due to partition, resulting in the formation of Pakistan and today’s India.  The post-colonial period saw the rise of many Indian artistes who pushed artistic boundaries, resulting in what we call contemporary art today.

With the changing time, Indian art blended with the West. Contemporary Indian paintings are deeply influenced by western concepts of sublime composition and the mystery hidden behind the painting. The most interesting thing about contemporary Indian painting is that its style is inspired by the western concept but its themes are associated with Indian mythology, Hindu god, emotions etc.