The Modernist Art Movement from India

This timeline presents significant events in modern Indian art and in modern Indian history from the mid 19th century through the late 1990s. Visitors can explore highlighted dates and see how historical- political, social and economic- events intersect and diverge from developments in modernist art. As you scroll through the timeline at the bottom of the screen, you will see a snapshot of the selected period. Click on the dialogue boxes to learn more about each event.

For more information about this exhibition please visit the exhibition website at;xNLx;;xNLx;;xNLx;;xNLx;Content and design of this timeline developed by Beth Citron, Tara Kuruvilla, Andrew Buttermilch, Jonathan Kuhr, and Esther Mares.;xNLx;;xNLx;Left:;xNLx;;xNLx;Accordance Shanti Dave India; 1963 Oil on canvas. Shelley and Donald Rubin Private Collection.

1857-05-10 00:00:00

The Great Rebellion

Termed the Sepoy Revolts/ Mutiny of 1857 by the British, and the First War of Independence by Indian historians, this uprising was the first major rebellion against the British crown.

1858-08-01 00:00:00

Government of India Act

Following the Revolt of 1857, this act began the liquidation of the East India Company and the transference of power to the British crown.

1877-01-01 12:03:56

Queen Victoria named Empress of India

Prime Minister of England Benjamin Disraeli initiated The Royal Titles Act of 1876. The act would give Queen Victoria the title of Empress of India, the territory Disraeli referred to as "the brightest jewel in the crown." Despite some resistance within Parliament, the bill eventually passed, and the new title was proclaimed at the Delhi Durbar on January 1, 1877.

1885-03-01 18:24:25

Formation of the Indian National Congress

An emerging collective nationalism leads to the formation of the Indian National Congress (most often called Congress). It became a dominant political party, which would head the Independence movement, and later be led by the Nehru-Gandhi family.

1901-01-01 12:03:56

Shantiniketan is founded

The alternative university Shantiniketan, or "Abode of Peace," is founded in a rural area of Bengal owned by the Tagore family.

1904-08-01 00:00:00

Lord Curzon bestows the Kaiser-i-Hind gold medal upon Raja Ravi Varma

The Kaiser-i-Hind medal was awarded to civilians who rendered distinguished service in the advancement of the interests of the British Empire. Ravi Varma, whose oil on canvas paintings evoked the academic style of European masters, was favored by the British. Though his art was popular among Indian communities in the late nineteenth century, it fell out of fashion with the rise of the nationalist Swadeshi movement from 1905 onward.

1905-07-19 12:03:56

Partition of Bengal

Lord Curzon divides the Bengal province, purportedly for political efficiency; this controversial partition exacerbated Hindu-Muslim animosity.

1905-08-01 00:00:00

Swadeshi ("Of Our Land") Movement

The anti-colonial fervor of Swadeshi was particularly strong in the eastern province of Bengal. Swadeshi strove to remove the British Empire from power and stimulate the Indian economy through the boycott of British products and the revival of domestic goods and production techniques. The movement was an integral part of swaraj, a self-rule initiative promulgated by Gandhi.

1905-08-01 00:00:00

Abanindranath Tagore of the Bengal School paints 'Bharat Mata'

Tagore's depiction of the nation as a secular, sari-clad woman spurred on the Swadeshi movement. The relatability of the central figure encouraged the broader Indian public to participate in Swadeshi. The Bengal School Artists believed they could steer Indian modern art away from European influences and develop a more uniquely Indian character, looking to older art forms such as the ancient cave paintings at Ajanta and the Hindu pat paintings.

1906-12-30 00:00:00

Foundation of the All-India Muslim League

Initially created to secure the interests of the Muslim diaspora in British India, the Muslim League eventually developed into the driving force behind the creation of Pakistan as an independent Muslim state.

1911-08-01 00:00:00

Partition of Bengal revoked

Due to a high level of political unrest, as well as the increasing strength of the Swadeshi movement, the Partition of Bengal was revoked in 1911.

1916-12-29 00:00:00

Lucknow Pact signed by Muslim League and Congress

An agreement made by the Indian National Congress headed by Maratha leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak and the All-India Muslim League led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The pact dealt with both the structure of the government of India and with the relation of the Hindu and Muslim communities, and it was the first time that the Congress recognized the League as the political party that represented the Muslim population of India. The pact developed a system of minority political representation that allowed for a greater number of minority leaders in the government than was proportional to their population, in order to allow for a more just role in the governing of the country.

1919-07-01 00:00:00

Khilafat Movement Launched

The Khilafat Movement was a pan-Islamic political campaign launched by Muslims in British India to influence the British government and to protect the declining Ottoman Empire in Istanbul during the aftermath of World War I.

1919-08-01 00:00:00

Kala Bhavan ("Art House"), the art school at Shantiniketan, is founded

Located in an idyllic village outside Calcutta, Kala Bhavan at Shantiniketan presented an alternate method of training in which studio practice was rejected in favor of observational learning, incorporating the beauty of the natural surroundings into art education.

1919-08-01 00:00:00

Rowlatt Act Passed

Passed in order to control public unrest, the Rowlatt Act authorized the British government to imprison any person suspected of treason against the Raj for up to two years, with no trial. Several political protests followed the creation of this act.

1919-08-01 00:00:00

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre at Amritsar

A peaceful political protest against the Rowlatt Act held at Amritsar erupted into violence when British soldiers opened fire on unarmed civilians. Thousands were wounded and killed in the shooting and stampede that ensued.

1920-08-01 00:00:00

Non-Cooperation Movement Launched

Led by Mahatma Gandhi, the preeminent political and ideological leader of India, the movement aimed to resist British occupation of India through non-violent means and the boycott of British goods.

1925-08-01 00:00:00

Benode Behari Mukherjee joins Kala Bhavan as an art teacher

Benode Behari Mukherjee studied at Shantiniketan under the tutelage of Rabindranath Tagore and Nandalal Bose. He became a teacher at the school in 1925, remaining on its faculty until 1949. The artist, who was visually impaired for a large part of his career, played an integral role in the evolution of modernist visual art in India. He was one of the earliest artists to adopt the mural as a mode of artistic expression, one of his most renowned works being his depiction of the lives of the medieval saint poets of India at Shantineketan.

1929-08-01 00:00:00

Amrita Sher-Gil joins the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris

Amrita Sher-Gil was born to an Indian father and a Hungarian mother, and traveled frequently between India and Europe in her youth. In 1929, she became the first Indian artist to enroll at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and Sher-Gil's paintings from her years in Paris present European figures in an academic, painterly style. Over the next decade, Sher-Gil continued to reflect on her mixed heritage in her artistic practice.

1930-04-06 00:00:00

Nandalal Bose creates his iconic image of Dandi March

While not an expressly political artist, Nandalal Bose had a close relationship with Gandhi and shared many of his ideals. He was the only artist ever patronized by the great leader, who often insisted he had no time for art. Bose's canonical black-and-white linocut print depicts Gandhi's 240-mile journey to defy a British tax on salt—giving an image to one of the most iconic acts of the freedom movement.

1930-04-08 00:00:00

Purna Swaraj movement; Dandi March by Mahatma Gandhi

Movement to fight for complete (purna) self-rule (swaraj) independent of the British Empire. The Dandi Salt March was a non-violent campaign against the raised salt taxes in the country, in which Gandhi embarked on a 240 mile journey to produce salt without paying the tax.

1934-08-01 00:00:00

Amrita Sher-Gil returns to India

"Haunted by an intense longing to return to India," as she wrote, Amrita Sher-Gil settles in Shimla, where she engages in a quest to find a quintessential Indian style of painting. She develops her own hybrid of western and eastern styles of painting, engaging the female body in her work. The figures she paints now begin to take on markedly Indian traits, a noteworthy departure from the primarily European characters that were featured in her earlier works.

1940-08-01 00:00:00

Lahore Resolution

A formal political statement adopted by the Muslim League that called for greater Muslim autonomy in British India. This was largely interpreted as a demand for a separate state, which would become Pakistan.

1941-01-01 00:00:00

Amrita Sher-Gil dies at the age of 29 in Lahore

1942-01-01 00:00:00

Quit India resolution passed by Congress

The resolution was passed by the Indian National Congress, demanding complete independence from British rule. In his speech following its passing, Gandhi urged the masses to follow non-violent civil disobedience.

1942-07-01 00:00:00

Muslim League Gains More Power

Ministries formed in Sind, Bengal, and Northwest Frontier Province; it also gains greater influence in the Punjab.

1943-08-01 00:00:00

Formation of the Calcutta Group

The Calcutta Group was formed by Bengali artists such as Paritosh Sen and Zainul Abedin who sought to develop an artistic style that that represented a contemporary approach to Bengali pictorial traditions.

1947-07-01 00:00:00

Founding of the Progressive Artists Group

The Progressive Artists Group was founded in Bombay just after Independence and comprised six diverse, radical artists working to establish new cultural identities and a modernist art culture in India. The group worked in opposition to the colonial, academic standard being imposed upon Indian art academies as well as the revivalist art movement established by the Bengal School.

1947-07-01 00:00:00

India attains Independence

At midnight, on August 15, 1947, India became an independent nation, finally freed from centuries of British rule.

1947-08-01 00:00:00

Partition of India

One of the most tumultuous events in India's political history, the Partition of the subcontinent in 1947 divided Hindus and Muslims who had lived together in relative harmony for centuries. It led to mass displacement, still-unresolved boundary disputes, three wars between India and Pakistan, a nuclear powered arms race, and state sponsored terrorism.

1947-09-01 00:00:00

Thousands die in post-partition communal violence that swept the nation

Hindu-Muslim tensions escalated post-partition.

1948-08-01 00:00:00

Progressive Artists Group exhibition at Bombay Art Society

This group exhibition was the first by the Progressive Artists Group.

1948-08-01 00:00:00

Mahatama Gandhi assassinated by Hindu fundamentalist Nathuram Godse

Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by an angry young Hindu extremist who protested the leader's intentions to eliminate the caste system, as well as his cooperation with Muslims.

1948-08-01 00:00:00

First Indo-Pak War over Kashmir

Simmering tensions lead to the first of three wars between India and Pakistan over the princely state of Kashmir, which had a primarily Muslim population at the time of Partition. Kashmir vacillated between joining the Muslim-majority Pakistan, or Hindu-majority India, and after Partition it became a disputed territory, a conflict that remains unresolved to date.

1949-01-01 00:00:00

Founding of Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda

Maharaka Sayajirao University housed important art and art history departments, and K. G. Subramanyan and Gulammohammed Sheikh taught there.

1950-08-01 00:00:00

India becomes a Sovereign Democratic Republic

India's Constitution is ratified, and Jawaharlal Nehru is elected to be the country's first prime minister.

1952-08-01 00:00:00

First General Elections in the country

A desperate need for stability following the upheaval of the partition loomed over the country's first elections, and the Congress Party was elected to power.

1954-08-01 00:00:00

Founding of the National Gallery for Modern Art (NGMA) in New Delhi by the government

The NGMA was a government initiative first proposed in 1949. The idea to found a national art gallery was cultivated by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and it was inaugurated in 1954 by Vice President Dr. Radhakrishnan.

1954-08-01 00:00:00

The Lalit Kala Academy is founded

The Lalit Kala Academy promoted art and contemporary artists through scholarships, a fellowship program, and sponsoring and organizing numerous exhibitions in India and overseas.

1954-08-01 00:00:00

Obscenity case filed against Akbar Padamsee

Akbar Padamsee's debut solo show at the Jehangir Art Gallery in Bombay resulted in a charge of obscenity followed by a controversial court case that he eventually won. The offending work was a painting entitled "Lovers" that depicted a nude couple with the man's hand upon his partner's breast.

1956-01-01 12:03:56

First exhibition of the Baroda Group of Artists

By the mid-1950s certain leading artists had begun to investigate principles of modernist abstraction. Artists like Shanti Dave and G. R. Santosh, who are featured in this exhibition, had begun to move away from the depiction of figures and toyed with non-representational forms and structures in their artistic practices

1958-01-01 12:03:56

Nasreen Mohamedi returns to Bombay

Upon completing her training at Saint Martin’s School of Art, London, Mohamedi returned to Bombay. Like her mentor V. S. Gaitonde, Mohamedi had an interest in Zen, mysticism, and elemental, or non-Platonic, thought. Under his guidance the artist moved past early figurative paintings in oil on canvas and began to look to the grid as a template for her linear drawings and watercolors.

1960-01-01 00:00:00

Artists increasingly become interested in indigenism, with local styles and sources inspiring their works

Though artists such as K. G. Subramanyan engaged an international modernist language that drew on cubism and expressionism, this served as a prism through which he and other artists sought to engage the living traditions of folk and tribal art in their practices.

1960-01-01 00:00:00

The development of themes related to esoteric art

Following the rediscovery of tantric art in the 1960s through various exhibitions and publications, artists such as Biren De and G. R. Santosh applied these principles to "neo-tantric" art practices. Their paintings adapted highly simplified, symbolic images of males and females in sexual union, treated with dramatic contrasts of light and dark for an eerie, transcendental effect.

1962-08-01 00:00:00

Founding of Group 1890

Group 1890 was a short-lived group comprising twelve artists in Baroda who tried to intervene in what they perceived to be a lagging national modernist art movement. Led by Jeram Patel, these artist-rebels of the 1960s emphasized the presence of a numen, or essence of an internal reality, in their work. Individual members worked in different modern and traditional idioms, but each attempted to give an image to the numen by drawing upon their own mental and spiritual resources.

1962-08-01 00:00:00

Sino-Indian Border Conflict

This conflict arose over a disputed Himalayan border and over India's perceived support of Tibet.

1965-08-01 00:00:00

Second Indo-Pak War over Kashmir

The war ended in a United Nations mandated ceasefire and the subsequent issuance of the Tashkent Declaration, which established a framework that was hoped to lead to lasting peace. The Declaration mandated the pulling back of troops, non-interference in internal affairs, and the restoration of economic and diplomatic relations.

1966-08-01 00:00:00

Jawaharlal Nehru's daughter Indira Gandhi comes to power as Prime Minister of India

Indira Gandhi begins the first of her three consecutive terms as Prime minister of India (1966–1977), after which she held office for a fourth term from 1980 until her assassination in 1984. Her 15 years in office make her the world's longest serving female Prime Minister to date.

1968-01-01 12:03:56

Through the Eyes of a Painter, written and directed by artist M. F. Husain in 1967, wins a Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival.

The film was developed through an initiative of the national Films Division of India, in which several leading painters in India were invited to develop experimental independent film. Recurrent elements from Husain’s paintings are identifiable in the film--a lamp, shoes, and human figures--and they function as decontextualized props against the Rajasthani landscape that Husain chose as his backdrop.

1968-08-01 00:00:00

First Triennale, India, held at the Lalit Kala Academy in New Delhi

The First Triennale, India, marked the first time that the nation had officially provided the venue for a major international art exhibition.

The Modernist Art Movement from India

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