Roots of Design Education in India

I have till this point been looking at secondary sources for information on the impact of the South Kensington initiative/ report in India. This is an amazing document that hints teasingly at a 10 year period of a private institution, and at a blank period before EB Havell takes over. By 1896 we are sure that the mechanical arts are not taught anymore. Thats means the first 46 years were of a school of design more or less with the same curriculoum as the first school sof design in the UK such as the Glasgow Scool of art. Design at that time was either ‘Industrial Art’ or ‘Art in Industry’.

What is also interesting is the actual dialogues between the people at the college and the ‘bhadralok’ who are stated to ahve exercised some gentle pressure to move the collge from its blue-collar focus towards a fine arts focus.

Many thnks to Kim Schuefftan for pointing me in thsi direction.

Click on this link to read the full report: Quinquennial Report of the Government School of Art, Calcutta for the years 1927-28 to 1931-32

1. History and policy of the Institution: In order to appreciate the policy of the school it would of help to know something of its past history and of the contribution of its most prominent Principals in shaping the art education imparted therein.

The Government School of Art, Calcutta, which was then known as the School of Industrial Art, was started in 1854, as a private enterprise, by a number of Indian and European gentlemen who formed themselves into a society under the name of the Industrial Art Society. Such eminent men as Dr. Rajendra Lal Mitra, Maharaja Sir Jotindra Mohan Tagore and Mr. Justice Pratt were members of this society. The school was first situated (1854-55) at Jorasanko (now residence of the Mullick family), and in turn moved (1856-58) to Colootola (now the Medical College Eye Infirmary), (1859-1863) to Sealdah and (1864-1892) to Baithak-khana, Bowbazar. The subjects taught were ornamental drawing, modeling and casting in plaster, the manufacturing of pottery, wood-engraving, lithography and photography. The school was chiefly maintained by private donations and fees realised from the students, but from time to time the Government helped the school by substantial grants-in-aid.

In 1864 the school which was handed over to Government became a Government institution, and its name was changed into the Government School of Art. The house at Bowbazar was found unsuitable for the accommodation of the students and the art exhibits, and the school was moved to Chowringhee at the site where now stands the United Services Club. In 1892 the school was housed in the present building at 28, Chowringhee Road. To the Art School was attached an Art Gallery which consisted of exhibits bought by the school, and presented by the Government and public.

The students were, from the beginning, taught art on European models. It was Mr. E. B. Havell (1896-1905) who first directed his attention to the indigenous arts, and under his direction the students were taught to cultivate the Indian tradition in art. This was a turning point in the history of the school, and although much adverse criticism was then leveled against the policy of Mr. Havell, he was firm in his belief and carried out his policy. Mr. Havell got great assistance from Mr. Abanindranath Tagore C.I.E., Vice-Principal, Government School of Art, Calcutta (1905-1915), who in fact founded the modern Bengal school of painting. Mr. Havell and Mr. Tagore cleared the Art Gallery of a number of bad exhibits and cheap imitations of European art and filled it up with fine specimens of medieval and modern Indian painting.


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