Jamini Roy And His Painting Mediums

It is well documented that Jamini Roy was an academic portrait painter in the early days using oil paints. His usage of watercolour and experiments with the style of "Bengal school" and others is recorded.

Jamini Roy And His Painting Mediums  

Early studio picture

Those who know me would know how I chase down every spec of information and the rigor with which I check details/provenances/styles/etc. My favorite checks have included hiring a lawyer to go through older court cases to understand ownership issues. Chatting with a previously unknown gentleman for two hours over a few whiskeys just to confirm that his deceased wife was indeed a friend of a collector and knew a particular artist etc. Finding people who rented a particular home and grilling them about the antecedents of the collector landlord - have done it all. 


Here I am intentionally choosing to talk about the least common denominator and take the glass half full approach.  I have already pointed out these issues to a bunch of people in auction houses and will make sure to disseminate this to the extent possible.  


Jamini Roy With His Palette  


Tempera From Local Pigments, Binder and Water

It is well documented that Jamini Roy was an academic portrait painter in the early days using oil paints. His usage of watercolour and experiments with the style of Bengal school and others is recorded. Subsequently, it was all about his own style and including the use of "primitive" paints which were locally available pigments made into the paint with use of a binder and thinned with water. This is referred to as tempera.

These days gouache and tempera are sometimes inter-changeably used which is not correct. Sometimes the medium of the painting being offered for sale is indeed gouache. I remember another such error on Ganesh Pyne which was "signed in Bengali and dated in English" and therefore giving a wrong year to the work (e.g. Bengali eight ৮ looks like a six).

Jamini Roy's tempera is quite specific. The usage of the local pigments, the radiance of the Vermillion, the chrome yellows, the depth of the Indian reds, the rich blues and greens are all very apparent. The consistency of the surface and the paint is generally far from even, it feels very different both to view and to touch. Once you have seen enough, things become obvious from a mile away!

I would like to point out that gouache in comparison to watercolour, which is considered to have a matte finish. Quite often gouache is described as 'watercolour with chalk' - a material like zinc oxide. So the words 'matte' and 'chalky' have often been used with gouache, and I find them re-used with tempera paints. Certainly to add to the confusion both are water-soluble and opaque. To clarify this we need to understand that tempera is just a generic word.

Here we are referring to something very specific. The paints used by Jamini Roy, the local pigments grounded up for usage and the local binder.

Jamini Roy's paint was locally created in his studio, using local substances and a local binder - it has a very different texture and feel (consistency, texture, ageing, etc) in comparison to a factory manufactured paint. 

 It is a misconception that Jamini Roy used egg-whites (as documented in most books on Jamini). The famine in West Bengal happened in 1943. You could not walk into a grocery store and say "can I have a hundred eggs please". People could not eat! Four million people died of starvation, so you just could not have used eggs. Use of egg-whites is such a romanticized western notion around tempera paint and is the antithesis of Jamini Roy's art.

The fact that is well documented is that Jamini Roy used oil paints, water-colour and then his own tempera. While I have only included a few images, there are many images from his studio and they all show the same.   

I leave further research into other mediums possibly used by Jamini for others to pursue.  

Indrajit Chatterjee

Related: Jamini Roy's Residence in Kolkata