My Reminiscences of Rathin Maitra - Partha Mitter

I pen here a few words about the remarkable artist Rathin Maitra. I knew Rathin Maitra by reputation as one of the luminaries of the Calcutta (present Kolkata) art scene. But I met Rathin Maitra for the first time in the 1950s at the Academy of Fine Arts in Calcutta.

The supremo of the Academy, Lady Ranu Mukherjee had engaged Atul Bose and Rathin Maitra to run life drawing classes at the Academy. The two artists would do their rounds, stopping by each student for a few moments to examine their output but they rarely volunteered an opinion, leaving them to struggle with their own efforts. Bose was more reserved and taciturn but Maitra was very friendly and engaged in conversations with me. At that time, I was preparing to take up painting as a profession and found him quite helpful. I still remember him: a slim and elegant man with a narrow gaunt face and aquiline features; and his occasional ironic comments.

Rathin Maitra was a founder member of The Calcutta Group, an informal collective of radical modernist painters, consisting of Maitra, Subho Tagore, Nirode Mazumdar, Prankrishna Pal, Gopal Ghosh, Paritosh Sen, Prodosh Das Gupta and the only female member, Kamala Das Gupta. Set up in 1943, one of its additions was the remarkable artist, Zainul Abedin. It was the first radical art organisation anticipating the Progressive Artists Group (PAG) in Bombay (present Mumbai). The Calcutta Group were socially committed artists who responded to the deprivations of the war, man-made famine and crisis of the empire in its death throes, and indeed some of them were sympathetic to the communist movement. Their anti-religious stance earned them the epithet: Artistic Scandal.

Rathin Maitra was honoured by the Bombay Art Society on the year of India’s independence in being invited to participate in its annual exhibition. A graduate of the government art school in Calcutta, Maitra later joined the school as a teacher. Maitra graduated from a simplified version of Abanindranath’s oriental art towards a more expressionist palette, such as his notable painting, The Last Journey, now at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi. However, all artists of this era were inspired directly or indirectly by the great Jamini Roy. Maitra’s range of styles shows deep sympathies with the suffering caused by social upheavals and massive population displacements following from the Partition. He will be remembered as one of the pioneering artists who emerged in the closing decades of the Raj.

Partha Mitter

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