Every brush stroke and each drop of color used is a word written on the canvas. Our own Indian Art justifies it. We have curated a list of Best 10 Indian Artists and their works, in no particular order as such, which shall remain evergreen no matter what. Famous contemporary artists of today in India are in no comparison to these legends and you will know why.
1. Raja Ravi Varma
Born in 1848, Raja Ravi Varma is one of the most famous Indian painters. His inspiration for his paintings came from Indian epics and mythology. He joined together the world of European and Indian techniques of art. His work’s simplicity made him famous. Exhibitions in Europe don’t proceed without his marvelous paintings. His astounding knowledge of art landed his various awards.
If you have taken a look at his work, women play an integral element in his paintings. The age-old portraits of Indian deities have his name all over it. One of them being Hamsa Damayanti. Other famous works of him include ‘Shakuntala’, ‘There Comes Papa’ and ‘Disappointed’. He earned fame by using the traditional oil painting technique in all of his work. He incorporated both realism and mythology in his work, which set him aside as a unique artist.
Shakuntala by Raja Ravi Varma
As we all know the world-famous ancient Indian poet Kalidasa wrote Shakuntala. Ravi Varma portrays the scene where Shakunta pretends to remove a thorn from her foot, while actually looking for her husband/lover, Dushyantha. Her friends call her bluff and we can see the yearning melancholy in her eyes. As for the Millenials, you would have seen this across the internet as a meme and now you know. It is still considered as the great Indian art.
2. Amrita Sher-Gil
Amrita Sher-Gil moved to Europe when she was 16 years old this significantly influenced her early work as we can see traces of European art style, especially that of Impressionist painters like Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin. Sher-Gil first received recognition at the age of 19 through her painting Young Girls.
Her achievements are plenty including a gold medal and election as an Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris. She was the youngest ever member and the only Asian to have received this recognition. As she grew, she made a conscious decision to return to classical Indian art and wanted to express the life of Indian people through her canvas. Sadly she left us at the ripe age of 28 at the peak of her career.
Still, she influenced generations of Indian artists from S. H. Raza to Arpita Singh. Amrita Sher-Gil is regarded as a “pioneer” in modern Indian art and she has been called “one of the greatest avant-garde women artists of the early 20th century”. The Government of India has proudly declared her works as National Art Treasures.
Self Portrait – Amrita Sher-Gil
This is a 1931 self-portrait by Amrita Sher-Gil, depicting at the age of 18, one of India’s most important modern artists. She was the “first” at a lot of things to achieve including to be offered in Christie’s London. Sher-Gil’s self-portraits are painted with an intensity that is almost hypnotic, drawing the viewer into the innermost psyche of our Indian artist, where one discovers a sea of melancholy.
3. Abanindranath Tagore
A nephew of the famous poet Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath studied art at the Sanskrit College in Kolkata. He went on to become the first major modern exponent of Swadeshi values in Indian art. Abanindranath Tagore rejected the west and focused on Indian art styles like the Traditional Mughal and Rajput styles. He created art that modernized the traditional Indian art forms that even British art institutions accepted and promoted it as Indian oriental art.
Abanindranath Tagore also founded the Bengal School of Art, which spread from Bengal throughout India. Abanindranath Tagore was is regarded as one of the most important Indian artists and he had a deep influence on succeeding artists some of whom were his students, like Nandalal Bose.
Bharat Mata by Abanindranath Tagore
One of the most iconic paintings of Abanindranath Tagore – Bharat Mata or “Mother India” depicts a saffron-clad woman, dressed like a sadhvi, holding a book, sheaves of paddy, a piece of white cloth, and a garland in her four hands. This Indian Art became highly important because of its emotional and historical value and became immensely popular among the nationalists in those days considering it was created at the wake of Lord Curzon’s plan to bifurcate Bengal.
Fun Fact: Sister Nivedita, an admirer of the painting, wanted to carry it from Kashmir to Kanyakumari to spread nationalist fervor among the people of the country.
4. Rabindranath Tagore
Though best known as a poet and as the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Rabindranath Tagore was also an artist. He began painting late in his sixties. His harmless creation of doodles which then lead to producing a variety of images such as fantasized and bizarre beasts; masks; mysterious human faces and mystic landscapes.
Tagore produced thousands of works in art and in 1930, he became the first Indian artist to exhibit his works across Europe, Russia, and the United States. The art of Tagore is highly individualistic and is characterized by bold forms, vitality, rhythmic quality, and a sense of fantasy.
It may be noted that Tagore was likely red-green colorblind and this resulted in his works exhibiting strange color schemes and off-beat aesthetics. Rabindranath Tagore was an influential artist and 102 works by him are listed in the collections of India’s National Gallery of Modern Art.
Self-Portrait by Rabindranath Tagore
Tagore made thousands of sketches and drawings using a brush, pencil, and pen, the most famous of them being his self-portrait. This painting depicts the full-face, a self-portrait of the bearded artist, enhanced by the lack of color, unworked background, and the use of primitive-looking pencil lines.
5. Maqbool Fida Husain
In his early years, our “Picasso of India”, M. F. Husain used to paint billboards for the Mumbai film industry. Husain is most known for his bold and vibrantly colored narrative paintings in a modified Cubist style. This Indian art captures a wide variety of subjects including Mahatma Gandhi; Mother Teresa; the Ramayana; the Mahabharata; the British raj; and motifs of Indian urban and rural life.
Also, he frequently captured the spirit of horses in his artworks. In 1991, M. F. Husain was awarded the Padma Vibhushan. His later works, however, caused controversy as they depicted traditional deities of India in non-traditional ways including nude portrayals. Due to this Husain lived in self-imposed exile from 2006 until his death. M. F. Husain was the most celebrated and internationally recognized Indian artist of the 20th century.
Horses – M F Husain
This painting by the Great Indian Artist captures the power and energy of three horses through bold outlines that define the strong beasts in full gallop which mesmerizes the audience. Among Husain’s best works and a collector’s dream, this painting was placed on auction at Christie’s in 2008 and fetched over INR 1 crore making it the Great Indian art.
6. Jamini Roy
Jamini Roy began his career as a painter of Post-Impressionist landscapes and portraits which he later shifted to a new style which was based on Bengali folk traditions. His techniques, as well as subject matter, was influenced by the traditional art of Bengal. Through his art, Jamini Roy primarily aimed to capture the simplicity in the life of the folk people. He also wanted to make art accessible to a wider section of people and to give Indian art its own identity.
Jamini Roy was most influenced by Kalighat painting, an Indian art style with bold sweeping brush-strokes. The Santhals, tribal people who live in the rural districts of Bengal, were an important subject for him. Jamini Roy was among the leading Indian artists of his time and he had a deep and profound influence on Indian Modern Art. In 1955, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India.
Three Pujarins by Jamini Roy
Jamini Roy created a masterpiece of the Indian Art when he painted three almond-eyed priestesses for his work named Three Pujarins. Obviously, inspired by the folk art tradition of Bengal, Roy experimented with vibrant colors and developed his own individual style of painting that resulted in artwork that was a visual feast.
7. Nandalal Bose
Nandalal Bose was considered as one of the pioneers of Modern Indian art. He played a key role in the Contextual Modernism. The title “Artist Laureate of India” suits him perfectly. Instead of western art, Bose was highly inspired by the 5th-century murals in Ajanta Caves and he heavily borrowed themes and motifs from them.
When India achieved its independence, Nandalal Bose was asked by the PM of India to sketch the emblems for the awards of the Government of India, including the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honor in India. He also performed the honorable task of decorating the original manuscript of the Constitution of India. Consequently, in 1954, Nandalal Bose was awarded the Padma Vibhushan. After his death, in 1976, the Indian Government declared the works of Bose to be considered “to be art treasures, having regard to their artistic and aesthetic value”.
Bapuji by Nandlal Bose
Everybody knows about Mahatma Gandhi as one of the greatest freedom fighters the world has ever seen. But not many of us know that Bapu has been a muse for many of his contemporary artists at that time.
Interestingly, His famous linocut portrait of the Mahatma titled ‘Dandi March’ (with the legend Bapuji, 1930, inscribed on it) created in 1930, reflects his respect for Gandhi and is on permanent display at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi.
8. Sayed Haider Raza
Raza began as a painter of expressionistic landscapes and continued his experiments with Western Modernism. His increasing dissatisfaction with his work led to frequent visits to India, especially to the Ajanta – Ellora caves resulted in his studying the Indian culture more closely. This, in turn, rejuvenated new vitality to his art.
In 1980, the “Bindu”(the dot) bought him new acclaim as it, became a prominent motif in his art. Raza continued to explore more Hindu themes in his Indian art like the Tribhuj (Triangle) and Prakriti-Purusha (female and male energy). This transformed his journey as an artist from a painter of expressionistic landscapes to a master of abstraction.
In the 2000s, Raza dived deeper into the Indian spirituality creating works around the Kundalini, Nagas, and the Mahabharat. In 2010, Raza’s work Saurashtra is one of the most expensive Indian paintings as it fetched more than $3.48 million at a Christie’s auction.
Bindu by S H Raza
By the ’70s, he had found the motif that would make him a legend: the bindu. Raza once stated that “Bindu is a source of energy, source of life. Life begins here, attains infinity here.” Other than the bindu, his instantly recognizable trademark geometric abstract works also explored themes like prakriti (nature), kundalini (primal energy) and tribhuj (triangle).
9. Tyeb Mehta
A painter, sculptor, and film-maker, a multi-talented person – Tyeb Mehta, was part of the Progressive Artists’ Group (PAG) in Mumbai. Interestingly, he interacted with many renowned artists such as S. H. Raza and M. F. Husain. Mehta moved to London in 1959 and the gruesome distortion of famous British artist Francis Bacon influenced him largely.
Later, in the 70s and 80s, he turned to Indian themes and subjects. When Mehta was young, he witnessed a man being stoned to death and the impact of this incident on him may be seen in several of his disturbing depictions. Mehta’s art has often fetched some of the highest prices paid for Indian artworks at auctions. Later in 2007, Tyeb Mehta was awarded the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian honor in India.
Mahishasura by Tyeb Mehta
The most important work by India’s finest contemporary artist, Tyeb Mehta is Mahishasura – a reinterpretation of the tale of the demon by the same name – was the first Indian painting to cross the million-dollar mark. Tyeb’s visit to Shantiniketan had a huge influence on him which resulted in this Great Indian Art. Mehta fuses ancient imagery with the simplicity of form, color, and line, resulting in a powerfully modern work full of fresh vitality.
10. S Elayaraja
Born in the land rich in culture and tradition, Tamil Nadu, he grasped and explored his artistic skills from Govt. Fine art College, Chennai. S Elayaraja is one of the most refined and experienced ones. He is one of the famous Indian Artists to be alive. His interests include exploring different mediums in art- watercolor, oil paint, and acrylic. But his love for oil paints is inconvincible and his well-composed and awe-inspiring paintings are an irresistible proof.
He draws his inspiration from the land where he was brought up. Elayaraja portrays them onto his canvas will a million microns of richness and vibrant colors. He mainly focuses on Tamil women, their culture, tradition, and lifestyle. He paints his observations with such finesse that people often misinterpret it as a lens captured a photograph. As a result, S Elayaraja ’s paintings are a blast of emotions and expressions revealing the story of each woman he paints. This realistic artist successfully brings out the essence of a peaceful village life soothing the eyes who have only witnessed the exhausting urbanization.
Tamil Girl with Her Parrots by S Elayaraja
S Elayaraja’s paintings are known for being hyper-real, almost photographic as he depicts ‘Dravidian girls’, in his much-acclaimed, inimitable style. In the painting, the girl is seen sitting with her parrots and smiling subtly into the frame with a knowing look in her eyes.
Elayaraja painstakingly breathes life into every detail, from the folds of the girl’s dress to the shining gold-threaded patterns and borders of her skirt, the pretty parrots perched on the window sill behind her, the brown wooden frame behind her and the cemented floor. Bathed in an almost angelic golden light, the painting showcases the artists’ deep bond with his cultural background, growing up in a temple town in Tamil Nadu.
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Anyway, were you enchanted by these Indian Art Masterpieces like we were or you smart kid recognized these exemplary works already? Let us know in the comments!
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