Kalighat painting developed and flourished in the nineteenth century in the market area adjacent to the Kali Mandir at Kalighat in Kolkata, then the capital city of British India. The custom was that the pilgrims carried souvenirs as a memento of the pilgrimage for themselves and their relatives.
The type and nature of these materials varied from place to place. Kalighat painting originated as a monument due to its connection with the Kali Mandir of Kalighat. In the early stages, the subject of this painting was mythological-religious story. But gradually it also includes secular issues and reflects contemporary social issues that have so far been outside the scope of the relevant art of pilgrimage. This painting reflected and presented the values of the nascent civil society. The artists also painted swings and other items for Muslim buyers. In this painting, the ability to combine different elements and to change it reveals the ability to paint a new and vivid visual picture.
The present Kali Mandir was established in the early nineteenth century. A market was also built around the temple. Gradually the traditional Patuaras from different districts of Bengal came to Kalighat and settled there. The area in which they come to live is known according to their profession, such as Patpara or the area of artists.
Early on, artists started drawing statues of Hindu deities on paper as part-time work. In her book Manners in Bengal (1832), a European painter by the name of Mrs. Belons mentions that she had seen “a few apt paintings” with pictures of native deities. These images were adorned in the houses of poor people who lived in extreme hardship. Kalighat paintings can be seen in a sketch drawn by him in a Bengali house.
These painters, who came from different parts of rural Bengal, reacted against the civic culture and manners, and with emotion they recorded the events of their time. Thus began a kind of secular painting which Babu despised culture, feminism, social debauchery, religious hypocrisy and all kinds of lies.
So the artist became a social critic. 18 to 64 paintings were available for one rupee and such works found a ready market among the middle and lower middle class. Indian scholars of the time hated anything contrary to their Victorian ideals. Rudyard Kipling was fascinated by the beauty of the art and collected many of his paintings and donated them to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 1918. Here and at the Prague Museum there is an excellent collection of Kalighat paintings.
The orthodox sentiments of the painters prevailed in the subject of painting. They thought that social change would bring great chaos. In addition to Shyamkant’s battle with the tiger as a metaphorical description of the war against the British and the Queen of Jhansi riding on horseback, popular paintings included the husband’s infidelity, the wife’s ascension on the husband’s shoulder, the goddess’s consecration . Artists took religious subjects from folklore and wore the same ornaments on people and gods.
The cylindrical physique, the irrational shading of the body lines, the simplified shapes and their rearrangements, the predominance of sculptures throughout all parts of the picture without any ornamentation or support, gave rise to a number of new experiments in modern painting.
William Archer mentions in his book Kalighat Paintings that in the early twentieth century, Paris-based modern artists competed with each other to learn Kalighat painting. In contrast to the rose beauty of Kalighat, one can randomly think of Pablo Picasso, Fernand Lager and Henri Matisse.
The purpose of Kalighat painting was to create a lively genre which helps to understand the subject in a simpler way than to express it simply. The layout of the layers reveals the two-dimensional quality of the image size.
Strong lines, wide layers, excellent color scheme, linear expansion and rhythmic curves all combine to create a visually pleasing music. Painters have left their works of art unsigned and they are now lost in the abyss of oblivion.
In Kalighat painting, square pots or vertical rectangular shapes are seen. Cheap paper and cheap paints were used in painting. The brush was made of squirrel and calf fur. Colors were used to create a transparent hue as opposed to the traditional Indian color coating or opaque color.
There were four types of brushes. First, the tip of a thick brush with water was dipped in black ink or paint to create a shady outline, its flexibility, and cylindrical pinds in just one pull.
Second, black or dark colored tassels, narrow and small pulls were used to indicate different parts of the human body such as eyes, nose, fingers or folds or parts of clothing separately.
Third, thick black lines were used to mark the edges of the cloth. Hair was also painted with the help of black circles.
Fourth, color stains were used to distinguish the color of the cloth from the body. Sometimes extra dyes were also used on body parts. With the help of shady body lines and clear gestures and motions, the body got a potopom feature on the undeveloped texture.
The style was symbolized by its morphological and linear dimensions, expressive posture, brush craftsmanship and precise rhythmic pull. In later times silver was used for ornaments.
The change in tastes is due to the relatively attractive naturalistic oil work of the students of the Colonial Art School. And prints imported from Germany forced Kalighat painters to withdraw from the market in the early part of the twentieth century.
Kalighat painting was the first artistic expression of the lower class culture in the Indian subcontinent and the destination of this painting was directly to the buyer. These were not made at the behest of the capitalists or the ruling rulers or for them.