Adip Dutta looks at the shift in focus from landscape painting to land art among young artists in Kolkata.
Landscape painting as a genre flourished in India thanks to the uses it was expressly put to - those of documenting the country's topography and monuments. Recording the British presence in India by showcasing buildings with Victorian style architecture was a project that ran parallel to the promotion of Oriental landscapes as exotic. The landscape was also made popular by the scenic engravings of artists like William Hodges and the Daniells. In the 19th century, the British began acquiring works by 'native' painters, patronizing them, even as Calcutta began attracting artists/artisans from courts-in-decline (Murshidadbad, Lucknow, and Patna, among them).
An exposure to the naturalistic conventions of European-style landscape painting inspired the erstwhile court artists to use the realist-illusionist style in their own works. They were insidiously influenced into adopting the Western gaze. They used miniaturesque details in their works however - this was what differentiated their works from works by European artists. These meticulous details 'bejewelled' the landscapes and gave them a hybrid look which became popular until the landscapes were further refined by the art school-trained, educated, middle class professional artists. These landscapes depicted local scenes and drew from Dutch and English painting practices. Thus, the 'popular' genre of landscape painting slowly turned into a 'high-art' genre. It catered to the tastes of the rich, educated, Europeanised gentry. The trend continued for almost a century until a relevantly rooted and philosophical approach began to emerge at Kala Bhavana, Santiniketan, thanks to the pedagogic interventions of artists like Nandalal Bose and Benode Behari Mukherjee. An inspiration drawn from the Far Eastern modes of pictorialisation made artists like Mukherjee "move from the landscape to the land" as R. Siva Kumar put it.