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 Few people know that the Indian Society of Oriental Arts, which was probably the first Art group in India was against the use of Oil paints. this was simply because the Oil paints were imported from abroad and the Oil painting was the predominant British School technique, taught in art-schools. It is surprising that this immensely significant group with memebrs like Abanindranath Tagore and Nandal Bose was to treat a medium of art as anti-Indian. But the rules of the Society was so strict that it did not allow young artists to exhibit their works if they indulged in Oil paintings.

Some of these unknown young artists were therefore forced to form a new group which was then called the Rebel Centre of Art. Jamini Roy went to call this "the revolution against revolution". The Group had some of the most promising names like Ramkinkar Baij and Abani Sen.

Jamini Roy

A rare oil painting of Jamini Roy

Training in Oil paintings was also kept to the minimum at the Santiniketan while the College of Art and Crafts in Calcutta , run in those days by the British Government continued to impart rigorous training in Oil. In course of time the college gained popularity over Santiniketan's Kalabhavan as an institute of training.

In post independence-era the distinction between mediums of art declined and artists freely worked in mediums of their choice and differed only in their subject matters. 



        Oil painting has remained the most important medium for painters since time immemorial. Oil is the most versatile of all medium too. And it was the only medium that could be used to paint photographic realistic images. It got replaced by acrylic finally in terms of versatility only in the later half of twentieth century. Thus most painters born before Indian independence  are found to be oil painters. The majority of comany School works of Bengal are in Oil. Though it was shunned as a western medium by many the early Shantiniketan artists, it could never be ignored by the later day artists of the same school.

Company School Painting

        And though many painters in Bengal had attempted other medium like conte (Ganesh paine , Sunil Das ), gouache (Ganesh Haloi ), tempera, water colour etc, oil remained the most important of all medium. 

        Almost all major painters of the Santiniketan School  from KG Subbhramaniayan , Benode Bihari , Sailoz Mukherjee, or the Calcutta Group Painters like Paritosh Sen  had worked in oil.

A company school oil work

        Oil can be used on canvas, board, on any hard non-absorbent surface but not that effectively on paper. In the 60s and the 70s, many painters had tried mixing oil with other media like acrylic and pastel. These paintings were initially called mixed media works. Suvaprasanna and for some time BR Panesar created some very good such works.

       The problem with oil are however many. They do not mix well with any other medium. They take long time to dry, and they donít allow use on paper and other absorbent bases.

Sailoj Mukhopadhyay

 A Oil painting by artist Sailoz Mukherjee

        In the post-liberalization  phase of India, when artists are getting exposed to a variety of new material, the handicaps of oil are proving too daunting, which is why most young generation artists like Devajyoti Ray  do not work much in this medium. They are now moving towards the more versatile Acrylic .


Modern Bengal's Oil paintings. Artists: Suvaprasanna (on left) and Suhas Roy (on right)

Suhas Roy




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