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Printmaking and Professionalism in Early 20th Century Calcutta

This article examines a group of special edition books of artists’ prints published in the early decades of the twentieth century by artists in and from Bengal. Usually privately commissioned from small printing houses in limited runs, and combining short texts with collections of black and white images in wood engraving, linocut, drypoint or other printmaking media, these artists’ books emerged at a time when intense intellectual debates had been percolating for decades regarding the “correct” mode of modern Indian expression in the visual arts. Artists, nevertheless, still struggled with the daily realities of trying to earn a living through their art practices. In their circulation and distribution, these books were a means by which artists promoted themselves to new forms of urban patronage, and in their visual imagining of village Bengal, they intervened in the ambiguous relationship between the urban and the rural in the experience of Indian modernity. This article examines how artists, especially those associated with the Government School of Art in Calcutta, used these books as a tool in the establishment and furtherance of their professional artistic careers.
Relevant research areas: 20th Century