7 Best Modern Indian Art Works – Demystifying the History

Modern Art: What Does It Mean?

Before embarking on the journey of modern Indian art, it is important to understand the concept of modern art. Have you ever considered what modern art truly means? In simple terms, it refers to the art of the contemporary era. It is worth noting that modern does not necessarily refer to the present time, but rather a period that began more than a decade ago.

During this time, artists aimed to break away from traditional techniques and ideals in order to create works that reflected the rapidly changing world. The world of renowned modern artists is vast, but one name that stands out is Picasso – widely regarded as one of the greatest artists of all time. His artworks are still revered as some of the most famous pieces in existence. One of the most well-known works of modern art is Picasso’s Guernica (1937).

Modern Art History

India has made its mark in various fields worldwide, including art. The Modern Indian Art Movement began in the renowned city of Calcutta during the late 19th century. While traditional art painting declined in Bengal, Britain introduced new institutes of modern art. One of the pioneer Indian artists, Raja Ravi Varma, adopted Western artistic tools like oil painting and easel painting and brought the tradition of modern art to India.

Therefore, the history of modern art dates back to the 19th century and the central character Raja Ravi Varma. A rebirth of traditionalism emerged in response to Western intervention, known as Bengal school painting, based on Indian traditionalism. Here is a mysterious painting by Raja Ravi Varma depicting Sri Krishna as a representative.

Best Modern Indian Art Works

1. The Envoy of Sri Krishna by Raja Ravi Varma (1905)


In 1905 Raja Ravi Varma painted a portrait of Sri Krishna as a Missionary. The above-given portrait is an oil art that depicts Sri Krishna in his role as the messenger of the Pandavas in front of everyone at the court of Kaurava. Sri Jayachama Rajendra Art Gallery, Jaganmohan Palace, Mysore, Karnataka, still displays this portrait.

Draupadi, wife of the Pandavas, is the next famous portrait painted by Raja Ravi Varma. It is titled “Pleasing”.

Raja Ravi Varma’s pleasing

The portrait Pleasing was created by Raja Ravi Varma in the late 19th century and named it Pleasing. Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas, is depicted in this Indian art painting mourning her fate of bringing milk and honey to Keechaka’s court. In Mysore, Karnataka, you can find this artwork in the art exhibition of Sri Jayachama Rajendra Jaganmohan Palace.

Raja Ravi Varma painted another well-known painting of a milkmaid below. The artist aimed to depict the countryside woman who is a milkmaid.

Raja Ravi Varma’s The Milkmaid

The 1904 portrait by Raja Ravi Varma showcases a young girl from rural northern India carrying milk home. The piece radiates the simplicity and purity of village life, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a pure heart no matter one’s social status or location. It remains on display at the Sri Chitra Art Gallery in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala and can be viewed there presently.

Art School of Bengal

As previously mentioned, the artist who brought modern art to India through the Bengal school in the late 19th century was Raja Ravi Varma. This occurred during the colonial era. British art teacher Ernest Binfield Havel, who taught at the Calcutta School of Art, recognized the significant influence of Indian spiritual ideas on Western culture and encouraged students to imitate Mughal portraits. This sparked strong backlash, leading to a student walkout and criticism from local nationalists who viewed it as a regression.

2. Abanindranath Tagore (1871-1951): Bharat Mata

Abanindranath Tagore, a key figure in the Bengal School, created “Bharat Mata” at the beginning of India’s struggle for independence. As a serene, nurturing figure holding the national flag, Mother India appears in this iconic painting. His work reflects the collective spirit of the nation, capturing the essence of the early nationalist movement.

In contrast to the “material possessions” of the West, Abanindranath created a variety of artworks inspired by Mughal art, which he and Havel viewed as expressing India’s unique mystical characteristics. The portrait of a young lady holding artifacts symbolizing India’s national ambitions is called ‘Bharat Mata’ (Mother India), a painting of his influential work known as ‘Bharat Mata’ (Mother India). The painting Bharat Mata is by Abanindranath Tagore (1871–1951).

Apart from Abanindranath Tagore, there were many other well-known artists of that era, including Gaganendranath Tagore, Jamini Roy, Mukul Dey, Manishi Dey, and Ram Kinker Baij. I am sure you are wondering why I haven’t mentioned the contemporary artist of modern art. The simple answer is that a man must make a base before he can build a building, so let me tell you about the contemporary modern artist.

3. The Three Girls by Amrita Sher-Gil (1935):

During her transformational sojourn in Hungary, Amrita Sher-Gil, a trailblazer of modern Indian art, created the mesmerizing masterpiece “Three Girls.” This canvas, a symphony of cultural convergence, encapsulates Sher-Gil’s unique ability to harmonize her European artistic training with the vibrant tapestry of her Indian heritage. As a result, viewers are invited into the contemplative world of three Indian village girls through a visual poetry that transcends borders.

Sher-Gil’s European odyssey, particularly her time at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, is evident in the painting’s composition and meticulous attention to form. She conveys a nuanced portrayal of the human form through her brushstrokes that echo both the Post-Impressionist and Realist movements. Despite these influences, the artist delicately infuses the canvas with the essence of rural life, revealing a profound connection to India’s soul.

In Sher-Gil’s poignant portrayal of Indian femininity, the trio of village girls becomes a poignant representation. Their contemplative mood serves as a conduit for exploring the complexity of their inner worlds, providing a glimpse into the rich tapestry of emotions

4. Untitled (1951) by Maqbool Fida Husain:

M.F. Husain, a prominent member of the Progressive Artists’ Group, revealed a masterful untitled piece in 1951 that captures the essence of his early artistic development. With bold brushwork and a vibrant array of colors, this work showcases Husain’s pursuit of a unique visual style. The canvas becomes a space where modern aesthetics seamlessly merge with traditional Indian influences, setting the stage for a prolific career that would revolutionize the world of Indian art.

This artwork showcases energetic brushwork, transcending the boundaries of two-dimensional space. The vibrant hues not only demonstrate the artist’s technical brilliance, but also reflect a deep understanding of the emotional impact of color. The composition pulsates with life, capturing the essence of post-independence India as it embarked on a journey of self-discovery and cultural revival. This untitled masterpiece serves as a precursor to Husain’s later explorations into Indian mythology, hinting at the rich stories that would unfold in his subsequent works. It is more than just a painting; rather, it is a declaration of artistic independence and an embodiment of the endless possibilities born from the dynamic interplay between tradition and modernity on canvas.

5. “Village Scene” by Jamini Roy (1935):

Roy’s commitment to bridging the divide between rural and urban artistic expressions is palpable in “Village Scene.” The painting exudes the lively essence of Bengal’s folk art, providing a timeless glimpse into the daily routines of its inhabitants. This intentional deviation from traditional academic art highlights Roy’s faith in the influence of native customs to create a distinct visual dialect that resonates with the community and surpasses temporal boundaries.

“Village Scene” is a masterful fusion of rural simplicity and artistic sophistication, embodying Roy’s lasting legacy. More than just a painting, it serves as a vibrant representation of the artist’s unwavering dedication to authenticity and cultural significance. Through its strokes and colors, this masterpiece encapsulates the essence of Bengal’s villages while bridging the gap between tradition and modernity. Its place in art history is a testament to Roy’s enduring artistic vision.

6. “Bindu” by S. H. Raza (1980):

Raza, a towering figure in Indian modern art, embarked on a spiritual journey that resulted in “Bindu,” his iconic masterpiece. A profound exploration of the intersection between spiritual philosophy and artistic expression, this seminal work embodies Raza’s unique blend of abstraction and profound cultural resonance.

“Bindu” is centered around a powerful symbol deeply rooted in Indian metaphysics – the bindu, which symbolizes the cosmic nucleus. Raza’s deliberate choice of this motif is more than an aesthetic decision; it serves as a vehicle for exploring the timeless connection between art and spirituality. Symbolizing the point from which creation emerges, bindu symbolizes the infinite and eternal in Indian philosophy.

His artistic metamorphosis into abstraction in “Bindu” reflects his aim to distill complex spiritual concepts into visual language. In this painting, viewers are invited to transcend the material world and engage with the cosmic center. By focusing on the bindu as the focal point, Raza draws observers into a meditative dialogue with the infinite, mirroring his own deep spiritual introspection.

Raza demonstrates his ability to translate profound philosophical ideas into a visual world with vibrant hues and dynamic interplay of forms within “Bindu”. Each stroke, each color, contributes to the rich tapestry of the artwork, creating a harmonious symphony that resonates with cosmic rhythms. With the vivid pigments echoing the diverse facets of Raza’s metaphysical journey, Raza’s palette becomes a palette of spirituality.

It serves not only as a masterpiece, but also as a symbol of Raza’s enduring influence on Indian contemporary art. In his spiritual odyssey, Raza offers viewers a profound visual experience that transcends time and culture. Through the language of form and color, the bindu in “Bindu” continues to echo across the corridors of art history, a timeless beacon guiding those seeking the sublime.

7. Tyeb Mehta’s “Wounded Tiger” (1992):

As a response to the socio-political turmoil surrounding the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the Mumbai riots, Tyeb Mehta’s “Wounded Tiger” is a compelling artistic work. This painting is a poignant metaphor for a nation torn apart by communal tensions, created during a tumultuous period.

The central focus on a wounded tiger in Mehta’s work is symbolic, representing collective pain and suffering of a society in crisis. The choice of a powerful and majestic animal underscores how serious the issues are. Tigers are wounded during this tumultuous period in Indian history, reflecting the wounds inflicted on the nation’s identity and harmony.

Tyeb Mehta’s talent for translating current issues into his art is praiseworthy. Beyond its visual allure, the painting serves as a reflection of the harsh truths of the era. The injured tiger takes on a universal significance, reaching people regardless of their location or background. Through “Wounded Tiger,” Mehta expertly conveys the struggles of a nation and its wounded soul, resulting in a timeless masterpiece that provokes contemplation and introspection.

Intricately woven with threads of cultural diversity, social transformation, and boundless artistic innovation, modern Indian art unfolds as a captivating tapestry. Seven masterpieces illustrate the dynamic evolution of the artistic heritage of India, each rooted in a distinct era and artistic movement.

As they illustrate the changing landscapes of the nation and the artists who navigated them, these iconic works serve as portals to different chapters in the unfolding story of modern Indian art. Each masterpiece reflects the diverse influences and inspirations that have shaped Indian art, from Amrita Sher-Gil’s fusion of European techniques with Indian subjects to M. F. Husain’s bold exploration of a unique visual language.

As we explore the tales behind these works, we discover the significant influence of art on society and vice versa. The artwork acts as a reflective surface, showcasing not just the artist’s mastery but also the wider socio-cultural landscape. By honoring these seven brilliant contributions, we recognize the crucial role these artists have played in molding modern India’s cultural diversity. Their creative pursuits have made a lasting impact, enhancing the fabric of India’s artistic narrative and giving us a window into the continuous evolution of creativity in this nation.