Mukul Dey

Mukul Chandra Dey (Bengali: মুকুলচন্দ্র দে) (1895–1989) was a student of Rabindranath Tagore's Santiniketan. He is considered as a pioneer of drypoint-etching in India.

He was the first Indian artist to travel abroad for the purpose of studying printmaking as an art. While in Japan in 1916, Mukul Dey studied under Yokoyama Taikan and Kanzan Shimomura at Tokyo and Yokohama. At Yokohama Rabindranath Tagore and Mukul Dey lived as guests of Japanese silk-merchant Tomitaro Hara at his famous residential complex Sankeien, enjoying a rare opportunity to study classical Chinese and Nihonga style Japanese paintings. Especially the masterpieces of Sesshu Toyo.

Dey received his initial training at Rabindranath Tagore’s Santiniketan. He then traveled to America from Japan in 1916 to learn the technique of etching under James Blanding Sloane and Bertha E. Jaques in Chicago, to whom Dey was introduced by American artist Roi Partridge and his wife Imogen Cunningham. Mukul Dey remained a life-member of Chicago Society of Etchers. On his return to India in 1917, Dey concentrated on creating etchings as a fine art. He also supported himself through making portrait drawings of the rich and famous, and turned these into etchings. In 1920 Dey once again traveled abroad for the purpose of study, this time learning etching and engraving under Frank Short and Muirhead Bone. He studied at both the Slade School of Fine Art and the Royal College of Art in London. At Slade School of Art Mukul Dey was a student of Professor Henry Tonks.

According to the Polish sculptor Stanislaw Szukalski, when Mukul was in America, he showed Szukalski his drawings, which impressed the artist. He then told Szukalski of his desire to venture into Paris, to "finish his study", despite the extreme disapproval of this decision by Mukul's mentor, Tegore. Szukalski thought of Paris as a factory for the "brainwashing of the public of every nation", into thinking Kandinski, Picasso, etc., were masters. Szukalski told Mukul, "You are already a fine artist, but with your silly anticipation of finding miraculous Culture in Europe, you will swallow as a new religion any pseudo-movement, any Ism of the misfits who abuse painting and sculpture with combs, forks and brushes stuck in their noses to give an easy semblance of individuality. Later come to Europe, with enough belief in yourself to look upon European Decadence with CONTEMPT and the ability to select really worthy examples of Art from all ages and Cultures". This argument persuaded Mukul to return to Santiniketan, to the delight of Tegore.

Mukul Dey chose an essentially Western medium to portray various sides of Indian life. Unlike artists such as Haren Das, whose woodcut printing technique was more indigenous to Indian culture, Dey concentrated on drypoint etching, a thoroughly European practice. Regardless of his adopted Western technique, Dey chose subjects such as river scenes in Bengal, traditional baul singers, the markets of Calcutta, or the life of Santhal villagers in the Birbhum district, near the Santiniketan art school. When the Tagore family of Kolkata created the Vichitra Club at their ancestral home of Jorasanko, Mukul Dey became an active member. At Vichitra Club the young and upcoming artists like Nandalal Bose, Asit Kumar Haldar, Mukul Dey and Narayan Kashinath Deval were encouraged to experiment in ever new creative mediums and art forms.

Dey was appointed the first Indian Principal of the Government School of Art, Calcutta, in 1928. Since Dey was committed to imposing an Indian identity on the then British-controlled art establishment, he quickly drove teachers too closely linked with Company School painting out of the institution. While at Government School of Art, Calcutta Mukul Dey was responsible for starting a women's section there. Prior to his time only men could join this institution as art students.

Gracefully drawn images of Bengali villagers executed in dry-point have become what Dey is most associated with. Some of his finer works are dry-point etchings that have been hand-colored with watercolors, colored pencils, or thin washes of ink. Dey is also remembered for his portraits of various Indian personalities, including members of the Tagore and Tata families, Albert Einstein, and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He also depicted lesser known personalities, such as Josephine MacLeod, the promoter of Swami Vivekananda’s Ramakrishna order at Belur Math. Incidentally, it was Josephine MacLeod who first brought Okakura Kakuzo to India from Japan in 1901-1902.

Mukul Dey’s works are found in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, the Indian Museum, Kolkata, the National Gallery of Modern Art NGMA in Mumbai, and the National Gallery of Art, New Delhi. The Mukul Dey Archives are housed at Mukul Dey’s former home, named Chitralekha, at Santiniketan. He was also the illustrator for many book projects, one of his earliest was a scholarly book Shantiniketan Bolpur School of Rabindranath Tagore, which he illustrated for the later Nobel Prize winner in 1916.

The younger brother of Mukul Dey, Manishi Dey, was also an accomplished painter. He was a member of the Progressive Artists' Group and a prominent painter of the Bengal School.

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