Government College of Art and Craft, Calcutta
One of the oldest art institutions in India, the Government College of Art and Craft, Calcutta (now Kolkata) is renowned as the place of origin of the Bengal School. The institution represents an ideological and pedagogical shift in colonial India and demonstrates the rise of Indian art that sought to differentiate itself from European modernism through a distinctly Indian aesthetic. The school is also known as the Government School of Art and Craft, the Calcutta School of Art and the Government School of Art.
The institution was founded by English surgeon Frederick Corbyn in 1839 at Garanhata, Chitpur, as the Calcutta Mechanics Institution. In 1854, the Society for the Promotion of Industrial Art renamed it the Government College, and in 1892, it was relocated to its present location at Jawaharlal Nehru Road, Kolkata, near the Indian Museum. The College was established with the aim of providing Indians with an industrial education and therefore, greater employment opportunities. Based primarily on early nineteenth-century British academic principles, the early curriculum at the school sought to produce designers and artists trained in Western academic traditions, and included courses such as lithography, wood engraving, photography, painting and modelling design. This Eurocentric curriculum lasted through the leadership of HH Locke (1865–85) until the administration of EB Havell, who was the principal of the college from 1896–1906.
Along with Abanindranath Tagore, then-vice principal of the College, Havell worked to develop the tenets of Indian modernism and incorporate it in the curriculum. They rejected the Western pedagogical and aesthetic sensibilities being reproduced within India and its art institutions, instead shifting the curriculum to focus on Indian design, applied arts, traditional handicrafts and the decorative arts. Consequently, several new courses were introduced, including fresco painting, lacquer work on wood and preparing stained-glass windows. Thus, the College played a significant role in the early development of the Bengal School and its centring of traditional Indian art forms, including Mughal and Pahari miniatures, the traditional handicrafts of India and ancient scriptures such as the Vedas.
While the institution received both criticism and distinction during the administration of Havell, it continued to house various modern and contemporary Indian artists. Notable alumni include the founding figures of Indian modernism, such as Asit Kumar Haldar, Nandalal Bose, Biren De, Haren Das, Lalu Prasad Shaw, Paresh Maity, Mukul Dey and more. Dey was appointed principal from 1928–43 and initiated the institution’s first publication, Our Magazine, in 1931, which published reproductions of works by faculty and students.
Now a co-education institution affiliated with the University of Calcutta, the College offers Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Fine Arts programmes in sculpture, graphic design, textiles, ceramic art and pottery, design (wood and leather) and painting. It also began offering a doctoral degree in the fine arts in 2005 and is also one of the only institutions in the country to offer specialised programmes in Indian painting. Additionally, it organises cultural events such as film screenings, workshops, lectures and annual exhibitions.
At the time of writing, the institution is headed by Chhatrapati Dutta, who has been the principal since 2017.
Government College of Art and Craft, Calcutta. “About Us.” Accessed July 13, 2021. https://gcac.edu.in/government-college-of-art-craft-calcutta/.
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