Government College of Fine Arts, Chennai
Established in the 1850s as an arts institution with a focus on decorative arts and crafts, the Government College of Fine Arts evolved into an important centre of art pedagogy in southern India in the twentieth century. It was also the centre of the Madras Art Movement (1960s to 1980s).
The college was founded as a school of art by Dr Alexander Hunter in 1850, a year after which he also established a school of industry. In 1855, the two institutions merged into a government institution under the British, which Hunter continued to oversee. At the time, the college focused on developing decorative items using indigenous art and craft techniques for events such as the Colonial Exhibitions of England and Europe. In 1877, the art critic and educator EB Havell introduced programmes in wood-carving, carpentry and metal work. By the 1920s, the school had two sections, one devoted to drawing, modelling and painting, and the other focused on regional crafts, including enamelling, woodwork and jewellery-making.
The shift towards the fine arts began in 1922, when the sculptor DP Roy Chowdhury was appointed as the college’s first Indian principal. A student of Abanindranath Tagore, he modified the institute’s academic focus, introducing programmes in painting and sculpture and exposing students to the techniques and artistic styles of Europe, Bengal and eastern Asia.
In 1941, KCS Paniker began teaching at the institute. He went on to have a significant impact on its academic direction. In 1944, he established the Progressive Painters’ Association to encourage students of the institution to continue practising art even after the completion of their programmes. He also played a pivotal role in turning the academic focus of the institution away from European and Bengal styles towards more modern influences, initially inspired by the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist movements, and later by the development of a modernist approach that incorporated local and regional elements and ideas. In 1963–64, he experimented with the creation of batik textiles by students of the school, which were sold through the Victoria Technical Institute. The project, and the sales of the textiles through the Artists’ Handicrafts Association led by him, set the base for the founding of the Cholamandal Artists’ Village in 1966.
Some notable alumni of the Government College of Fine Arts include Paritosh Sen, Pradosh Das Gupta, Sushil Kumar Mukherjee, MV Devan, SG Vasudev, Anila Jacob, MV Krishnan, KV Haridasan and C Douglas. Additionally, the artists S Dhanapal, L Munuswamy, AP Santhanaraj and CJ Anthony Doss later returned to the institution as members of the faculty and administration. In the 1970s, the college introduced academic programmes in design and fine arts, establishing departments for ceramics, textile and painting and sculpture. In 1991, the college was brought under the Tamil Nadu government’s Department of Art and Culture and more new programmes were introduced. At present, the college offers academic programmes in painting, sculpture, printmaking, visual communication design, textile design and ceramic design.
The four-acre campus in Chennai also houses a Museum of Contemporary Art, which was established in 1997 and houses artworks from the colonial and post-independence eras.
Bhagat, Ashrafi S. “Pioneering Vistas: Conflation of Modern and Regional Cultures at Madras.” Marg 62, no. 2 (December 2010): 18–29.
“Fine Arts College, Chennai.” Department of Art and Culture, Government of Tamil Nadu. Last updated March 29, 2022. Accessed March 30, 2022. https://artandculture.tn.gov.in/fine-arts-college-chennai
Panikkar, Shivaji K. “Reading the Regional Through Internationalism and Nativism: The Case of Art in Madras; 1950 to 1970.” In Towards a New Art History: Studies in Indian Art. Edited by Shivaji K Panikkar, Parul Dave Mukherji and Deeptha Achar, pp 105-121. New Delhi: DK Printworld, 2003.
Sircar, Anjali. Inauguration of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Madras School of Art. Chennai: Government College of Arts & Crafts, 1997.
Sircar, Anjali. “The Problems of Indigenous Sources of Inspiration.” Lalit Kala Contemporary 60 (April 1985): 15–23. Accessed on criticalcollective.in: https://criticalcollective.in/CC_ArchiveInner2.aspx?Aid=563&Eid=587