One of the founding members of the Calcutta Group, Nirode Mazumdar was a painter renowned for his thematic series that combine Western Modernist idioms with Indian subjects and artistic elements. Considered one of the foremost Indian Modernist artists, Mazumdar is noted for his large-scale paintings characterised by abstract gestures borrowed from the Bengal School. He was also known for developing a single concept over a series of canvases.
Born in Calcutta (now Kolkata), Mazumdar studied at the Indian Society of Oriental Art with Kshitindranath Majumdar, who brought him in contact with Abanindranath Tagore, resulting in his artistic education aligning with the nationalist pictorial principles of the Revivalist traditions. In 1947, Mazumdar was granted a scholarship by the French government to study engraving techniques in Paris with artist Andre Lhote. Mazumdar’s work during this time showed the influence of Cubism and Fauvism in line with the work of Indian artist communities in Paris. In 1943, Mazumdar, along with Gopal Ghose, Paritosh Sen, Prodosh Das Gupta and Kamala Das Gupta, founded the Calcutta Group with the aim of interpreting and promoting European Modernist methodologies in India while consciously rejecting the lyrical romanticism of the Revivalist movement.
Mazumdar’s work aligns with both European Modernism and Indian art historical traditions. He enacted the collective ethos of the Calcutta Group in his paintings, emphasising that art must be both international as well as culturally rooted. He specifically practised his own formulation of the Indian Modernist style, discarding imitative illustration and exploring abstract forms of self-expression and spiritualism without committing exclusively to either Western art techniques or Indian themes. Most of Mazumdar’s work followed the Abstract Expressionist style, characterised by figural compositions created with abstract brushstrokes, symbolism and strategic colour groupings.
He also produced realistic works that arose from a socially conscious and objective view of India at the time, even though they did not necessarily have political undertones like the works of his Swadeshi predecessors or the Marxist movements of the mid-1930s and 40s. In the 1940s, Mazumdar created a series of paintings inspired by the widespread famine and India’s struggle for independence, including Anath (1944), which depicted homeless and starving children.
In 1955, Mazumdar returned to Paris and remained in Europe for nearly ten years, participating in Western Modernist circles and befriending artists and sculptors such as Georges Braque, Jean Genet and Constantin Brancusi. From 1957–67, he studied European medieval art. Consequently, Mazumdar’s work from this period, such as Uchai Sraba (Standing Horse) (1962), shows the influence of medieval textiles, stained-glass and painting in its colour palette and subject matter. Mazumdar returned to India in the late-1960s and began exploring Tantric themes and abstracted images of Hindu goddesses. He also continued creating works serially, harmonising Bengali artistic traditions with Western abstraction, as seen in his oil-on-canvas Chandani Holding Garuda’s Feathers (1968). Some of his other notable series include Final Spring (1970) and Abanariya (1981).
Mazumdar’s first solo show was organised by the Calcutta Group in 1944 and included his paintings of famine scenes. His work was also exhibited in a group show at the India House, London, in 1951, where he also worked briefly as a curator. He also held a solo exhibition at the Galerie Barbizon, Paris, in 1957. In 2017, the Villa Vassilieff Gallery, Paris, exhibited his works, including his painting Vinata Blesses her Son (1961), in a group show titled after his memoir of his time in Paris, Punascha Parry (meaning “A Resonance of Paris”), which was posthumously published in 1983. His works are part of the collections of the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, and the Victoria Memorial, Kolkata.
Mazumdar died in India in 1982.
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