Government College of Art and Craft, Kolkata, the premier art institution of Kolkata, is the pioneer among the few art institutions that can boast of a glorious heritage. It is celebrating a hundred and fifty years of excellence in the art of painting and craft education in India. Since the inception of the Government School of Art (as it was then known) in 1864, the year it was taken over by the government of Bengal, it has prided itself in being one of the most successful art institutions in India.
The institute, which has produced numerous Padma awardees and National Award winners and had legendary faculty members and students — Abanindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Chintamoni Kar, Jamini Roy, Ganesh Pyne et al — turned 150 in November 2014, to celebrate which the teachers inaugurated an exhibition at ICCR.
In 1854, a society for the promotion of industrial art was established in Kolkata, with representation from both Europeans and Indians, and with Colonel Goodwyn as its president and Justice Hodgson Pratt and Babu Rajendralal Mitra as secretaries. The School of Industrial Art was meant to teach Indian students the elements of drawing to assist the experts working with the Archaeological Survey of India. In 1864, the school came under the control and supervision of the Director of Public Instruction, government of Bengal, and was shifted to 166 Bowbazar Street. The ‘new’ school expanded its areas of learning to include painting, sculpture and crafts. The present campus beside the Indian Museum came into being in 1892.
The white façade encloses red buildings with green windows, and some white ones too. They represent splendid colonial architecture. Trees provide shade to a lot of areas inside the campus.
Rabindranath Tagore spent considerable time painting here and his works were exhibited on the campus in 1932. Legendary painter Mukul Dey became the first Indian principal of the college in 1928. Renowned sculptor Chintamoni Kar, a Padma Bhushan, had also served as a principal. The college boasts of an envious alumni list — Jamini Roy, Ganesh Pyne, Ganesh Haloi and several others.
Official celebrations were commenced in the previous year, concluded by an exhibition as a tribute to the college on its 150th year. Rabindranath Tagore stayed here for months and made approx 130 paintings, which were exhibited in the college gallery in 1932. A national landmark, the college’s syllabus has been ravamped to stay up-to-date with the contemporary forms of art.
The exhibited art objects were created by faculty members — Goutam Das, Gayen, Pramathes Chandra, Ratan Acharya, Swapan Kumar Jana and many others.
"It's a historic moment and a proud one for us. Art in India has evolved from our college and at present the bulk of the present master artists are from our college. Walking up the wooden stairs is an experience itself. We keep thinking, Aban Tagore once walked on these stairs, as did Jamini Roy, Kar, Pyne and so many legends," said a student.
Teacher Kiran Kumar Sen added: "I was a student at this heritage institution and now I'm a teacher. It's our responsibility to carry on the tradition."
Abanindranath Tagore, the key person behind the revival of the Oriental School of Painting, had been, for 10 years till 1915, the Vice-Principal of the institute.
When Mukul Dey (1928–1943) was the principal, the school started functioning as a co-educational institute. In 1951, the school turned into a full-fledged college and came to be known as Government College of Art & Craft, Calcutta (GCAC). The college celebrated its centenary in 1964 under this principal, also an eminent sculptor and a disciple of Sir Henry Moore.
Today, the college takes pride in imparting art education to aspiring artists at pre-graduate, undergraduate and post-graduate levels. It is affiliated to the University of Calcutta. The post-graduate course, MVA (Master of Visual Art) degree was introduced in 1998.
In 2007, GCAC received the permanent affiliation of University Grants Commission of the governemnt of India. In 2009, it received a grade ‘A’ from NAAC, officially certifying it as one of the best institutes of the country. During its long traverse down two centuries, it has been a witness and a major contributor to the changing art scenario in India.
Lead image: gcac.org.in