Benode Behari Mukherjee Indian, 1904-1980


Benode Behari Mukherjee, born on 7 February 1904 in Behala (a suburb of Calcutta), was a painter and muralist of great distinction, a teacher of immense resources and influence, and an insightful thinker and writer on art. Following a childhood illness that left him with impaired vision and kept him away from a formal education, at age thirteen, he joined the school founded by Rabindranath Tagore at Santiniketan. After completing his studies at Kala Bhavan, the art school and nucleus for an art movement, he became a member of the teaching faculty, and played a central role with Nandalal Bose and Ramkinkar Baij in making Santiniketan the most important centre for art in India. Mukherjee showed an early interest in murals, seeing in them an opportunity to work on an ambitious scale and to present a comprehensive vision of the world. Of several outstanding murals, the most important that he painted was in 1946–47 on three walls of the Hindi Bhavan at Santiniketan, based on the lives of the medieval saint-poets, presenting a vision of India’s past as an elaborate pageant. Later in life his eyesight began to decline rapidly, and after an unsuccessful surgery he lost his vision in 1957. However, this did not deter Mukherjee from his creative urge; he then moved towards paper-cuts, prints and sculpture. It was after losing his eyesight that he returned to Santiniketan to teach art history, and even developed his writing, gaining recognition as a modern writer in Bengali.


His important exhibitions include the Centenary Retrospective exhibition of Benodebehari Mukherjee curated by Gulammohammed Sheikh and R. Siva Kumar at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), 2006–07; documenta14, Kassel, as part of Athens School of Fine Arts (ASFA) – Pireos Street exhibit, Nikos Kessanlis Exhibition Hall, 2017; and Between Sight and Insight: Glimpses of Benodebehari Mukherjee, curated by R. Siva Kumar, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 2019. Several honours were endowed on him including literary awards, an emeritus professorship at Visva Bharati, and an elected fellowship at the Lalit Kala Akademi. In 1974, Mukherjee was honoured by the Government of India with the Padma Vibhushan. His works can be seen in the collections of the Tate Museum, London, and the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), New Delhi, as well as several important private collections.


Benodebehari Mukherjee died on 19 November 1980, at the age of seventy-six.

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