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CHARTING AN UNCOMMON COURSE

Visual Arts

Lalit Mohan Sen is a forgotten artist today in spite of his success during his lifetime. The Victoria Memorial Hall had recently held an exhibition of his works in diverse media titled, Unravelling a Modern Master: The Art of Lalit Mohan Sen (1898-1954), in an effort to re-establish him as an artist who did not conform to any particular school, least of all Santiniketan. Not much is known about him except that he was born in Santipur, and at 12 he went with his elder brother to Lucknow and joined the Lucknow Government Art School.

He left in 1917 and was trained in commercial art. He won a scholarship and joined the Royal College of Art in the UK which accounts for his strong base in academic realism. Before Independence, he was chosen to decorate the Viceregal House (later Rashtrapati Bhavan) in Delhi. At the request of the poet and art scholar, Robert Laurence Binyon, he recreated the cave paintings of Bagh.

Sen was one of the 10 artists chosen by the government to decorate India House in London. They took 10 months to finish the mural. Sen took part in the Royal Academy exhibition and his work, The Potter Girl, was acquired by the Queen. The London Fine Art Trade Guild printed and distributed his painting, The Queen of the Hills. His woodcut was acquired by the V&A. These are the bare facts of his life found in Kamal Sarkarís invaluable book of artistsí biographies.

Senís works were recently found under a bed at the home of his descendant, Prabartak Sen, and these were displayed after restoration in the exhibition curated by Debdutta Gupta at the Victoria Memorial Hall.

Sen was a prolific artist, and he had worked in various media with a great degree of success. He did drawings of hills, Bengali and European women, farmhands, punting, presumably in England, posters to promote tourism in Kashmir, portraits of fellow artists and nationalist leaders, Rabindranath, woodcuts and etchings, quaint experiments with Cubism and design of the kind fashionable in Calcutta in those days,

He was indeed highly skilled like many artists who had been subjected to the rigours of academic training. His drawings recall Bikash Bhattacharjee but the spark is missing in Sen. It is the same with his prints. Again they miss out on the variety and scope of Haren Das who observed life so closely. Sen was, no doubt, very good but perhaps he just fell short of greatness. His photographs were more interesting, particularly his play with light. His photographs of nudes taken in a studio also set him apart. These could have been more prominently displayed.