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B. C. Sanyal - A Century : A tribute to a legend by Arindam Mitra

- by Arindam Mitra


The white bearded, somewhat frail, vastly elegant gentleman is a familiar figure not just in Delhi or India but all over the world art arena. Bhabesh Chandra Sanyal, widely known as B C Sanyal and affectionately as Bhabeshda turned 100 in April this year.


On his birthday, April 22nd, the cream of the art world gathered at Mati Ghar, Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, New Delhi to celebrate and felicitate this living legend. To mark the occasion, they also put together an exhibition of paintings called “100 visual tributes to Bhabeshda”. This had paintings from over a 100 artists from Anjolie Ela Menon to Jatin Das, from Kishan Khanna to Sankho Chowdhury, from Manjit Bawa to Satish Gujral and included some of B C Sanyal’s rare paintings – a show which symbolised the regard and affection the Indian art world has for Bhabeshda.


At 100, B C Sanyal has seen it all. Right from being on the Indian art scene from the time of colonial influence, through the neo Bengal styles of the Tagores, through the flux filled times of the modernist movement, this doyen of art imprinted his own unique style on the canvas of contemporary Indian art.


Born in Dibrugarh, Assam at the turn of the century, B C Sanyal studied at the Government School of Art and Craft Calcutta. Always a rebel, he could not align to the styles of the Bengal School or classical Victorian and started expressing in his own way. This unique style earned him a commission to make a statue of Lala Lajpat Rai for the 1929 Congress session at Lahore. Sanyal thereafter settled down in Lahore itself and taught at the Mayo School of Arts. Many a prominent figure in art today have been inspired by him -- Satish Gujral, Kishan Khanna to name a few.


In 1936, Sanyal left Mayo and set up Lahore School of Fine Arts -- his studio cum school where he taught and painted till Independence. In 1947, during the partition, he migrated to Delhi where he worked and taught at a small studio in Gole Market. This “refugee studio” became a nodal point for promising artists of the time and from this confluence of art was born Delhi Shilpi Chakra in 1949, India’s first non - governmental body of artists. A group that ushered in a new era of contemporary art under the inspiring leadership of Sanyal.


The decades that followed, saw in B C Sanyal a trailblazer and pathbreaker. From heading the Delhi Polytechnic to being secretary of the Lalit Kala Academy, Sanyal was all – a painter, a sculptor, a visionary art administrator and a teacher and led the way to uniqueness, freshness, experimentation unbounded and innovative expression in Indian art. In his own paintings, B C Sanyal always maintained basic honesty and essential simplicity and gave expression through vibrant fresh colours. A deep love for nature and closeness to rural India came out very strongly in most of his paintings.


In the many years behind him, B C Sanyal has an unending list of international shows and exhibitions, fellowships and assignments, awards accolades and honours including the Padmabhushan in 1984. And of course, an unending list of inspired artists -- generations given the impetus to break free.


As India moves ahead in the new millennium, so does Bhabeshda as he picks up his brush and adds yet another indelible stroke on India’s canvas.


Milestones :

1929 – 1936: Mayo School of Fine Art, Lahore
1936 – 1947: Lahore School of Art
1949: Show at Salon de Mai, Paris
1949: Founding of Delhi Shilpi Chakra
1953: Participated at Venice Biennial
1953 – 1960: Professor and Head of Dept. of Art, Delhi Polytechnic Advisor to Govt of Nepal for their School of Art
1955 – 1956: Organised exhibition of Indian art in East European countries
1959: Leaders Exchange Programme lecture tour USA / Canada / Europe
Secretary, Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi
Exhibited in Sao Paolo, Brazil
International Congress of Art, New York
Visited Japan for Indian art as guest of the K.B.S
Cultural tour to Fed Republic of Germany and other European countries
International Congress of Art Tokyo – led Indian delegation
Study tour with ‘Documents Kessel’ West Germany and European Art Centres
1980: Fellowship of Lalit Kala Akademi
1984: Padmabhushan awarded by Govt of India
1989: “Gagan-Abani Award” from Vishwa Bharati University, Shantiniketan
1989: Honorary Citizenship of Baltimore, USA

  • Archway, Painting by Sanjay Bhattacharya
  • Calcutta Monsoon, Painting by Sanjay Bhattacharya

  •  Painting by Sanjay Bhattacharya