Bagchi, Annada Prasad

Bagchi, Annada Prasad (1849-1905) portrait painter and a master of oil paintings of late 19th and early 20th century Bengal. Born in village Shikharbali under the district of 24-Parganas, Annada Prasad Bagchi received his early education at the Assembly's Institution at Calcutta. He got his early training in art at a copperplate-engraving workshop at Jorasanko where he received instructions from Nilmoni Mukherjee. Bagchi, enrolled at the Government Art School in 1865, received training from HH Locke in woodcarving, engraving, lithography, and oil painting. Financial pressures compelled Bagchi to work at a copper-engraving workshop.

Among his various activities during his student life mention may be made of the illustrations he made for the books of rajendralal mitra. During 1868-69 he travelled extensively in Orissa with Rajendralal Mitra and others and made illustrations of ancient monuments and antiquities. Annada Prasad drew majority of the illustrations of the two volumes of Rajendralal Mitra's Antiquities of Orissa. In 1877 Bagchi again accompanied Rajendralal Mitra to Bodh Gaya and made the illustrations for the latter's research on Bodh Gaya.

Bagchi was appointed an instructor at the Government Art School, of which he later became the principal teacher (1880). This employment gave him the required financial security. His career is a typical example of a success story of the new group of Bengali artists, attempting to situate themselves in a career as independent portrait painters, draughtsman, engravers and drawing masters in a commercialised market situation. The art market was then sharply divided between the indigenous village and popular artists and craftsmen on the one hand and the government sponsored art school educated 'Academic' genre of painters on the other. The third group comprised of the new Indian School propounded by abanindranath tagore and E Havell that went back to ancient Indian painting tradition for its inspiration and themes, while employing modern westernised techniques of artistic creation. Annada Prasad and some of his contemporaries succeeded in introducing within these scheme artistic ventures centred on the new techniques such as metal engraving, lithography, and chrome-lithography providing visual material to a wider mass clientele.

It was with the above intention that Bagchi along with Nabakumar Biswas, Phanibhushan Sen, Jogendranath Mukherjee and Krishnachandra Pal founded the 'Calcutta Art Studio' in 1878. The Studio aimed at catering to popular tastes for religious and mythological pictures and illustrations for books and journals and was an important commercial venture in the nineteenth century art world. It also undertook portrait painting, landscapes, oil painting, watercolours, and all kinds of decoration and lithographic works. However, the Bengali and English alphabet board, copybooks and religious and mythological lithographs made by this art studio became extremely popular. Honeymoon

The publicity received by the Studio at the exhibition of 1883 further increased the popularity of the artists involved in it. Most of the artists associated with the Calcutta Art Studio were supposed to be the best students produced by the Art School and their entry into this arena of commercial art marked a significant trend in the art world. Among the group Annada Prasad Bagchi held a unique position being a most successful portrait painter and a painter involved in commercial ventures and at the same time a teacher at the School of Art.

Annada Prasad's reputation as a portrait painter and as a master of oil paintings prompted lord northbrook to commission from him several portraits including that of Dr Rajendralal Mitra and keshab chandra sen. Bagchi's paintings were exhibited in several art exhibitions in Calcutta and Madras. Bagchi's paintings exhibited in the government-sponsored exhibition in New Imperial Museum in December 1874 were highly acclaimed. The portraits he displayed at the exhibition of 1879 were among the most priced paintings. It was around this time that Bagchi was acclaimed as the Sir Joshua Reynolds of Bengal by george campbell, Lt Governor of Bengal.

Bagchi was also instrumental in founding the Artist's Press and the publication of the first art journal in Bangla Shilpa Puspanjali (1885-86). Though only a few issues of the journal were published, it aimed at inculcating artistic awareness among people. He was associated with several art organisations including Bangiya Kala Sangsad of which he was the president. Annada Prasad Bagchi died in 1905. [Sima Roy Chowdhury]