Oh My Gwash !

Jamini Roy And His Painting Mediums

First an explanation for the title. Someone recently suggested a different hobby / learning a new skill to cure my addiction to Art. My answer to that ( of learning a new skill ) is my attempt at copy-writing 🙂 . For those not in the know in the internet and mobile phone era – if the title does not attract enough attention – no one reads any further. This is where the copy-writers come in (as creators of sensationalist titles).

Specifically this post is about Jamini Roy and his art, and in particular about his painting medium – tempera – a catchy title would surely prompt more people to read it.

Moving on to the point…

jamini roy studio
Early Studio Picture

The post / what’s documented below is intentionally sparse. Especially since this will be a very contentious topic .

Those who know me would know how I chase down every spec of information and the rigor with which I check details/provenances/styles/etc. My favourite checks have included hiring a lawyer to go through older court cases to understand ownership issues. Chatting with a previously unknown gentleman for two hours over a few whiskies just to confirm that his deceased wife was indeed a friend of a collector and knew a particular artist etc. Finding people who rented a particular home and grilling them about the antecedents of the collector landlord – have done it all. Priya Khanna , in fact, calls me an ace detective (if my copy-writing career fails – a detective agency would be the next possibility 🙂 )

jamini roy early studio

Here I am intentionally choosing to talk about the least common denominator and take the glass half full approach.  I have already pointed out these issues to a bunch of people in auction houses and will make sure to disseminate this to the extent possible.

jamini roy painting
Jamini Roy With His Palette
jamini roy tempera palette
Tempera From Local Pigments , Binder and Water

The point is :

It is well documented that Jamini Roy was an academic portrait painter in the early days using oil paints  . His usage of watercolor and experiments with the style of “Bengal school” and others is recorded. Subsequently it was all about his own style and including the use of “primitive” paints which were locally available pigments made into a paint with use of a binder and thinned with water. This is referred to as tempera.

These days gouache (pronounced as ‘Gwash’ – hence the title) and tempera are sometimes inter-changeably used which is not correct. Sometimes the medium of the painting being offered for sale is indeed gouache . Careless classification – many have made mistakes at different points in time. I remember another such error on Ganesh Pyne – “signed in Bengali and dated in English”??? and therefore giving a wrong year to the work (e.g.Bengali eight ৮ looks like a six).

Jamini Roy’s tempera is quite specific – open up a genuine work and u will see the difference – the usage of the local pigments , the radiance of the vermillon, the chrome yellows, the depth of the Indian reds, the rich blues and greens are all very apparent. The consistency of the surface/the paint is generally far from even – it feels very different both to view and to touch. Once you have seen enough – things become obvious from a mile away !

I would like to point out that gouache in comparison to water color is considered to have a matte finish. Quite often gouache is described as ‘water colour with chalk‘ – a material like zinc oxide. So the words ‘matte’ and ‘chalky’ have often been used with gouache and I find them re-used with tempera paints.  Certainly to add to the confusion both are water-soluble and opaque. To clarify this we need to understand that  tempera is just a generic word.

Here we are referring to something very specific – the paints used by Jamini Roy, the local pigments ground up for usage and the local binder

To repeat, the point being that

Jamini Roy’s paint was locally created in his studio using local substances and a local binder – it has a very different texture and feel (consistency, texture, ageing, etc ) in comparison to a factory manufactured paint .

I stress the word local binder as it is a misconception that Jamini Roy used egg-whites (as documented in most books on Jamini). The famine in West Bengal happened in 1943. You could not walk in to a grocery store and say “can I have a hundred eggs please” – people could not eat – four million people died – you just could not have used eggs. Use of egg-whites is such a romanticized western notion around tempera paint and is the anti-thesis of Jamini Roy’s art.

So again , what is my glass half-full approach here ? The fact that is well documented is that Jamini Roy used oil paints, water-color and then his own tempera. This is what I can show/claim with little doubt and will withstand any scrutiny. While I have only included a few images, there are many images from his studio and they all show the same .

I leave further research into other mediums possibly used by Jamini for others to pursue.

Indrajit Chatterjee

p.s.  if you think I have failed miserably as a copy-writer and should find another hobby do let me know.

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