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SUNAYANI DEVI (1875-1962)

Sunayani Chattopadhyaya was a painter. Popularly known as Sunayani Devi, she was born into the famous Tagore family at Jorasanko. She married Rajani Mohan Chattopadhyay, a lawyer. As she was a girl, she did not receive the formal training in art given to her brothers Gaganendranath, Samarendranath and Abanindranath. The urge to paint was, nevertheless, a driving force in her. She watched her brothers at work and picked up hints on technique from them, teaching herself painting at a very early age. She painted as a hobby right through the early years of her marriage and her children’s babyhood, though she did not begin to paint seriously till she was in her thirties. The Indian Society for Oriental Art arranged to have her paintings shown in Europe more than once. Her work was also acquired by institutions of the time such as the Sri Chitralayam Museum of Trivandrum, the Jagmohan Palace of Mysore, the Rabindra Bharati Society and so on. She also established an art teaching institution called Kala Bharati.

Her main medium was water colour on paper, and her subjects ranged from mythology to the domestic space which circumscribed a woman’s life. It is clear that in shaping her visual language, she drew on traditional sources as well as folk art. Her paintings were suffused with a lyrical sensibility. Whether it was Krishna playing the flute or a woman performing some household chore, Sunayani Devi brought to the figure a loving sense of intimacy and the innocent delight of naivety.
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