In March 2023, DAG acquired the artist Jamini Roy’s 75-year-old home in Kolkata. After due conservation-processes, the heritage building will be transformed into a museum dedicated to the pioneering artist. The museum is slated to open its doors in 2024; meanwhile let us take you through an exclusive photo-tour of the iconic building. We highlight some of the features of its design and its history that will influence the restoration and curation of this landmark museum.
The house : designed by Jamini Roy and his son
The artist and his family moved into the house in 1949, (when he was 62 years old) at a point when he had achieved some financial stability. In comparison to their small, rented home in North Calcutta, this new home in South Calcutta’s up and coming Ballygunge Place afforded his family room to grow.
The house was designed by Jamini Roy and his youngest son Amiya Roy and was a constant work in progress as they added new rooms and floors to the initial single-storied design. It was an extension of his artistic practice, with carefully designed details that, like his paintings, are minimal and seem almost simple, but demonstrate a quiet power in their restraint.
Fascinating windows into the life of Jamini Roy’s family
From outside the house lacks the ornamentation of the elaborate Art Deco buildings in the neighbourhood, but a striking feature is the elegant glass pane that runs up the stairwell, connecting the three floors.
As you walk up the stairs this simple feature creates a sense of drama, playing with light and scale as it continues all the way up to the small prayer room at the top. The grid-like design of the pane recurs in the windowpanes inside the home, revealing the thought behind each design element.
Jamini Roy would sell his works from this house
The rooms on the ground floor had a separate visitors’ entrance, as they led into Jamini Roy’s studio, where he worked along with his son. Interconnected rooms were organized like galleries where visitors could come and meet the artist and see his work.
As we can see in the archival photograph, the setup was unlike any conventional gallery. Artworks were stacked on low benches, such that the ideal way to see them would be to sit on the floor. Terracotta figurines, wooden toys, and pats were placed alongside the paintings, creating a rich visual tapestry where the art becomes a part of an intimate, quotidian setting.
From here Jamini Roy would sell his works at nominal prices so that drawing rooms across the city, and the world, could make his unique visual language a part of their aesthetic.
Also See : a Quick Guide to Jamini Roy’s Art
The architecture creates a sense of wonder and discovery : no two parts of the house are the same
As you move upstairs through the private quarters of the family you realize that no two parts of the house are the same—the layout changes on each floor, with rooms opening out into unexpected nooks and terraces.
The only constant is a view of the courtyard garden on the ground floor, where the artist would spend time painting, or tending to the plants. Today a mango tree towers over this courtyard, reaching all the way up to the top-floor terrace and casting a cool shadow over the house.
While the house needs much repair and restoration, the architecture creates a palpable sense of wonder and discovery, revealing its potential to present an immersive museum experience.
The house was known for its sense of community and camaraderie
Finally, the spirit and ethos of the museum will be inspired by the sense of community and camaraderie that this house was known for. One of the key events each year would be the Bengali New Year celebrations (Poila Baisakh) which coincided with Roy’s birthday (April 11). The house would be full of visitors through the day, all dressed in simple Indian attire, with passionate addas accompanied by tea, singaara and a special sherbet. His family remembers a deep sense of optimism that prevailed in Calcutta after Independence, despite the turmoils of Partition, with a flourishing creative community.
This spirit was reflected in the many gatherings in the house during the artists lifetime and we hope it stays with us as we start this new chapter.