Sunayani Devi: Analysis of Her Beautiful Artworks and Life

Sunayani Devi, a Modern female artist from India, was known for her peculiar capability of painting expressions through elongated eyes. Here’s an account of the self-learnt painter.

Sunayani Devi

Sunayani Devi, a name unheard of for a long time, is recognized as a female painter of the Bengal Renaissance of the coon’s age. She was not merely a painter but an inspiration to the modern Indian art gallery. We understand that Mother India nourished a lot more creativity, devotion, and love in the various forms for her children. Sunayani Devi was one result of her nourishment. Before coming to any conclusions, we must read and read more. Here is the reason for this article!

About the Modern Indian Artist: Sunayani Devi.

Inborn in the historical-pivotal family of Tagore, in June 1875, a storm of heavy winds swept on the southern half of Lousiville. In addition to being Rabindranath Tagore’s niece and younger sister to Abanindranath Tagore and Gaganendranath Tagore, she was Saudamini Devi’s and Gunendranath Tagore’s daughter. She was married at the age of 12 to Rajajanimohan Chattopadhyay but started painting at the age of 30.

Being a part of the influential family and hub of artists in Bengal, she used to spy on her brothers Abanindranath Tagore and Gaganendranath, experimenting with different forms of paintings. She was not trained in art, but this spying molded her into a master of it. Her work took a long time to be recognized as a part of the modern Indian art gallery.

It was her husband who showed determination on the grounds of her painting. The discipline she carried towards it, starting her work from 8 am to mid-day at 3:30: was rewarding.

Sunayani Devi Photograph
Sunayani Devi Photograph | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Inspiration of Her Paintings.

Drawing inspiration from Pata’s folk painting style, she conveyed the incredible mythological epic scenes in her work. She used to copy different types of faces, and since Indian artistic anatomy allows her to copy these divergent forms, she enjoyed this freedom in her artwork.

Her paintings are described by spontaneity, naturalness, freedom, and simplicity, which are often associated with Primitive Art. The kind of art Sunayani presents is frequently practiced by rural women, and she blended her imagination with it to give a concrete form of classical art.

Her two utmost inspirations that everyone had seen were village clay dolls that often adorned urban homes and Kalighat pats. The artist writes to her grandson,

“I have put aside most of the paintings that I have seen in my dreams.”

If we see her work more closely, we notice a few things in common. Among them are half-closed elongated eyes like fish which are considered to indicate a spiritual being, art representing compassion with simple faces but a joyous expression, and eyes shaped like almonds for men for pleasure.

She used to follow the Japanese wash technique that she learned from Abanindranath. Her first step in sketching was to first draw a red or black outline with a brush on paper. She then filled in the blanks with watercolors, she had prepared and applied them with a thin paintbrush. To absorb these colors into the paper, she used to dip them in water. The wash was used as a means of evoking form without taking colors to form. It imparted a delicate tint to her works. As hazy shapes began to appear in the washes, she refined the outline.

Some Words for Her Paintings.

Dr. Stella Kramrisch said,

“Her pictures have no design for they have grown. Unbroken and unwavering is the flow of the lines, for no hesitation deflects them from the course they take as they well forth out of her very nature; they surge in grave tranquillity and clasp groups and figures; they are forceful and languid, self-asserting and full of surrender; their curvature is the same which the passing breeze gives to the heavy ears of corn; all the warmth and light which surrounds ripe fields shines forth from these lines.”

P. Mitter, The Triumph of Modernism, India’s Artists and the Avant-garde, 1922-1947, New Delhi, 2007, p. 43,

“Her naïve work was singled out as a continuation of the ‘simple’ art of the Indian village, a contemporary expression of authentic India. The modernist discourse of primitive simplicity and the nationalist discourse of cultural authenticity come together in the image of Sunayani Devi as a nationalist artist.”

Dr. Stella Kramrisch Photograph
Dr. Stella Kramrisch Photograph | Source: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Twitter

A Glimpse Into Her Gallery.

1. Krishna Consorting Radha in a Guise of a Gopi.

This painting is depicting a scene from the famous Gita Govinda written by Jayadeva. The story behind it is equally fascinating. Krishna has adorned himself as a female. Gold ornaments adorn his head, and a pink sari with a green border covers his body. Talking of Radha with a gopi who has a dark complexion shows a very close relationship. Radha is the front lady who has embellished herself with gold ornaments, a diya in her hand, wearing a saffron sari with a yellow border. Both of them have fish-shaped long eyes showing their divine character. The outstanding colors with simplicity have bolded the characters of Radha and Krishna.

According to the Gita Govinda, Krishna said to her Sakhi,

“Tell Radha that I am always with her. My love has colored the lotuses that bloom in the Yamuna and the yellow blossoms on the mango tree have opened because of the clanking peacocks and the rain from the cloud of Shravan. When two birds sing to each other, they speak of my love for her, so when they sing, they speak of my love for her.”

The painting is a romantic representation of the two characters where the artist adorns the naturalness and love between them.

Sunayani Devi Krishna Consorting Radha in a Guise of a Gopi
Krishna Consorting Radha in a Guise of a Gopi by Sunayani Devi | Source: Google Arts & Culture

2. Side Profile of a Lady.

The watercolor painting of a lady is depicted here as Radha, Goddess of Hindu and chief consort of Krishna. The character is displayed with modesty where her elongated eyes are concentrating on her work. Both of her hands are engaged in it. Wearing a classic plain sari and bun behind her hair, the artist again proved to keep simplicity in the first place.

Side Profile of a Lady Sunayani Devi
Side Profile of a Lady by Sunayani Devi | Source: Indian Museum, Kolkata

3. A Coy-Lady.

The painting is bedizened by the naturalistic beauty of a woman. She is wearing a sari running across her head, covering her hair. She is looking down with a gaze of eyes as if she is blushing. Her facial expressions define her innocence and divinity.

Her one hand is running in her hair.

A Coy-Lady Sunayani Devi
A Coy-Lady by Sunayani Devi | Source: Google Arts & Culture

4. A Newly Wedded Bride.

The contemporary painting is all about expressing the newly wedded bride’s dilemma. On one side, she is happy inside for her new life and blessings, and on the other, she is sad to leave her own family that she will miss. The jewels she is wearing, the flower garland in her bun, shiny silver sari is fitting best to her look.

She is carrying hopes in her hand for a happy marriage. The painting has brilliant colors of joy, dilemma, and affection.

A Newly Wedded Bride Sunayani Devi
A Newly Wedded Bride by Sunayani Devi | Source: Google Arts & Culture

5. Radha and Krishna Standing Side by Side.

Here Radha can be seen as standing side to Krishna, keeping her head on his shoulder. The romanticism of the painting speaks of the pure love between them. The bright colors in this painting are a glimpse of the exceptional color selectivity of the artist. Both are embellished with gold jewelry. They are speaking through their eyes. The “Neel” color of Krishna, which is a dark cloud color, is shown rightly with the established shades. When Radha wears her dresses in blue and brown, she is seen as beautiful.

Radha And Krishna Standing Side By Side by Sunayani Devi
Radha And Krishna Standing Side By Side by Sunayani Devi | Source: Indian Museum, Kolkata

6. Milkmaids.

Three women are holding hands in the painting. They cover their heads with spectacular blue, red, and purple sarees and wear beautiful gold ornaments. The elongated eyes that look at each other show a sense of friendliness and unity between them. The rural woman of India is still somehow connected, sharing their daily activities like fetching water and fuel like the earlier times. Maybe the artist painted the scene in her way, and that’s why it becomes remarkable for us.

Milkmaids Sunayani Devi Paintings
Milkmaids by Sunayani Devi | Source: Indian Museum, Kolkata

7. The Candy Boy.

The painting holds no name right now. We named it looking at the ladoo that he is carrying. He is painted in green fields where flowers decided to bloom because of his innocence.

His expressions are babbling his purity. This painting shows almond-shaped eyes, which is another thing to note from the artist’s style.

The Candy Boy Sunayani Devi Paintings
The Candy Boy by Sunayani Devi | Source: Indian Museum, Kolkata

8. Lakshmi.

India is a country where women are considered the form of Goddess Laxmi. Laxmi, wearing a pinkish saree with a yellow border, holding a golden Kalash in her hand that depicts the fulfillment of wealth, happiness, and food at home. With a Golden crown on her head, she displays that a home is not a home without her. The golden jewelry she wears speculates her divine look. Adding a touch of divinity to the painting is the Lotus flower behind the lady, said to be Laxmi’s favorite.

Sunayani Devi Painting Lakshmi
Lakshmi by Sunayani Devi | Source: Indian Museum, Kolkata

9. Mukula Ma Ke Didima.

The story behind the painting is still unavailable. In this illustration, the three women hold their anger towards the man who is sitting with a basket through their expressions. The basket holds two bottles and a few more things (tough to analyze). The diverse color combination of their dresses makes this painting more relatable and beautiful.

Mukula Ma Ke Didima by Sunayani Devi
Mukula Ma Ke Didima by Sunayani Devi | Source: Indian Museum, Kolkata

10. Lady Holding A Fan.

It seems that green and pink colors look great on women, so the artist depicted in most of her paintings. The lady is gazing down, holding a fan. She is wearing ornaments, making her beautiful. The simplicity she owns wearing her smile is mesmerizing in every respect. Originally, when electricity was unavailable, women used hand fans to get rid of prickly heat. It is evident in the painting.

Sunayani Devi Painting Lady Holding A Fan
Lady Holding A Fan by Sunayani Devi | Source: Indian Museum, Kolkata

11. Lady With Flower.

The lady wearing a brown saree with red borders, a piece of jewelry on her neck, and bangles are gazing up. On looking at her eyes, we interpret that she is looking at someone through kindness. Her wrinkled face shows her ageless beauty with many more experiences she had in her entire life. We elucidate the flower in her hand as a sign of beauty even in the difficult times of life.

Sunayani Devi Painting Lady With Flower
Lady With Flower by Sunayani Devi | Source: Indian Museum, Kolkata

Her Art Exhibitions.

Among Devi’s exhibitions are:

  • 1908, 10, 12 Exhb., Indian Society of Oriental Art, Calcutta
  • 1911 United Provinces Exhb. organized by the Indian Society of Oriental Art, Allahabad
  • 1911 Festival of Empire, organized by the Indian Society of Oriental Art for George V’s coronation, Crystal Palace, London
  • 1924 Travelling exhibit. organized by the Indian Society of Oriental Art and American Federation of Art, USA
  • 2004 Manifestations II, organized by Delhi Art Gallery, Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai and Delhi Art Gallery, New Delhi
  • 2011 Summer Oasis, organized by Chitrakoot Art Gallery, Kolkata

It seems Sunayani Devi understands and considers every situation positively. The modern Indian art gallery she created is truly an inspiration. It can bring divinity even to a mushroom head and more simplicity in its approach. Which painting of hers inspired you most?

Frequently Asked Questions.

What are the famous paintings of Sunayani Devi?

Milkmaids, The Candy Man, and Krishna Consorting Radha in a Guise of a Gopiare are three of the most famous paintings by Sunayani Devi depicting her style of spiritual expression as well as domestic scenes on canvas.

Who were the brothers of Sunayani Devi?

Abanindranath Tagore and Gaganendranath Tagore were the brothers of Sunayani Devi.

What type of art was of Sunayani Devi?

Sunayani Devi painted Modern artworks depicting domestic scenes with sometimes religious stories.


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