History of Indian Art is as old as the Indian civilization and every major period of history has given India newer modes of expression and newer forms of art. As India was well connected to the outside world through both sea and land routes, the influence of cultures of other lands have always been felt in the art of India. These myriad influences have enriched Indian Art over the years.

The Indus valley civilization that thrived between 2500 and 1700BC was a contemporary of the Mesopotamia civilization and one can see the existence of steatite and limestone statuettes as well as terracotta figures. Most of these show animal figures made in abstract modes with high degree of sophistication. In fact many believe that abstraction in Indian art has not come after long period of realistic art as it happened in the west. Abstraction was always a part of Indian Art.


Indus sculpture: an example of abstract Indian Art


     Indus Terracotta sculpture

Gandhar Art: Decorative romanticism of 3rd century India


Though very little is left of post Indus Indian Art, one can see a gradual shift towards large statues, wooden pillars, and a very marked Greek influence on architecture. This was the time when Alexander of Macedonia had invaded India and left behind a Greek Kingdom. The Mauryan art also shows influence of the Greeks. But the Greek and other forms of European contemporary styles are seen best in the art of the Gandhar and Mathura Schools. These schools which developed under the Kushans shows high degree of sophistication and realism in human forms, and even eroticism often akin to the Hellenistic Art. The subject of art in most of these cases were taken from the lives of Gautama Buddha.

Siddhartha Gandhar sculpture


However Buddhist Art reached its peak in the Gupta period, during which the famous rock-cut temples of Ajanta were built with walls full of Buddhist frescoes relating the stories from Jataka tales.  Equally famous are the frescoes and sculptures in the cave temples of Ellora and Elephanta which probably were built later than the ones in Ajanta. These frescoes and sculptures show a reverting back to Hindu tales and metaphors, though in style they evolve from the earlier Ajanta styles.


Ajanta Fresco of 7th century: Spatial spread of lyrical figures.


Cave Fresco of Ajanta

Mahabalipuram: Ancient Indian temple Art


After 6th century, one sees a revival of Hinduism and a growth of temples which primarily became centres of all forms of art. The best example of art of this period can probably be seen in the rock temples of Mahabalipuram which were built by the Pallava rulers. These show a mix of both north-Indian as well as Dravidian styles.



In 7th century, the first Muslim conquest ensued. It was followed by a series of invasions, raids and attacks by rulers from outside India. The foreigners brought rich new ideas into Indian Art. The Muslim Art reached its peak under the Mughals. The Mughal Art expanded in almost all the major forms and media that were available at the time: murals, paper paintings, miniatures, pottery, ceramic works and even prints. The Mughal style of lateral use of space and flat faces were modified in the art under contemporary or later day Rajput and Sikh dynasties. Deccan Art of Golkonda, Bijapur and Ahmadnagar also show influences of the Mughal Art. The Sikh Art which mostly depicted the life stories of the Sikh Gurus also resembled Mughal Art in style.


Mughal Print


Mughal Art

Mysore art: a blend of Fine Art and folk decorations


However in the Deccan, Art reached its peak probably under the Mysore Kings and in Tanjore. By now the European settlers from France, Holland and England had started interfering in the politics of India. The influence of their realistic art styles with experimentation in light and shade can now be seen in the works of artists from Mysore, Tanjore, Barodaand Calcutta (now Kolkota).

Mysore Art


With the coming of the East India Company, India was introduced to this new form of art which was colloquially referred to as the Company School of Art. Though this style remained the predominant form of art for a very long time, the opening up of Indian market to the west also exposed India to the European trends of impressionism, cubism, surrealism and abstraction. Some artists of India at this time also experimented with the Oriental styles of Art. With rise of nationalistic spirit in India, many Indians also reverted back to folk artand more intensely Indian motifs.


Comapny Art: European realism


Comapny School Painting

Pseudo-realism: an example of 21st century Indian Art


After Independence for quite some time artists in India continued with these nationalistic anti-European sentiments. In 21st century as India now gets integrated to the world, the artists are once again showing readiness to accept world trends in Art. Indian Art is now fast getting global and one can see newer forms and idioms of art. New schools of art are emerging.

Pseudorealistic Art


Indian contemporary Art in the break of 21st century is as varied as it had never been before. From the elitist business houses and royal families, it has now entered the drawing rooms of the middle-class buyers and from domestic market it is now traveling offshore to fetch immense; often astronomical prices.   To categorize Indian Fine Art, we can have many criteria. One criterion which is often used by the Art Schools is the criterion of the medium. In this criterion the artists are classified as Oil painters, Acrylic painters, water colorists, terracotta sculptors, installations artists, etc. But this is not a very good criterion as many artists in the 21st century do not use any single medium but experiment with many media simultaneously. Again the very distinction between paintings, assemblages, installations, collages and sculptures is getting blurred with each passing day.
Another way of classifying Indian Art is categorize the art works in terms of the region of the artist’s origin. This is a very popular criterion and schools have been named after important centres of Art like Santiniketan, Baroda, Calcutta, (now Kolkota) Bombay (now Mumbai), Pune, Delhi, Chandigarh, Chennaiand Trivandrum. However many artists move from one place to another and do not attach themselves with any particularschool of art.
A more difficult approach is to understand Artists and their Art in terms of the inspirations they draw from. Art in India had always been an integral part of Indian life and excavations of Art objects from historical places have shown that Indian art had reached very high degrees of sophistication at various times in Indian History. Many of the artists in 21st century India use these historical styles in their art. Similarly there are artists who draw their inspiration from the rich Folk traditions of India.
India had always been closely connected with other countries. Influence of these various cultures can be seen in the art of various times. Even today the trend continues as Indian artists remain connected to the trends outside and openly adapt to the emerging Europeanand Oriental styles.   
Again while contemporary artists in India take inspiration from various sources and styles, Indian Art still retains its distinct Indian ness. Newer styles never seen before are also emerging in the Indian scene; forms and styles which actually cannot be categorized into any specific existing genre.
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