Jamini Roy was born on 11 April 1887 into a moderately prosperous family of land-owners in Beliatore village of the Bankura district, West Bengal.
When he was sixteen he was sent to study at the Government College of Art, Kolkata. Abanindranath Tagore, the founder of Bengal school was vice principal at the institution. He was taught to paint in the prevailing academic tradition drawing Classical nudes and painting in oils and in 1908 he received his Diploma in Fine Art.
However, he soon realised that he needed to draw inspiration, not from Western traditions, but from his own culture, and so he looked to the living folk and tribal art for inspiration. He was most influenced by the Kalighat Pat (Kalighat painting), which was a style of art with bold sweeping brush-strokes. He moved away from his earlier impressionist landscapes and portraits and between 1921 and 1924 began his first period of experimentation with the Santhal dance as his starting point. Jamini Roy had 4 sons and 1 daughter.
Jamini Roy – Mother and Child, oil on canvas, mid 1920. National Gallery of Modern Art collection
His new style was a reaction against Western or Academic style of painting. He began his career as a commissioned portrait painter. Somewhat abruptly in the early 1920s, he gave up commissioned portrait painting in an effort to discover his own.
His underlying quest was threefold: to capture the essence of simplicity embodied in the life of the folk people; to make art accessible to a wider section of people; and to give Indian art its own identity. Jamini Roy's paintings were put on exhibition for the first time in the British India Street of Calcutta (Kolkata) in 1938. During the 1940s, his popularity touched new highs, with the Bengali middle class and the European community becoming his main clientèle. In 1946, his work was exhibited in London and in 1953, in the New York City. He was awarded the Padma Bhusan in 1954. His work has been exhibited extensively in international exhibitions and can be found in many private and public collections such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. He spent most of his life living and working in Calcutta. Initially he experimented with Kalighat paintings but found that it has ceased to be strictly a "patua" and went to learn from village patuas. Consequently, his techniques as well as subject matter was influenced by traditional art of Bengal.
He preferred himself to be called a patua. Jamini Roy died in 1972. He was survived by four sons and a daughter. Currently his successors (daughters-in-law and grand children and their children) stay at the home he had built in Ballygunge Place, Kolkata. His works can be found in various museums and galleries across the globe.