Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

South Asia and the Himalayan Region, 1900 A.D.–present

India (Central/Deccan)
Sri Lanka
Nizams of Hyderabad, 1724–1948
Independent, 1947–present
Princely states under British rule, 19th century–1947
Independent, 1947–present
Princely states under British rule, 19th century–1947
Gradual secession of East Pakistan, 1947–1971
British colony, formerly called Ceylon, 1802–1948
Independent, 1948–present
Hereditary monarchy, 1907–present
British protectorate, 1910–47
Independent, 1949–present
Constitutional monarchy, 1948–present
Sovereign nation, 1913–49
Chinese control, 1959–present


Encompasses present-day Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Tibet

Supplemental Maps

India struggles for independence from colonial British rule through the early twentieth century, finally gaining its freedom in 1947. At this time, it is decided that a separate Muslim nation will be formed in the areas with the greatest Muslim populations. Thus the country of Pakistan is created in two parts to the northwest and northeast of the Indian subcontinent, separated by more than a thousand miles. East Pakistan, formed out of a portion of the Bengal province, gains its independence after a war in 1971, and is renamed Bangladesh.

At the beginning of the century, as the Indian nationalist movement grows, artists contribute visually to the struggle for independence. The naturalistic paintings of Raja Ravi Varma (1848–1906) lose their popularity. Once hailed for bringing Indian history and Hindu mythology vividly to life, Ravi Varma is now criticized for his European classicism: his style is not Indian. Artists attempt instead to develop a uniquely Indian modern art that differs from European styles of painting. A greater knowledge of India's traditional court, religious, and folk arts leads many to turn to the past for inspiration. In Bengal, the Calcutta Art School replaces its collection of European art with examples of indigenous traditions. The art department at Santiniketan (West Bengal) looks to European modernism and Japanese aesthetics to develop a new Indian art. And artists and cultural leaders from India and Japan attempt to forge a pan-Asian aesthetic. The Bengal School of painting is a leader in artistic developments. Led by Abanindranath Tagore (1871–1951), it turns for inspiration to older Indian art forms such as Mughal miniatures and the ancient paintings at the Ajanta caves. Its painters tend to emphasize line and color over volume and chiaroscuro.

Through much of the twentieth century, South Asian artists continue to respond creatively to developments in European art while attempting to make work that is rooted in Indian aesthetics and experiences. In 1947, the Progressive Artists' Group in Bombay is established. A diverse group of Bombay's best artists of the period, it includes Francis Newton Souza (1924–2002), Maqbool Fida Husain (born 1915), Sayed Haider Raza (born 1922), and Tyeb Mehta (born 1925). The group's inspirations are varied, from Matisse, Picasso, Cubism, and abstraction to everyday life, religious symbolism, and traditional Indian painting. In contrast to trends in the West, figuration remains popular in South Asia throughout the century.

Similar trends are found in Pakistan. Still working at mid-century, Abdur Rahman Chughtai's (1894–1975) paintings, which draw heavily on the styles of Ajanta and the Mughal court, owe a great deal to the ideals of the Bengal School. Artists like Sadequain (1930–1987), who reaches his peak in the 1950s and '60s, fuse Islamic calligraphy with elements of European modernism. Politically, most of South Asia's artists in the twentieth century are secular nationalists, striving for images that will bind, not divide, their nations, particularly in the face of continued communal tension.

During the 1950s and '60s, more artists travel to the West and study there. The discourse on contemporary Indian art focuses—with some anxiety—on dichotomies of past and present, tradition and modernity, India and the West. The best artists resolve these dichotomies and move beyond them. However, as the Indian and Pakistani diaspora grows, and as more South Asian artists live and create art abroad, these anxieties begin to dissipate. Postmodern hybridity encourages artists to juxtapose diverse sources, often playfully, and with a sense of easy, global proprietorship. By the end of the century, it is difficult to speak monolithically of "Indian" or "Pakistani" art. There are as many methods of making art as there are artists. An increasingly popular approach, however, is to bring together local techniques and materials with global modes within the same artwork.

The situation in Tibet is very different from what prevails in the rest of South Asia. Instead of independence, Tibet faces occupation for most of the twentieth century. After remaining largely closed to outsiders, Tibet signs a treaty with the British in the early twentieth century, making it a de facto British protectorate. The country falls into Chinese hands shortly thereafter, but the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911 gives Tibet its independence. Though China invades Tibet in 1950, the country retains authority over its internal affairs until the late '50s. At this time, Chinese rule becomes more oppressive, with Beijing challenging the Dalai Lama and attempting to establish rural communes. The Tibetans riot; the Chinese send in their military; and the Dalai Lama flees the country. Tibetan independence ends in 1959. Under the Chinese, the territory that had been Tibet is called the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), though it retains little or no autonomy. The struggle for an independent Tibet continues through the Dalai Lama, who heads a Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala (northern India).

The loss of Tibet's independence in 1959 brings about a dramatic change in the course of Tibetan art. For centuries, monastic patronage has been the primary support for the arts in Tibet, and devotional practices have prescribed strict artistic canons. In the first half of the twentieth century, artists begin to experiment with realism, modernism, and photography, though they continue to produce predominantly religious art. These developments are halted after 1959 when styles become invested with tremendous political significance.

After 1959, two Tibetan cultures develop in isolation from one another: the culture of the exiles in Dharamsala and the culture of the TAR under Chinese communism. The Dalai Lama's government in Dharamsala patronizes painting masters who have trained in Tibet in the Menri style, a conservative idiom that returns Tibetan art to its past, reifying it as something old, untouched, and unchanging. In architecture, the exiles seek an idiom that all Tibetan sects can embrace: the Dalai Lama's temple, called the Namgyal temple, is built in a spare modernist idiom, while the neo-Norbulingka mingle modernist simplicity with postmodern citations from traditional Tibetan architecture.

In the TAR, meanwhile, religion is suppressed, Socialist Realism prevails, and art has to espouse the politics of Beijing. For several decades, it is virtually impossible for Tibetan artists to work in traditional styles, to express dissident points of view, or to reveal any sense of a regional, ethnic identity. This situation eases in the 1980s. As the Tibetan population begins to question Chinese rule more openly, many Tibetan artists turn away from Socialist Realism. Traditional idioms and religious imagery become vital new sources of inspiration, but so does modernism, particularly Cubism and abstraction. Modernism allows for messages of dissent too subtle to invite government censorship. In addition, modernist takes on Buddhism and the regional landscape promise the birth of a distinct Tibetan idiom, albeit quite different from the "authentic" Tibetan art cultivated in Dharamsala.

    • 1901 The poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) founds a school for teaching the traditional arts of India called Santiniketan; by 1920, this school defines itself as an alternative to the Calcutta Art School. British Orientalists and writers coming out of the Arts and Crafts movement in England, including Ananda Coomaraswamy (1877–1947), E. B. Havell (1861–1934), and Sister Nivedita (1867–1911), encourage the traditional arts as well. Tagore's nephew Abanindranath (1871–1951) leads the Bengal School of painting—he paints the overtly nationalist Bharat Mata in 1905 that garners praise from these writers.

    • 1905 Growing civil unrest in Bengal prompts Lord Curzon, the governor-general, to partition the province into East and West. However, Curzon's effort to quell the insurgency engenders stronger feelings of nationalism as Indians boycott British goods under the banner of swadeshi (self-sufficiency).

    • 1906 Tibet becomes a de facto British protectorate.

    • 1906 The Muslim League is founded to represent the political demands of Muslim Indians, and the poet Muhammad Iqbal (1877–1938) proposes the creation of the separate Muslim state of Pakistan.

    • 1907 A treaty among Britain, China, and Russia recognizes Chinese sovereignty over Tibet.

    • 1910 The Chinese military enters Tibet to establish direct Chinese rule.

    • 1911 King George V (r. 1910–36) announces that the capital of the Indian colony will move from Calcutta to Delhi. Over the next several years, the architects Edwin Lutyens (1869–1944) and Herbert Baker (1862–1946) design and supervise construction of New Delhi, adjoining the seven ancient cities of the site. The city is inaugurated in 1931.

    • 1913 After the fall of China's Qing dynasty, Tibet declares its independence.

    • 1914–18 To elicit greater participation from their Indian subjects during World War I, Britain makes promises of freedom to the colony. When this freedom is not delivered by 1919, a large demonstration takes place in Amritsar. Four hundred people are killed as the British open fire on the protestors.

    • 1915 Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948), later dubbed Mahatma, or "Great Soul," by Rabindranath Tagore, returns to India after spending time in England and South Africa, where he has worked to end discrimination against Indian immigrants. He promotes the notion of satyagraha, or nonviolent resistance, to gain concessions from the British. His campaigns of civil disobedience galvanize mass support for the independence movement through the 1920s. Meanwhile, the approach of Jawarhalal Nehru (1889–1964), leader of the Indian National Congress' radical wing, attracts the middle class and intelligentsia. B. R. Ambedkar (1892–1956) rises out of the unscheduled or "untouchable" castes in order to ensure that their needs are met—he has a troubled relationship with Gandhi because the former feels that the latter uses the lower castes for political means.

    • 1921 Victoria Memorial in Calcutta is completed.

    • 1922 An exhibition of Bauhaus artists is held in Calcutta.

    • 1922–25 Gaganendranath Tagore (1867–1938) experiments with Cubism.

    • 1929 Indian artist Jamini Roy (1887–1972) exhibits his paintings influenced by Bengali folk art (pat) at the Calcatta Art School and is soon hailed as a leading Primitivist.

    • 1930 Nehru declares January 26 to be Indian Independence Day. The day passes without change but after a number of demonstrations, including the Salt March orchestrated by Gandhi, the British agree to several reforms. The army starts to grant commissions to Indian officers in 1932 and the 1935 Government of India Act gives power in provincial governments to elected Indian officials.

    • 1930 Rabindranath Tagore's (1861–1941) expressionist paintings are exhibited in Europe, America, and the Soviet Union.

    • 1933 Choudhary Rahmat cAli (1895–1951) publishes Now or Never in Cambridge, in which he gives Pakistan its name according to the territory it would occupy: including "P" for Punjab, "A" for Afghani border (Northwest Frontier Province), "K" for Kashmir, "S" for Sindh, and "tan" for Baluchistan.

    • 1936 Under the leadership of activist Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876–1948), the Muslim League becomes more radical. In the 1940s, it adopts the idea of a separate Islamic state; this stance further polarizes the population. Communal rioting is increasingly commonplace in Punjab and Bengal provinces.

    • 1940 Muhammad Ali Jinnah announces the plan for Pakistan in the Lahore Resolution, but never names it directly; this is generally considered to be the first declaration of the two-nation theory that states that there have been two communities in India since the first Muslims arrived in the country.

    • 1947 Lord Mountbatten, the last British viceroy, oversees the exchange of power from the British crown to local government as India gains its independence. Jawarhalal Nehru (1889–1964) becomes the first prime minister of India. The Muslim state of Pakistan is created in the northwest part of the former colony; East Pakistan is to the northeast. Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876–1948) becomes governor-general; Liaqat Ali Khan (1895–1951) is appointed prime minister. Millions of Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus move between Pakistan and India, and over 500,000 people are killed during the exodus.

    • 1947 The influential Progressive Artists' Group (PAG) is formed in Bombay. Its founding members include Francis Newton Souza (1924–2002), Sayed Haider Raza (born 1922), and Maqbool Fida Husain (born 1915). The group's first collective exhibition is held in 1949.

    • 1948 Kashmir soon becomes the next hotbed of internecine strife. Its Hindu maharaja, who rules over a mostly Muslim population, is given the choice to join either India or Pakistan at independence. His decision to join the former sets off a war between the two countries; the UN negotiates a border and cease-fire in 1949. In 1965, India and Pakistan fight over the Kashmir issue again.

    • 1948 Gandhi is assassinated by Nathuram Godse (1912–1949), a Hindu extremist who opposes Gandhi's willingness to work with the Muslim League. The princely state of Hyderabad is annexed by the Indian republic. Muhammad Ali Jinnah dies of illness; Khawaja Nazimuddin (1894–1964) becomes governor-general.

    • 1949 Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda is founded. It includes one of the major art schools of India.

    • 1950 India adopts a constitution, which divides power between state and national authorities. A1956 reorganization according to linguistic boundaries creates twenty-six new states.

    • early 1950s Zainul Abedin (1914–1976), a leading artist of East Pakistan, lays the foundation for modern art in that country.

    • 1950 Communist China invades Tibet.

    • 1951 Jawarhalal Nehru, prime minister of India, invites Le Corbusier (1887–1965) to design Chandigarh, the new capital of the Indian Punjab.

    • 1954 The Indian government opens the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in New Delhi. It also establishes the Lalit Kala Akademi, which promotes Indian art and contemporary artists.

    • 1954 The first All Pakistan Arts Exhibition is held in Dhaka, featuring artists from East and West Pakistan.

    • 1955 Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray (1921–1992) produces the first film in the Apu Trilogy: Pather Panchali (Song of the Road), to be followed by Aparajito (The Unvanquished, 1956) and Apur Sansar (The World of Apu, 1959). All becomes classics of world cinema.

    • 1956 The first constitution of Pakistan is ratified. Though some intellectuals such as Muhammad Ali Jinnah have called for a secular state, the constitution confirms the country as an Islamic republic. Iskandar Mirza (1899–1969), preceded by Malik Ghulam Muhammad (1895–1956), becomes president. Mirza declares martial law in 1958, is sent into exile, and is succeeded by General Ayub Khan (1907–1974). He resigns under public pressure in 1969 and is replaced by General Yahya Khan (1917–1980).

    • 1959 The Chinese crush a rebellion in Lhasa (Tibet) and the Dalai Lama flees the country. Tibet loses all political autonomy. The following year, the Dalai Lama establishes a government in exile in Dharamsala, India.

    • 1960s The Fine Arts Department at the University of Baroda establishes close ties with the Royal College of Art, London.

    • 1961 Pakistani artist Sadequain (1930–1987) wins a prize at the Paris Biennale.

    • 1964 After the death of Jawarhalal Nehru and a brief tenure by Lal Bahadur Shastri (1904–1966), Nehru's daughter Indira Gandhi (1917–1984) comes to power in India. Over the years, her rule becomes increasingly totalitarian; after facing charges of election fraud in 1975, she declares a National Emergency, suspending all civil rights and imprisoning her opponents. She is ousted in 1977, but reelected in 1980.

    • 1971–72 A civil war breaks out between the two halves of Pakistan. With the aid of India, East Pakistan declares its independence and becomes Bangladesh. In Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (1928–1979) comes to power, and declares the country an Islamic socialist republic. In Bangladesh, a new constitution adopts the four basic principles of nationalism, secularism, socialism, and democracy promoted by the Awami League, which had pushed for Bangladeshi independence under the leadership of Mujibur Rahman (1920–1975).

    • 1974 The government of Bangladesh institutes the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy (National Academy of Fine and Performing Arts) to foster Bangladeshi culture. A significant patron of the arts, the academy holds annual exhibitions of national art.

    • 1977 In Pakistan, Bhutto is ousted and later executed by General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq (1924–1988), who institutes sharica or Islamic law. Official support of the arts extends only to Islamic calligraphy and apolitical landscape paintings.

    • 1978 General Ziaur Rahman is elected president in Bangladesh. He is assassinated in 1981 and is briefly replaced by Justice Abdus Sattar (1906–1985), followed by H. M. Ershad (born 1930), who declares martial law and remains in power until mid-1990. In 1991, the widow of the former president Ziaur Rahman, Begum Khaleda Zia (born 1945), is elected prime minister. She is the current prime minister, although from 1996 to 2001, Sheikh Hasina Wazed (born 1947), the daughter of the founder of Bangladesh, is elected to this position.

    • 1980 Indian sculptor Meera Mukherjee (1923–1998) is increasingly recognized as a major artist, and gives a boost to women's contribution to modern art.

    • 1980–81 The Place for People exhibition in Baroda, Bombay, and Delhi includes the artists Sudhir Patwardhan (born 1949), Bhupen Khakhar (1934–2003), and Vivan Sundaram (born 1943). They reject nonfigurative art, embrace political narrative, and attempt to bridge the divide between fine arts and popular or folk arts.

    • 1982–87 The Festival of India series is held in the U.K., France, Russia, and the U.S., bringing Indian art to international attention.

    • 1984 Rising demands for a Sikh nation, Khalistan, separate from India are accompanied by a campaign of terrorism. When a group of militants seize the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Indira Gandhi responds by sending in troops and thousands are killed in a four-day battle. Within months, she is assassinated by two Sikh bodyguards; riots and massacres of Sikhs follow her death. Her son Rajiv Gandhi (1944–1991) is elected prime minister.

    • 1988 Benazir Bhutto (born 1953), daughter of Zulfikar, is elected prime minister of Pakistan. She is the first woman to be elected head of a Muslim state. For the next eleven years, she and Nawaz Sharif (born 1949), a businessman, exchange turns at prime minister. Both are elected twice and removed from power before the end of their terms.

    • 1989 The Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture is founded in Karachi, Pakistan.

    • 1991 Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi is assassinated by a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber. P. V. Narasimha Rao (born 1921) becomes the new prime minister.

    • 1992 A mob motivated by Hindu zealots destroys a mosque built by the general of Mughal emperor Babur in Ayodhya, claiming that it covers a temple site marking the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram.

    • 1998 The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a right-wing Hindu nationalist party, is elected to the Indian parliament under the leadership of Atal Vajpayee (born 1926).

    • 1998 Indian economist Amartya Sen (born 1933) receives the Nobel Prize for his analyses of poverty and the causes of famine.

    • 1999 In a bloodless coup, the army general Pervez Musharraf (born 1943) deposes Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif (born 1949) on charges of corruption; he becomes president in 2001. In 2002, Zafarullah Khan Jamali (born 1944) becomes prime minister.

    • 2002 Relations between India and Pakistan undergo extreme strain. While the two nations have had troubled interactions since their founding, in 2004 renewed talks between leaders provide a sense of optimism and hope for better relations in the future.

    • 2007 Benazir Bhutto, two-time former prime minister and current leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, is assassinated in conjunction with a suicide attack at a political rally. The Pakistani government and other sources point to the Al Qaeda terrorist group as the perpetrator. After her death, riots and disorder erupt in Pakistan, to be quelled by Musharraf and his government.