The Kalighat painters (patuas) originated at the famous temple of the same name, two miles from the centre of Calcutta, devoted to the cult of the goddess Kali. Originally situated on the banks of the Hooghly river, a Kalighat temple has existed since the 15th Century, though the present temples date from the early 19th Century. Kalighat patas were painted on the spot, as reflected in their fluid style – where a steady flow of pilgrims provided a ready market.
By the mid-19th Century the East India Company had brought prosperity to the Bengali middle classes and the painters’ subject-matter evolved, from Kali and other Hindu deities associated with the cult, to the foibles of the Bengali babu and urban domestic life, subjects ripe for satire.
The paintings had been collected by the British from the mid-19th Century, but it was the development of the Bengal School of painting in the early 20th Century which led to Kalighat painting coming to greater prominence.
The first article on it by Ajit Ghose appeared in the journal Rupamin in 1926. Ghose’s own collection was subsequently acquired by the Birla family. Jamini Roy was directly inspired in his own work by Kalighat themes and in some ways its style.
G. Archer wrote extensively on Kalighat painting and more recently Chester and Davida Herwitz formed an important collection from material appearing on the London market in the 1970s and 1980s. Kalighat watercolours have appeared in exhibitions over the years and in 2011 the Victoria and Albert Museum collaborated with the Victoria Memorial Hall, Calcutta for an important exhibition devoted solely to the school.