In 1905, Lord Curzon, Britain’s Viceroy to India, ordered the partitioning of densely populated Bengal, the centre of British Indian colonial politics. The partition, arguably an offshoot of Britain’s divide-and-conquer policy, split the mainly Hindu West from the majority Muslim East, increasing religious tensions. <br><br>This action sparked in Abanindranath Tagore (a Bengal native) a desire to use art to reclaim Indian heritage. The same year <em>Bharat Mata</em> (Mother India) was born.<br><br><em>Bharat Mata</em> is characteristic of Tagore’s recall of traditional Indian artistry, namely Ajanta, Pahari and Mughal miniatures, resulting in his signature watercolour ‘wash’<sup>1</sup>. Sometimes criticised for their lack of three-dimensionality, his figures reflected the Japanese painter Okakura Kakuzo who visited India in 1902, indicating a wider pan-Asian influence in rejection of Western realism.<br><br><em>Bharat Mata</em> depicts a pastoral deity holding ‘the four gifts of the motherland’<sup>2</sup>: a white cloth, a book, a sheaf of paddy and prayer beads; representing clothing, learning, food and spiritual salvation. These symbols of Indian motherhood, which held emotive substance for Hindus and Muslims alike,<sup>3</sup> are key to Tagore’s aim of conceptualising a ‘spiritual’ identity for his people, in direct contrast with the perceived ‘materialism’ of Europe.<sup>4</sup><br><br>The painting reinforced the argument for an art movement rooted in Indian nationalism, breaking away from prevailing European influences, and instead seeking inspiration from India’s Mughal past.<br><br>The movement which became known as the Bengal School of Art was originally championed by British arts administrator EB Havell when he was principal of the Government School of Art, Calcutta (1896–1905). Tagore’s execution of <em>Bharat Mata</em> is perhaps the most prominent example of the movement, clearly articulating national sentiment through well-understood indigenous symbolism.