Calcutta, July 17: The Nobel heist was a shame; this smacks of indifference.
Nearly 200 paintings by Abanindranath Tagore and Jyotirindranath Tagore, kept in the strongroom of Rabindra Bharati Society on the Jorasanko campus, were found badly damaged when the Calcutta High Court-appointed special officer broke open the lock today to ascertain their condition.
The strongroom houses over 5,000 paintings, including those by Rabindranath Tagore, as well as gold ornaments of the Tagore family. The detection of the damaged paintings has come a few months after Tagore’s Nobel medallion and other memorabilia were found stolen from Rabindra Bhavan in Santiniketan.
“Today I had time to inspect only 196 paintings kept in one almirah,” said Soumava Bhattacharjee.
“More such damaged paintings will possibly be detected as I get on with my work. We shall also know if any articles are missing.”
The contents of the remaining almirah, 20 steel trunks and four racks full of paintings are yet to be inspected.
Bhattacharjee said “most of the paintings were found damaged due to lack of scientific preservation”. Portions of the ceiling had collapsed and were lying scattered on the floor.
In May, Bhattacharjee had tried but failed to enter the strongroom as the keys were missing.
“Today I could enter only after breaking the lock and examined the valuable paintings, most of which were damaged beyond repair,” he said. The registrar of Rabindra Bharati University, Santosh Kumar Ghorai, and security officer Molin Kumar Ghosh accompanied him.
“There is no proper ventilation in the room,” Ghorai said. “The paintings were carelessly wrapped in newspapers. This is the most unscientific way of preserving paintings. Many are damaged beyond recognition and will be difficult to restore.”
The paintings belong to Rabindra Bharati Society, which has its office on the Jorasanko campus of Rabindra Bharati University. The society depends on the university for security.
Recently, security personnel stopped an attempt by society officials to take about 100 paintings out of the strongroom, reportedly for an exhibition. It resulted in a tussle between the university and the society over possession of the paintings.
The society later filed a suit against the university in the high court, which appointed a special officer to find out the condition of the articles kept in the strongroom.
“This should be treated as national property and nobody should lay claim to it,” Ghorai said.