The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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It’s age of replica, monsieur
- Visva-Bharati refuses to lend Tagore paintings to France

Calcutta, May 8: No French leave for Tagore’s paintings.

France was where Rabindranath Tagore’s paintings were first exhibited in the world. That was 1930 and among those behind the initiative were writer Andre Gide and Argentine woman of letters Victoria Ocampo.

Today, the same country is being denied Tagore’s works for an exhibition it has been planning for years.

A little over a year after the disappearance of Tagore’s Nobel medallions ' the replicas arrived at Santiniketan yesterday ' Visva-Bharati has turned down France’s request to loan some paintings for the exhibition.

Rajeev Lochan, the director of the Delhi-based National Gallery of Modern Art, which has been part of the negotiations for the exhibition, refused comment.

But Visva-Bharati vice-chancellor Sujit Basu said the denial was for the sake of security.

'Even if a painting is insured for Rs 2 crore, if we lose one work we will not get back a Tagore. We told the culture secretary that instead we can give replicas. Many of the paintings were executed on scraps of paper and it is very difficult to preserve them. We consulted experts whose decision it was to turn down the request,' Basu said.

Artist K.G. Subramanyan, who has been associated with Kala Bhaban, the art college in Visva-Bharati, said it was not a government-to-government problem.

'It is the problem of Visva-Bharati and the rest of the world. They think that like ‘open sesame’, the very mention of Rabindranath will open doors.'

'They (Visva-Bharati) are like those mythical snakes that sit over treasure troves so that nobody can either approach or touch them,' Subramanyan added over the phone from Vadodara, where he lives now.

Sources said Visva-Bharati, like many other institutions in the country, does not have any proper policy on loaning artefacts or documents though Tagore’s paintings used to be loaned out when Nemai Sadhan Bose and Sabyasachi Bhattacharya were vice-chancellors.

Subramanyan, who was around when the deal was being negotiated with France, said the director of the museum of Bordeaux had approached Visva-Bharati.

Then he moved to Paris. A year ago, a French government representative was in Santiniketan. But nobody said 'no' then.

'I understand that continuous viewing could affect the colour of those paintings. But if they are routed through a government agency and if insurance and problems of transit are taken care of, there should be no problem. Tagore paintings were exhibited in Japan on the poet’s 125th anniversary,' the artist added.

Exchanges between museums are recognised worldwide. If Visva-Bharati refuses to oblige, it is an 'uncivilised act', said art historian Pranab Ranjan Ray.

Ray said after the two world wars, interest in Tagore declined not only in the West but in Asia, too. So awareness about the Nobel laureate needs to be revived.

The last time Tagore enjoyed a major international exposure was in the late 1950s when the Unesco journal Courier published a special issue titled the Writer who also painted and sculpted. He was on the cover. Among those who shared space with him inside were Russian great Tolstoy and French poet Baudelaire.

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