United in uniqueness

The birth centenary of Gaganendranath Tagore (1867-1938) went virtually unnoticed in the city of his birth, but the exhibition, The Tagore Triad (November 11-25), at Akar Prakar partially made up for this neglect by celebrating the artistic genius of three brilliant members of Jorasanko Thakurbari - Rabindranath (1861-1941) and his two nephews, Gaganendranath and his younger brother Abanindranath (1871-1951). These three men were, in their own ways, the harbingers of the modern art movement in India; although the talent and artistic merit of the nephews are overshadowed by that of Rabindranath. A self-taught artist, Rabindranath took up pen, ink and brush when he was well into his 60s.

By VISUAL ARTS - Soumitra Das
  • Published 9.12.17
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The birth centenary of Gaganendranath Tagore (1867-1938) went virtually unnoticed in the city of his birth, but the exhibition, The Tagore Triad (November 11-25), at Akar Prakar partially made up for this neglect by celebrating the artistic genius of three brilliant members of Jorasanko Thakurbari - Rabindranath (1861-1941) and his two nephews, Gaganendranath and his younger brother Abanindranath (1871-1951). These three men were, in their own ways, the harbingers of the modern art movement in India; although the talent and artistic merit of the nephews are overshadowed by that of Rabindranath. A self-taught artist, Rabindranath took up pen, ink and brush when he was well into his 60s.

Small though it was in size, the exhibition curated by Debdutta Gupta was significant because it brought together several outstanding works of all three artists, some rarely seen, from various collections. Gupta has been doing this for some time. What made it even more interesting was that photographs of all three Tagores, and catalogues, books and journals related to them and their exhibitions were on display - some photocopies, many originals.

The most outstanding work was Rabindranath's rather large The Ruined Buddhist Monastery done with ink and brush. An atmospheric work, the silhouette of the temple spire rises above the clumps of dark trees. Two pen-and-ink drawings, one of a seated woman with an elongated torso and another of a bright-eyed man with a Pinocchio-like nose, were close to his doodles. The autographed catalogue of his 1932 exhibition at what was then the Government School of Art lists prices of some of his works, the highest being Rs 1,250 - not bad for those times.

In the photographs, Gaganendranath first appears as a cherubic child who turns into a solemn old man looking into the distance. Gaganendranath is known for his cartoons that poked fun at the follies of his fellow countrymen who went out of their way to ingratiate themselves with the rulers. Three such compilations of his cartoons were on display. A consummate artist, he captured on postcards the changing moods and colours of the Puri sea at various hours of the day. Stairs leading nowhere could have been by Escher. This is so typically Gaganendranath, who turned Cubism into a personal language of self-expression.

Abanindranath's experiments with calligraphy are best demonstrated by the Ragini series. He had done some delicate drawings of a bespectacled kathak or story teller and of recognizable dignitaries at the Natore conference. The illustrations of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam turn the protagonists into Indian men and women. Abanindranath did the same in his Arabian Nights series of paintings and also in his children's book based on the exploits of Buro Angla.

Abanindranath was a founder of the Bengal School of Art. It often faced harsh criticism for producing rather pallid versions of Indian miniatures through representations of historical and mythological events in its effort to fend off the effects of Western academicism. It harked back to the "glorious" past, thereby neglecting present-day realities. Abanindranath's critics, however, would be at a loss for words if they are confronted with his painting of his mother in the miniature style. The tiny lady, a widow with her hair shorn, hunches over a bolster. The focus is on her kindly face in profile. A warm radiance glows around her like a halo. Without alluding to religion, it is spiritual beauty personified.