Gurudev’s Art World

Gurudev’s Art World

The travelling exhibition of Rabindranath Tagore’s paintings gives a glimpse into the artist’s idiosyncratic side.

LAST year,when the Ministry of Culture,Government of India,was putting together its schedule to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore,it decided to highlight a lesser-known aspect of his creative genius: his paintings. “There is a general feeling that he is a much better writer. Hence the ministry thought it would be a good time to make his paintings known,” says Professor Raman Siva Kumar of Visva Bharati University who curated the exhibition,“The Last Harvest: Paintings by Rabindranath Tagore”. Currently being hosted at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA),in the city,till June 15,the work has been gathered from the collections of Rabindra Bhavan,Kala Bhavan,Santiniketan,Visva Bharati and NGMA,Delhi.

The most difficult task for Kumar was to choose the work that would be on display,from around 2,000 of his paintings. He himself hadn’t categorised them,and most of Tagore’s work was not dated nor titled. Kumar,however,was able to draw phases that Tagore’s paintings went through. “We have put a bit of our interpretation into it,but I tried to investigate into the thematic concerns that seeped into his paintings,” he says. For example,his earliest phase,represented in Group One of the show,exhibits his work with composite creatures,geometrical and arabesque. The work are more raw,conceived as outpourings of his subconscious rather than driven by an idea,notes Kumar. “He had said that unlike his writings,while painting he was unable to start with an idea,he started with making marks and scribbles. Later on,he became a more conscious image-maker. One can see that he is clearly trying different things,like in a landscape,a theatrical gesture or portraits,” he says.

These form another group of paintings that Tagore started at the age of 67 continuing for the next 13 years till he was alive. Group Two is his work on nature,an enduring theme even in his songs and poetry. Group Three features work that see Tagore exploring theatrical gestures,drawing from his experiences and deep understanding as a playwright. Group Four sees Tagore focusing on the human face. His portraits are not merely external appearances but character studies and a “psychological probing” into the human face.

The travelling exhibition has been hosted by major museums across three continents in nine countries include Victoria and Albert Museum,London,The Art Institute of Chicago and Asia Art Museum,Berlin.


The viewing experience is aided by excerpts from several essays on Tagore,his own writings — his books Edges of Time and Glimpses of Bengal — and Satyajit Ray’s celebrated documentary film on Tagore that plays on loop in a large screen at the exhibition. For people not familiar with his work,it helps in viewing them in context.

There is a delightful excerpt from a letter Tagore had written to Jagadish Chandra Bose,about his lack of confidence in painting. “He wasn’t sure of his own paintings,like he could be of his writings,but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he was a great painter,” says Kumar.