Back to all artists
Next Previous

Abanindranath Tagore

Indian Modern Artist
Born 1871, Jorasanko, Calcutta, British India
Died 1951, Kolkata, India
Lived and worked in West Bengal, India

Abanindranath Tagore’s art is an exploration for an authentic Indian art as opposed to Western forms, both as an anti-colonial discourse and a spiritual awakening. He gives up the use of oils and pastels for the use of water colour in favour of Japanese brush stroke technique to develop a more uniquely Indian style within a pan-Asian aesthetic.



English as a special student at St. Xavier's College, Kolkata


Calcutta School of Art, Kolkata


Sanskrit College, Kolkata

VIEW     Selected exhibitions     Text      Videos      Selected images      View all


UNDERSTANDING Abanindranath Tagore

An iconic figure, Tagore marked his place in the history of Indian art

Abanindranath Tagore spearheaded a new nationalist art movement as a reaction against the imposition of western art. He perceived Western art practices as a violence against the Indian arts and allied himself along with the anti-british struggle in his own way by rejecting western art for oriental modes of painting. He adopted traditional Indian forms such as rajput and mughal miniatures and used images drawn from indian religion, iconography, literature and history in his works.

Abanindranath Tagore, Asoka's Queen,  Tissarakshita.

His art evolved organically within its larger nationalist framework

Born into the renowned Tagore family of Jorasanko, he was naturally drawn towards the arts, literature and theatre. His first formal training as an artist occurred under the Italian painter Gilhardi and Englishman Charles Palmer in western techniques such as oils, pastels, water colours, portraiture and still life.He dropped out of both soon enough but still appropriated some art nouveau into his works. In 1882, Rabindranath Tagore asked him to illustrate his book 'Chitarangada' after which he abandoned all western art forms. Abanindranath desired to not only move away from western mainstream but also from a western alternative in itself like art nouveau. Thereafter, he sought a language for himself focused on more oriental forms.

Abanindranath Tagore, ABimbabati, Early Illustration.

Abanindranath imbibed Japanese techniques into his art

Japanese curator Okakuru's visit in 1905 was also an important landmark in the development of Abanindranath's work. Not only did it expose him to the japanese brush work and art technique, it also helped in taking in idea of developing an indian language in painting to a pan-asian level. The aspiration was now to have an oriental parellel where art and philosophy were concerned. The wash technique was important not just as another technique which made Abanindranath's work more inclusive, but it also gave them a spiritual quality which added to the pan-oriental language he wished to create. In 1905- 1910 he painted the first wash series which were visuals of Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam. Similar works include 'Banished Yaksha', Sita in capitvity, Diwali, bharata mata, Tissarakshita- Ashoka's queen, End of the journey and Radhika.

Abanindranath Tagore, The Story of the Three Sisters, 1930, watercolour, 27.94 x 19.05 cm.

Abanindranath Tagore, Illustration for Parrot's Training, 1918, ink, 25.4 x 17.78 cm.

Personal experiences have a role to play in some of his works

His admiration of indian art led him to work together with renowned art administrator of his times, EB Havell. After Havell's departure, Abanindranath also founded the Indian School of Oriental Art together with his brother Gaganendranath Tagore and Shantiniketan, which went on to produce artists such as Nandalal Bose.

Keeping aside the stylistic influences and the politics within them, Abanindranath's works can also be a metaphor for the personal. He painted The Passing of Shah Jehan in 1911 in which he shows a devout looking Jahanara at her captive father's feet, who longingly looks at the Taj while lying on his death bed. Abanindranath had just lost his daughter at the time and the painting probably tries to capture his own feelings at her death. Paintings like Shah Jehan admiring the Taj (1901), Shah Jehan at Shalimar Bagh and Head of Dara Shikoh (1909) have a certain continuity in the sense that theyexplore his personal connections. Nostalgic images of a fast changing Calcuttaconstitute a large part of his works.

Abanindranath Tagore, The Passing of Shah Jehan, 1902.

Abanindranath Tagore, Bharat Mata.

He wrote and illustrated his own works

An illuminated illustration of Irish Ballads and an album of 'Dilli Qualam' ushered in a fresh phase in his work providing him with a much desired indian techinique and form. He was struck by the intricacy of design, their decorative quality and fine craftsmanship and began experimenting. Between 1897-1901 he wrote his own works and illustrated 'Shakuntala' and 'Khshirer Putul' himself. He first consciously experimented with the Indian style that emerged in his illustration of Vaishnav Padavali by Govind Das, juxtaposing the ancient tradition with a touch of art nouveau. At this stage, he also learntthe application of gold leaf. During the same time, he also started his 'Krishna Leela' Series. Always against strict academic convention in art practice and ideal forms that must be aspired to, in his series he tended to rob his figures of body and weight. Figures in the illustration appeared long and sleek and as though floating on the surface of the painting.1899-1900 he painted 'Abhisarika' in much the same way. It is interesting to note that he condensed traditional narratives in a single figure which embodies the literary moods and metaphors of emotional love, rather than paint entire scenes complete with all figures and characters.

Abanindranath Tagore, Abhisarika, 1889-1900.

Abanindranath Tagore, Krishna Leela Series, 1897-99.