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Rabindranath Tagore

Indian Modern Artist
Born 1861, Jorasanko, Kolkata, India
Died 1941, Kolkata, India
Lived and worked West Bengal, India

Rabindranath Tagore is a seminal figure in the Bengali as well as Indian cultural landscape. Known more as a literary giant and a cultural colossus, his paintings also occupy an important place in the history of Indian modern art. He took up painting seriously only after 60 but soon achieved attention in the international circuit after a series of exhibitions in Europe. Although he passed away in 1941, several exhibitions of his work have taken place all over the world in recent times.


Self-taught artist

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UNDERSTANDING Rabindranath Tagore

His quest for freedom reflects in his works

Tagore’s artworks are an extension of his own persona as well as his times. As a resident of an occupied country striving for independence, it was natural for his work to display a yearning for freedom. But it was not related to mere political freedom. As a modernist and a humanist, Tagore found the conservative 19th century society to be suffocating and that reflected in his work. He probably even sought freedom from his writing, something he had done all his life. That is why he sought a new medium of expression and it came in the form of painting towards the later part of his life.

Rabindranath Tagore, Women, 1930, coloured ink on paper

Tagore is a universally acclaimed artist

Tagore was much ahead of his times as well his society in terms of artistic influences and ambitions. He did come from an influential family which already had a rich tradition of intellectual and artistic pursuits.  As a Nobel Laureate in literature, he also got to travel extensively around the world and thus he was able to mix Indian folk and classical traditions with influences as diverse as the Scrimshaws of New Ireland or the Woodcuts of Max Pechstein when he finally began painting at the age of 60. Most of his works involve pencil drawings as well as coloured ink on paper.

Rabindranath Tagore, Animal Composite, 1930, coloured ink on paper

Tagore particularly loved painting women and portraits

The primary elements in most of Tagore paintings are the female figures and human faces. Although he did paint landscapes and animal figures too, most of his major works probably drew from his work in literature. His deep humanism and his fascination with women shine through these works. This may be because of his own enigmatic relationship with various women over the years, be it the platonic connection with his intellectually evolved sister in law who committed suicide under inexplicable conditions or the apparently not very fulfilling relationship with his wife and also the one with Argentine connoisseur Victoria Ocampo. The last one, although platonic by most accounts, gave a new lease of life to ageing Tagore and that is when he started painting.

Rabindranath Tagore, Woman Portrait, 1932,coloured ink on paper

A Literary Giant Who Loved to Paint

While Rabindranath Tagore will forever be known as the literary giant who became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, his paintings remain relatively unknown. As a matter of fact, although he always had a penchant for it, Tagore started painting seriously only during his twilight years. His literary and cultural background lent a unique aura to his paintings and while they were deeply rooted to his Indian roots in terms of themes, his free spirited craft was completely up to date with the sensibilities of the western world. This is what made him a bridge between both the worlds and that explains the enduring popularity and importance of his works.

Rabindranath Tagore, Animal Composite, 1931, coloured ink on paper