There is more to Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore than his being the creator of our National Anthem, his Nobel Prize winning work Gitanjali, his university Shantiniketan and his songs famously known as Rabindra Sangeet. Not many of us know that this literary genius was also a great artist. What is more amazing is that he took to painting seriously only at age 67 and has to his credit a whopping 2500 paintings.
As part of the great man’s 150th birth anniversary celebrations the National Gallery of Modern Art organised a travelling exhibition of some of his paintings. The collection of paintings has so far travelled to museums in Berlin, New York, South Korea, London, Chicago, Paris, Rome, Kuala Lumpur, Ontario, New Delhi, Mumbai and is now being showcased at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Bangalore. The exhibition curator is Professor R Siva Kumar of the the Viswa Bharati University. At the inauguration of the Bangalore exhibition titled ‘The Last Harvest’, Prof. Siva Kumar spoke at length about Tagore as an artist. Rabindranath Tagore took to painting to express through pictures
what words could not express.
The title of the exhibition derives from the fact that almost all of Tagore’s paintings were done in the last 13 years of his life. He often used the word ‘harvest’. To quote an example, this is what he said to a close friend during the time he immersed himself into painting, “I would live by the Padma and gather a harvest of pictures and nothing but pictures to load the Golden Boat of Time with.”
Interestingly, Tagore had dabbled with painting earlier in his life but somehow didn’t like the look of his works and lost interest in pursuing this line. He had the habit of drawing very pretty doodles when writing. And when he struck out words he transformed them into ornamental motifs which bore a strong resemblance to art-nouveau-like arabesque (see picture below of a scored out page).
During a trip to Argentina in 1924, Tagore’s impressive motifs were noticed by writer Victoria Ocampo and she was mighty impressed, “He played with erasures following them from verse to verse with his pen, making lines that suddenly jumped into life out this play: prehistoric monsters, birds, faces appeared.” Later in 1930, it was Ocampo who helped Tagore put up his first exhibition of paintings in Paris. Ocampo’s role in shaping Tagore’s stint as a painter is celebrated in a Rabindra Sangeet composition where she is fondly referred to as ‘Bideshini’.
During the inauguration of the exhibition in Bangalore, a guest who is very well-known in the culture circles, came out with another revelation – Tagore was reportedly colour-blind and perhaps this explains why all his paintings are of a dark shade.Here are some of Tagore’s paintings…they are all photos of photos of I wouldn’t be able to tell how many photos:
Tagore never titled his paintings because he wanted them to be free of literary imagination. In the words of Prof. Siva Kumar, “he encourages the viewers to embark on a curatorial process. This exhibition is one such effort”.
A landscape painting by Tagore. He used ink, poster colours, water colours, pastels on mediums ranging from paper to tinted paper to silk, brown paper, folder paper and more.
A lot of Tagore’s paintings are representations of the human face.
Rabindranath Tagore was a genius. Men like him are rarely born. However, his successful stint as an artist beginning at the age of 67 reinforces the fact that it is never too late to be whoever you want to be and should serve as an inspiration for the generations to come.
For those interested, the Bangalore exhibition is on at the National Gallery of Modern Art till the 14th of August, 2013.
My favourites were:
A 1928 painting of a dog
– I liked the childishness around the work
Man riding a crocodile (1929-30)
– An example of awesome creativity
Six seated women (1929-30)
– The colours are very eye-catching
Girl with guitar (1938)
– I loved the girl’s expression
Painting in red with two seated women (1933)
– Looked very romantic
Dancer with red scarves (1936)
– A very vibrant piece
Woman looking over shoulder (1935-36)
– Amazing use of light. Half of the woman’s face is lit.
Veiled figure in orange saree (1936)
– Depiction of the veil over the woman’s face is striking
Dancer in fanned-out skirt (done during a trip to Teheran in 1932)
– A very peppy piece
If you happen to visit the exhibition do tell me what your favourites are:)