Poet, novelist, musician, playwright, and Asia’s first Nobel Prize awardee—which he won for literature in 1913—Rabindranath Tagore was born on 7 May 1861, and took to painting and drawing only in his sixties.
His paintings, with their intense, semi-expressionist faces of men and women inhabiting a twilight world and a nebulous dreamscape, conveying suppressed emotions and a deep, brooding interiority, had no national connection but belonged to the modern international diction of painting.
Tagore’s paintings represented a break with himself as a poet and philosopher. His belief in harmony, ultimate goodness and beauty of mankind and the world, appeared in direct dissonance with the subject of his paintings, with the latter subverting the former.
Representing a distinct break from the Indian classical tradition and the Bengal School—initiated by his nephew Abanindranath Tagore and enriched by other members of his family—Tagore’s paintings and drawings reflected the influence of artists like Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Gerhard Marx, Georg Muche, Nicholas Roerich, and Gropius, as well as the impact of Freudian psycho-analysis. The deeply agonised, distorted faces seemed to be looking into their own fathomless self, and the images emerging from the subconscious depths.
Tagore’s first exhibitions were in Paris, and successful, but were less well received in India at the time. Tagore, who set up Visva-Bharati University in Santiniketan, was instrumental in establishing Kala Bhavana, its art department, with Nandalal Bose as its head. His works were declared a National Treasure under the Antiquities and Art Treasure Act, 1972. Tagore passed away on 7 August 1941 in Calcutta.