Rabindranath Tagore was born in Calcutta to a wealthy Bengali Brahmo family. He is one of the most revered poet-philosophers of the country. In 1913, he became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was a multi-faceted personality who was a poet, writer, musician and artist. This is evidence of how creatively gifted Tagore was.
His journey in art began with doodling on working manuscripts and grew to become an obsession after 1930. This love for art continued through the last ten years of his life. His work and skill were of such quality that they were sold by Sotheby’s as a part of an art sale for modern and contemporary art.
The human face was a constant feature in a majority of Tagore’s work. He connected the human appearance and artistically portrayed the emotions and essence, this is a feature that can be found in his writing and his art. His faces transcended the two-dimensional medium to reveal a myriad of moods. His art collection can hence be considered quite mercurial sometimes showing melancholy, and the other times mystery. Sometimes menacing and other times romantic.
Tagore’s work usually seems to be imbued with sad themes. Tagore personally has gone through a very tragic life. His mother passed away when he was just a boy. He lost one of his closest companion, childhood playmate, and sister-in-law Kadambari Devi to suicide. In a span of five years between 1902 and 1907, he lost his wife, son, and daughter.
The tragedy in his personal life is considerably expressed in his works Mahua and Purabi. The sense of solitude and sadness can be seen especially in his poetry.
Tagore’s female figures are especially popular amongst the figures he drew. Mulk Raj Anandspoke about these infamous female figures. The paintings managed to have gentle eyes and the melancholy engulfed their half-opaque faces. The all-consuming pathos has replaced the pain. The colour palettes also subtly indicate the sorrow and the entire scene touches our emotions to a great extent.
Tagore’s work is almost metaphorical in nature. It is not loud but still delivers its message perfectly. The components of his paintings always consisted of a lot of subtexts. The monochromatic paintings never had too much going on but had subtle colour changes. His in-depth understanding of light and the tricks he plays with the concept is extremely commendable.
Tagore used intense colours which would captivate the audience and dark portraits that would exude mystery. Particularly one of his paintings of a woman which was an untitled piece has the subject looking beyond the onlooker at something behind. This adds to the woman’s enigmatic presence.
Tagore also painted dramatic scenes. He did not name his paintings as he believed that labelling them would be putting them in a box and he wanted them to be free of all limits. When it came to the magical and dramatic side to his paintings almost everything was left to the onlooker’s imagination. He wanted his viewers to read the paintings in their own light and admire them in individual ways. His painting style was dramatic in nature and gave themselves completely to the onlooker. His experience as a playwright and theatre personality added an extra dramatic flair to his work. The costumes, animated actions, furniture, and bright suggested activities of an extraordinary life. The paintings managed to show a theatrical personality and were almost like watching a silent and still movie.
Landscapes constituted a small percentage of Tagore’s art. Soon after he developed an interest in painting, Tagore looked at the visible world around him as a work of art. He would find inspiration anywhere and everywhere. The sense of connectedness with nature and his skill of observance was something he possessed since he was a child. He is said to have spent hours looking outside the window and observing the forms of life outside. The wordless conversations that he has with nature helped him cultivate a sense of companionship with the world around him. Landscapes that were painted by Tagore originated from this place of innate love. Almost all the landscapes he painted expressed nature bathed in the pink hues of the dusk. His skies and nature forms indicated the way the days slowly wound down to become mere silhouettes. These landscapes seemed to hide within them some message from the universe. The sound of the silence of the paintings seem to communicate beyond the canvas.
Tagore’s paintings were definitely beyond his time. The appreciation for them came only with time. He would paint non-traditionally and his works are a perfect example of contemporary and modern art. In Government of India declared his work a national treasure in 1976. His artistic and aesthetic sense was finally valued and the government banned the export of his artworks outside the country. The origin of Tagore’s work and the background of the artists, being a noble laureate and national hero, added a lot of value to his work.
Tagore had friendships with the brightest minds around the world. One such family of luminaries that he was close to was the Elmhirsts of Dartington Hall, England. Leonard Elmhirst, in particular, was a close friend of the artist, from when they studied agricultural economics together. In 1924 Elmhirst accompanied Tagore on a tour of China, Japan and Argentina where they were part of a cultural exchange. It was after this trip that Tagore urged his friend to create an institution of his own and that’s how the Dartington Hall Trust came into being. He visited the family in Dartington in 1930 and created a series of sketches and paintings which were just recently sold off for record prices from Sotheby’s. The series of paintings bought his line of art much deserved attention.