Rabi, The Painter

As the country celebrates the 152nd birth anniversary of the first non-European Nobel laureate, master poet who gave India & Bangladesh their national anthems and an avid musician, VSUAL pays tribute to yet another aspect of Rabindranth Tagore’s creative life — his painterly pursuits…

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Surrounded by several painters Rabi, as Rabindranath was affectionately called, had always wanted to paint. Writing and music, playwriting and acting came to him naturally and almost without training, as it did to several others in his family, and in even greater measure. But painting eluded him. Yet he tried repeatedly to master the art and there are several references to this in his early letters and reminiscence. In 1900 for instance, when he was nearing forty and already a celebrated writer, he wrote to Jagadishchandra Bose, "You will be surprised to hear that I am sitting with a sketchbook drawing. Needless to say, the pictures are not intended for any salon in Paris, they cause me not the least suspicion that the national gallery of any country will suddenly decide to raise taxes to acquire them. But, just as a mother lavishes most affection on her ugliest son, so I feel secretly drawn to the very skill that comes to me least easily.‟ He also realized that he was using the eraser more than the pencil, and dissatisfied with the results he finally withdrew, deciding it was not for him to become a painter. —R. Siva Kumar,The Last Harvest: Paintings of Rabindranath Tagore.

Porträt des indischen Philosophen Rabindranath Tagore, Walther Illner

Porträt des indischen Philosophen Rabindranath Tagore, Walther Illner

A recipient of the Nobel Prize (1913) for literature, Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was born in an affluent Bengali family. The versatile genius developed an acute sensibility towards various art forms such as literature, poetry, dance and music. He was well aware of contemporary cultural trends around the world. Tagore’s journey as a painter began in his late sixties as an extension of his poetic consciousness. Though he had hardly any formal training in art, he developed a highly imaginative and spontaneous visual vocabulary, enhanced by a sound understanding of visual art practices such as modern western, primitive and child art.

Beginning as a subconscious process where doodles and erasures in his manuscripts assumed some form, Tagore gradually produced a variety of images including fantasized and bizarre beasts, masks, mysterious human faces, mystic landscapes, birds and flowers. His work displays a great sense of fantasy, rhythm and vitality. A powerful imagination added an inexplicable strangeness to his work that is sometimes experienced as eerie and evocative. Tagore celebrated creative freedom in his technique; he never hesitated to daub and smear coloured ink on paper to give life to his disquieting range of subjects. His drawings and ink paintings are freely executed with brush, rag, cotton-wool and even his fingers. For Tagore, art was the bridge that connected the individual with the world. A modernist, Tagore completely belonged to the world of his time particularly in the realm of art. [National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi]

All paintings featured here are copyright © National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, India and Punascha. Rabindranath's Portrait, Porträt des indischen Philosophen Rabindranath Tagore by Walther Illner under Wikimedia Creative Commons License.

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