The visuals that emerge inside the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) look like narratives sprouting out of the stories that one has read in the childhood. A familiar bearded face wearing a turban looms, with eyes fettered in dark and melancholic shadows. On the other side, the birds and animals look agitated as they mount themselves inside the frames. Even the women seem to stare into oblivion, cast under a spell of gloom, just like their inscrutable ways in the stories. All of these belong to the world of Rabindranath Tagore.
The Bengali polymath, known to be a connoisseur in the field of literature and music, was a late bloomer in the field of fine arts though — after he turned 67. Now, his 80 years old oeuvre as an artist has come to India through an international exhibition titled “The Last Harvest: The Sesquicentennial Exhibition of the Paintings of Rabindranath Tagore”, which is on display at NGMA. The travelling exhibition started last year with simultaneous shows in Berlin, New York, Seoul, London, Chicago, Paris, Rome, Kuala Lampur and Ontario.
In Delhi, the maroon-brown walls of the gallery feature 208 works — the largest display in the series. This also happens to be the biggest exhibition of Tagore’s paintings since 1932 in Kolkata, when 250 of his works were showcased. His debut exhibition, however, goes back to 1930 when Tagore — doubtful of his artistic endeavours in the beginning — was encouraged by writer and friend Victoria Ocampo, who found merit in his doodles and helped him organise the first exhibition in Paris.
Art historian and curator R Sivakumar, who has written four volumes on Tagore’s oeuvre, brandishes many a misconception and stresses upon the need to open Tagore’s works to interpretations. “Tagore simply refused to title his works,” he says, adding, “As a painter, he started with a scribble, which went on to forms, colours, and finally, the figures. He didn’t start a work with a predetermined idea. If you don’t begin with a preconceived idea, then the title is something that comes in the end and camouflages the whole process.”
With around 2,300 paintings created over 13 years, the present collection has been sourced from Rabindra Bhavana and Kala Bhavana in Santiniketan, Kolkata, and the NGMA. The exhaustive show has been categorised into four sections. With simplistic mediums of paper, ink, poster colours and oils, the four sections mark a gradual evolution of Tagore’s art — from initial experimentation with shapes that came out of his frequent doodling, to his shift to landscapes and nature, figures and seemingly dramatic scenes, to finally faces and characters.
The title of the show is a reference to Tagore’s frequent usage of the word “harvest” as a metaphor for a man’s work. “The title came about because after mastering other forms of art, painting was his last accomplishment. And secondly, the word “harvest” is something he kept using. Be it in the poem Golden Boat, or a 1928 letter, in which he writes that if he was free, he would have sat by the river Padma, painted and gathered a whole harvest of pictures — the metaphor fits the title perfectly,” says Sivakumar.
Interestingly, the exhibition also clears the air after much controversy and anger was generated over displays of fake Tagore paintings in Kolkata last year. “There’s a great market for Tagore’s paintings and his works are of a rare kind. I had seen the reproductions and I knew they were fake. It’s unfortunate because it completely destroys the oeuvre of the artist. But I think the problem of fakes is larger than what is made out of it,” he says.
The Indian leg of the exhibition also includes Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Bhopal and finally, Kolkata.
“The Last Harvest” is on till January, 2013. Contact: 23384640