When you hear the name Tagore, the first person that will probably come to your mind is the legendary poet Rabindranath Tagore. However, he was not the only personality with an artistic inclination in his family. Notable Indian artists such as Gaganendranath and Abanindranath Tagore, though less popular, have made significant contributions to the field of Indian Art in their own way.
Abanindranath Tagore was a revolutionary artist who played a critical role in the Bengali Renaissance. He was the central figure in establishing the Bengal School of Art that aimed at reviving traditional Indian art forms. His most famous paintings like the Passing of Shah Jahan, Bharat Mata, Radha Krishna, and Omar Khayyam were legendary artworks that not only attracted an international audience but also helped Indians to appreciate their cultural heritage.
At a time when Indians were increasingly adopting the Western culture, how did Abanindranath Tagore's paintings helped in popularising Indian Art? Let's discover his journey quickly.
THE YOUNG TAGORE
Abanindranath Tagore, born on 7th August 1871, at Jorasanko (Calcutta), belonged to an artistic family where both his father Gunendranath and his grandfather were celebrated artists.
His early education began when he was five years old in a school at Jorasanko. A popular incident from his school days is when he had corrected his English Teacher for wrongly pronouncing the word "pudding" as "padding.” Even though the young boy had pointed to his teacher's mistake in a polite and humble manner, he was punished by his teacher in the name of indiscipline. Abanindranath's father, on hearing the unfair treatment meted out to his son, couldn't control his rage. He immediately dropped Abanindranath from that school, thus putting an end to his normal school journey. From then onwards, he was home-schooled with his brothers Gaganendranath and Surendranath under the guidance of tutors and pundits.
As he spent most of his time at home in the company of passionate artists and poets, it is not surprising that he also got drawn to it. The artistic blood that flowed in his veins showed prominence when he started producing his first paintings as a small child. His favourite subject was nature, especially birds and animals. When he was ten years old, Abanindranath lost his beloved father. Thereupon his guardians decided to send him to Sanskrit College where he learned to compose hymns and also won the first prize for his hymn on Saraswati, the Goddess of learning. He soon began using Sanskrit books as references to write Bengal verses and illustrated them with his paintings.
Early work of Abanindranath Tagore (Source: Google Arts and Culture0
The formal education interested him little. He spent most of his time playing, painting or writing poems. Although he had not planned to pursue art as a profession, destiny led him towards it. Celebrated artists from all over the world such as Signore Gillhardy and Charles L. Palmer taught him various styles of painting such as oil painting, portrait making, watercolour painting and so on. Sura-Sundari was one of his early oil colour paintings. He mainly worked with oil and water colours when he met E.B. Havell, the principal of Government School of Art, Calcutta, the man who gave his life a new direction.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE BENGAL SCHOOL OF ART
A visit to E.B. Havell’s home, introduced Abanindranath to the forgotten world of Indian Art. He soon started exploring the Rajput, Mughal and Persian Art forms. He made a series of Krishna Lila paintings during this time. In the 1900s, under the guidance of the Japanese artist Okakura Kakozo, Abanindranath Tagore learned the Japanese wash technique and developed a new technique that was a fusion of both Tempera and Japanese was technique. Overall, his work covered techniques of European, Japanese, Rajput, Mughal Persian art and tradition. He clubbed all the techniques and added his own flavours to come up with unique colour patterns.
Birth of Krishna painting by Abanindranath Tagore (Source: Google Arts and Culture)
In 1905, to encourage and motivate students to learn Indian paintings, E.B. Havell launched the Advanced Design Department with Abanindranath Tagore as the head. Now the Bengal School of Art had a similar status as any other government training course. After teaching there for some time, Abanindranath started training students at the Indian Society of Oriental Art along with his brother Gaganedranath.
The subject matter of his paintings mainly involved Sanskrit epics and mythology. He also gave space to cattle, nature, birds and foreign culture. His first creation "Abhisarika" involved the subject matter from the poetry works of the great poet Kalidasa in Sanskrit. On his way of inspiration, he created paintings on the poetical works of Michael Madhusudan Dutta, the Banished Yaksha, and Mahaprabhu Chaitanya. He also got inspired by the Persian and Mughal poetry. He made several portraits, most of which are of Rabindranath Tagore. From Tagore’s works it can be understood that he was a true devotee of nature. Fruits, nuts, frogs, pigeons, Dave, swordfish, rabbits, parrot, woodpeckers have been deeply studied by him and reproduced in his paintings. His works Basant ka Phool and Shefali exemplify his interest in plants and flowers.
The Snipes painting by Abanindranath Tagore (Source: Google Arts and Culture)