Gaganendranath Tagore (1867-1938)

Gaganendranath Tagore | Biography | Life | Paintings



Gaganendranath Tagore, eldest brother of Abanindranath Tagore, was only seventeen years of age when his father died, leaving five minor children. As the eldest male child of the family, Gaganendranath had to shoulder enormous responsibility. 

Although as a young student he had briefly learnt drawing under Harinarayan Bose, he started painting rather late, at the age of thirty-nine, mainly as a leisure activity. 


Both, Abanindranath and Gaganendranath, belonged to the period of social, economic and political change in India. 

A period when in art as in politics and the socio-economic sphere, there were efforts to discover a national identity. 



In the early years of the twentieth century, the active struggle for Independence adopted swadeshi as its motto. 

In this period, Shantiniketan became the centre of the so-called revivalist style (or the Bengal School) under the leadership of Abanindranath and Nandalal Bose. 

But it was Gaganendranath who, for the first time, made serious attempts to come to terms with modern European art while simultaneously striving for a personal style.



Whereas Abanindranath collected around him a brilliant band of gifted artists, Nandalal Bose, Asit Kumar Haldar, Samarendranath Gupta, Venkatappa, Sailendranath Dey, Devi Prasad Roy Chowdhury, who in time went forth like apostles to transmit the light of the master across the length and breadth of India, Gaganendranath’s eclectic genius functioned entirely outside the ambit of the revivalist movement around him. 


In fact, Gaganendranath’s several stylistic adventures proceeded from his dominant moods. He neither pursued art for its own sake nor followed any definite direction. 

He depended on his visual perceptions, and not on any narrative or allegorical content. His images are neither abstract nor archaic, but are intensely real, quivering with vitality. 

He used form as a vehicle for communicating his emotions. He was also influenced by the Japanese painter, Kakuzo Okakura, as is reflected in his early work (regional landscapes and Himalayan studies). 

Later he attempted to refine his work by experimenting with backgrounds in gold for his black and white sketches, somewhat after Ogata Korin (e.g. The Elephant Procession). These experiments, however, were not of much consequence, artistically. 



Gaganendranath’s experiments in so-called cubism are, in fact, so far removed from the original concept of cubism which Picasso and Braque developed that they can be better described as semi-cubistic abstractions, with an emphasis on a structural quality in the images, dreamy interiors, fantastic architectural complexes, ghost-like groups of veiled women, ascending and descending stairs (Ascension, City in the Night, Dwarkapuri and The Spirit of the Dawn). 


There is an elaborate formal relationship of planes and volumes perceived from the real objects that are rendered in a dramatic play of light and dark; the mystery is sharply enhanced by the superimposition of planes in varying tonal intensity. 

The spectral patterns of geometrical formulations possess a quaint, ethereal iridescence in intersecting, overlapping planes, in the original patterns of light and shadows resulting from window and door openings, and other architectural features. 


Gaganendranath’s great sense of humour and satire found expression in some remarkable caricatures (1917), which he lithographed. These were later published in two volumes. 

He was essentially a nonconformist. Despite his family’s close association with the revivalist movement, he kept out of it. 

He remained a free painter, with no fetish of any kind, oriental or occidental. To understand his art one has to recognise the uniqueness of his personality. 

For, his art was intensely subjective, guided by deliberate intellection and surcharged with a strong emotional impulse. 

According to Nirode Chowdhury, Gaganendranath’s inspiration was psychological rather than artistic. He was more concerned with the emotional and ideological significance of things than the attributes of form and structure. 

The brief study alone of the oeuvre, of both Abanindranath and Gaganendranath, provides a historical overview of two of our early moderns. 

They consciously broke away from School—bound traditions and conventions worked out individual styles and gave a new direction to the art movement in India.

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