Rabindranath Tagore: (1861-1941)

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Rabindranath Tagore | Life | Biography | artworks
Although the creative talent of the great poet Rabindranath Tagore till the late nineteenth century; flowed mainly along the channels of literature, music, and drama, he dabbled in painting from about 1893, emerging as a creative exponent of graphic art in 1928, at the ‘improbable’ age of sixty-seven. 

With his lovely imagination, dexterity and a flair for calligraphy, he could not hold himself back in giving expression to his thoughts through lines and colors. 

Rabindranath wrote apologetically in 1930, that, ‘I, as an artist, cannot claim any merit for my courage of the unsophisticated, like that of one who walks in a dream on a perilous path, who is saved only because he is blind to the risk. ‘ 

Rabindranath did not receive any formal training in drawing and painting. In fact, it took quite a while for his paintings to be seriously accepted as works of great artistic significance. 

The only training which he had had from his young days, he said, was ‘the training in rhythm: rhythm in thought, rhythm in sound. I had come to know that rhythm gives reality to that which is desultory, which is insignificant in itself’. 

In 1930 his works were exhibited to wide acclaim in France, the UK, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, the USSR and the USA. 

This was followed by exhibitions of his works, in later years, in India and abroad. Henri Bidou, a French art critic, aptly wrote in 1930:

“Rabindranath says, that there is no connection between his work as a poet and his work as a painter. 

As a poet, he has before his eyes a vision which he describes, or, as he calls it, a mental representation. He sees a landscape, a garden, or a face, he imitates as a painter imitates, ahis model impressed upon his mind. His verses communicate images seen or created. 

On the contrary, when he becomes a painter, exactly at the point at which others begin to copy, he ceases to copy. His pictures do not represent a scheme preconceived in his mind. 

So, far from seeing them beforehand, he actually does not know, while he is doing them, what they are going to be. So, in producing his poetry, he worked as a painter, now that he is a painter, he works like a poet.”

His drawings and paintings, mostly in small sizes, show that certain things can, perhaps, be better expressed in the visual language than in words, of which he was no doubt a master. 

He never faced the hindrance that for. mal training can sometimes bring in the way of freedom and vitality of imagination. Commenting on his work, Stella Kramrisch, a well-known authority on Indian arts wrote: 

“Training of the hand is one thing, guidance by the spirit another. The work of Rabindranath Tagore, singularly free from conventions and schooling, is subject to a discipline of its own. 

It does not stop short at design or composition. Each of the hundreds of drawings and paintings is a living and balanced artistic organism.”

Rabindranath’s images are born of powerful imagination and a sense of rhythm that characterises the Indian and Persian decorative art expressions. 

Moreover, there is a kind of spirituality in his forms of men, women, birds, animals and trees and even inanimate objects. 

The evocative quality of his works seems to grow more and more when one silently immerses oneself in his dream images. 

The variety of subjects chosen by Rabindranath and his innovative technical experiments are indeed amazing. 

Dominating black ink lines divide the tinted areas which are themselves of intriguing shapes, sometimes fantastic birds and legendary animals, finely cut in arabesque, and sometimes mask-like faces in profile or oval-shaped (e.g., Woman ‘s face in colour, 1930). 

His colour schemes are dark harmonies of deep mystery, from where the figures often emerge with light outlines. 

Reddish, brownish, yellowish tones that are imbued with expressive power often contrast with a black background such as in Night of dream. 

All his images are infused with subtle rhythms, through which runs a note of calm and quiet, in the ‘apparition- like’ creations. His Male Head and Man Riding a Donkey in pen and ink are apt examples. 

The execution is independent and free, full of strength and vitality without any affectation or construction. 

There is a rich rhythmic automatism in his ‘scribbled’ or ‘doodled’ pen and ink, or crayon lines and brush strokes with black ink that fill the shapes and forms of fantastic faces, figures and things as also the background spaces.He harmonises the inks with rare taste and sensitivity.

The mysterious element in his work is comparable to Emil Nolde. According to Stella Kramrisch, ‘A shade of expressionism is especially in it which shows the character of Nolde—hardly a sign of influence, but rather a document of tenancy they have in common.’ 

Rabindranath’s work has often been compared to modern European artists, particularly German expressionists, for the similarity in the manner of piercing through the outer reality to reveal the inner truth. 

Like his poetry, his paintings are images of man and nature. The addition of an element of strangeness to these, however, infuses a touch of romanticism and wonder to his works. 

Rabindranath’s control of form and sense of balance between form, line and color displays his inborn gift. 

He lends grace and animated suppleness to the unique curves that form his images. His drawings and paintings, even though they are works of an amateur, are a window to his extraordinary personality. 

Rabindranath does not impress us with his technical virtuosity but stirs our souls with images intuitively extracted from his powerful imagination. 

His work is experiences of himself rendered with a fine feeling for line and color. He is applauded as a painter, for, he painted dreams the way no one else could.


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