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Tagore the Painter; The Bard’s Myriad Expressions

Rabindranath Tagore was a multi-faceted personality. He made a major contribution in the field of literature of not only Bengal but also on the national level. Poems, short stories, novels, dance dramas, essays- he has written them all. One aspect of the Bard that is less spoken about is Tagore the Painter, though his paintings were as classic as his literary masterpieces. He made his contribution in the painting scenario also. He opened the “Kala Bhavan” which made a great mark in the history of painting in Bengal. Born and brought up in a family which laid great emphasis on music, painting and literature, the Bard was also influenced by this medium. After starting the Viswa Bharati University in Shantiniketan, he went on to open the art wing known as “Kala Bhavan”. This wing was set up immediately after the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.

The evolution of an original idea which will reflect the creative expression of the students was the main aim of Kala Bhavan. He even invited painters like Nandalal Bose to run this art wing at Viswa Bharati University. In 1930, Tagore first emerged as a painter in France. This was not unexpected as he had long and lengthy discussions with Romain Rolland. Rolland was a Nobel Laureate. In his book “Inde- Journal” he mentioned that Tagore did not like red color. The dominance of the color red in the paintings by the Italian Painters did not appeal much to Tagore. Violet, blue and green were the most preferred colors for the Bard. French poet and Nobel laureate Saint John Perse was another individual with whom Tagore had eloquent discussions on art.

Tagore never received any formal training in arts. This became an advantage for him. He opened up new horizons for his painting and used line and colors to express him independently. Within a decade of starting painting, he produced over 2500 paintings and sketches. About 1500 of them are preserved at Shantiniketan. Darkeness and mystery were explored much in his paintings. Since he was not bound by any traditions, he could give free reigns to his thoughts.

The self portraits for example were highly representative of his style. Many art critics feel that the self portraits show the search for a self within Tagore. Attracted to primitive art style, these portraits were examples of excellence. Silence gains huge momentum in his paintings. A sense of surrealism and myriad emotions also have an important place in the paintings by Tagore.

It was in 1931 that Tagore held an exhibition of his paintings in Kolkata. This was a year after the exhibition in Paris. German students were highly fascinated by Tagore’s surrealistic touch in his paintings.

Tagore’s contribution to literature and music is unparalleled, but his contribution to painting is equally important. To quote the Bard “The world speaks to me in colors, my soul answers in music”.


Priyanka Dutta