First published in Present-Day Painters of India, Bombay: Sudhangshu Publications, 1950
The Tagore family is unique in India. Almost all its members are gifted in one way or another. Not only do we find poets and painters, authors and administrators, singers and story-tellers, dreamers and dancers among them, but saints and sages, and even eccentrics. Jorosanko, their home, was an academy by itself.
Men like Ram Mohan Roy, Bankim Chatterjee, Madhusudan Dutt, Chitranjan Das, Lokamanya Tilak, Ranade and Gokhale were individually great, and perhaps, some near relative of theirs, here and there, was somebody, but as a family they were just above the mediocre.
It is here the uniqueness of the Tagore family lies. For three generations they have been the pioneers and vanguards of Indian cultural life. Maharishi Debendranath Tagore was a towering personality who considerably influenced the life and thought of his time; Dwijendranath Tagore was a saint who, like Francis of Assisi, spoke to animals and birds, and was a living sermon of godliness; Dwarknath Tagore was a prince and philosopher as Surendranath Tagore was an author and administrator. Ganendranath, Gunendranath and Srinath Tagores were pioneers of theatre movements in India; Radhanath and Girindranath Tagores were scholars and lovers of art.
Rabindranath was a world-poet; Abanindranath and Goganendranath Tagores master artists; Dinendranath Tagore, was a great musician; and the youngers members of the family like Rathindranath, Nabanendranath and Bratindranath Tagore are all talented artists. The womenfolk of the Tagore family are no less gifted and even girls marrying into this family show genius, and Pratima Devi is one such.
She is the wife of Rathi Babu, Rabindranath’s only son. The young Tagore is the General Secretary of Tagore’s University at Santiniketan, and an artist himself. Pratima Devi looked after the home comforts of the poet, and was the hostess of his guests.
There was a time when Gurudev Tagore lived as a recluse in a small cottage with a cook, and Mr. C. F. Andrews as his only companion for walks and talks, surrounded by a happy family who lived to serve him in a thousand ways. Pratima was his guardian angel and her adopted daughter, Nandini, the companion of his play and laughter.
The Tagores have been pioneers not only in poetry, painting and dancing but in play-productions and stagecrafts. The poet, of course, was the central figure, the source of inspiration, for the Tagore Players, the author, composer, designer and producer of most of their plays. Dina Babu, Nandalal Bose, Suren Kar and Pratima Devi were the ablest of his collaborators.
Dina Babu was the musical genius behind the shows; Nandalal Bose and Suren Kar attended to the stage-settings and lighting effects, and Pratima was the creator of the colourful costumes and artistic ornaments that added so much to the beauty of their shows. She was the fashioner of the feminine elements in Tagore’s plays.
But it is as a painter Pratima is well known to the world. She is, most unquestionably, one of the foremost of woman Indian painters, who has won the appreciation of connoiseurs and critics. She has a commendable mastery over the technique of water colour painting, as a result of the combined influences of Abanindranath Tagore and of the two Japanese artists who visited India and taught at Tagore’s place.
Pratima Devi betrays her family resemblance in some of her ambitious works, the influence of Abanindranath Tagore being obvious. She goes to Ajanta for her inspiration, and the big panels of Buddhist subjects which she exhibited in the Indian Society of Oriental Art, Calcutta, years ago, were distinctly Ajantan in their character. One sees a slight trace of Japanese influence in her technique but that was inevitable as some of these artists learnt at first hand the Japanese technique from the artists of that country who came to teach them.
One of the criticism levelled against the Tagore School of Painting is that its works are very Japanese in their effects and do not show any marked Hindu individuality, like, for instance, the South Indian Bronzes. This criticism is only partially true. The Indian artists of that school go back to the ancient ideals of their art for inspiration but utilise all available technique for their full and free expression.
But what is often forgotten in this criticism is that the so-called Japanese influence on modern Indian art is verily the old art of India coming back to its birthplace after enriching itself under the fine aesthetical sensibility of a picturesque and beauty-loving people. The primitive art of Japan can be traced to the art of the Buddhistic era in India, and with the introduction of Buddhism into Japan via China and Korea, the art of India was also ushered in.
Pratima’s “Departure of Siddhartha” (in the collection of Mr. W. A. deSilva) and “Siddhartha and Devadatta” (with Mr. Jamnadas Dwarkadas of Bombay) are in the best style of this kind. The forms and mannerisms are Ajantan but their technique is Japanese. She has painted several such panels.
One of Pratima’s delightful pictures is “Damayanti”, (reproduced in the Modern Review) in which she reveals her keen decorative sense. Sukumari Devi, another decorative artist of this school, is more a folk artist, like Sunyani Devi, while Pratima is distinctly sophisticated and intellectual in her decorative works. It is a pity she does not paint any more but even the little she was able to do in her earlier years marks her as a pioneer woman painter of modern India.