Among the master painters of the revivalist movement of Indian art the late Gaganendranath Tagore holds a distinguished place, for it is he who introduced into Indian painting the diverse enchantments of new forms and newer visions, thus breaking the monotony in the Neo-Indian art.
Gaganendranath’s achievements in painting were versatile. One cannot be easily convinced, on seeing his varied masterpieces, that they were all created by the same artist, for each is entirely different from the other in style and technique, in form and content and vision and design.
Gaganendranath was a romantic idealist both in life and art, a practical idealist and not a dreaming idealist.
He died in 1938 at the age of 71. He was the eldest brother of Dr Abanindranath Tagore, the leader of Modern Indian Painting. Although Gaganendranath worked in close association with his younger brother Abanindanath, the former was never influenced by the work of the latter, Abanindra gave new life to old traditions in art whilest gaganendranath broke old traditions by creating novel paths.
Gaganendra Nath has been known to the wider world as an Indian cubist, albeit his creation was not limited to mere cubism. His other pictorial productions such as his paintings of the Himalayas, his lyrical landscapes depicting the various atmospheric moods of different seasons, his bird studies, especially the Indian crow, his illustrations of Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali and Reminiscences, his pictorial satires on men and social institutions etc., are by no means less famous and fascinating than his renowned cubist studies.
It has already been stated that he was a romantic. But his romanticism in art did not lie in choosing romantic themes that were not realistic. His romanticism lies in presenting his own colour and design the commonest objects in an unusual way. The theme may be of the ordinary, but the manner of his rendering is of the romantic.
Rendering the commonest object in a romantic way in no way does imply the distortion of form. The fasincating arrangement of pictorial elements, without distorting the form, had enabled Gaganendranath to achieve his romanticism id depicting ordinary themes.
The secret of his success in this sphere lies in associating extraordinary qualities with his ordinaru objects. For instance, his black and white studies of Indian crows, depict just such unusual associations. His crows appear very smooth and gentle with a very delicate texture whereas usually crows are not so smooth nor gentle, nor is their texture so delicate as that in Gaganedranth Tagore’s pictures. It is through such unusual associations that he achieved his romanticism with the commonest objects.
His first departure from traditional Indian art began with creating bird studies inspired by Far Eastern influences. A series of these Indian crows then brought him the real appreciation of some European connoisseurs - which in those days was essential for one’s talents. Later, some of his works were exhibited at the Exhibition in the pavilion Morson in Paris in 1914, which brought him greater recognition.
Some Indian critics will not agree to call Gaganendranath a cubist, as they feel that this designation has a sort of unpatriotic colour, but in truth, Gaganendranth was never a narrow nationalist, rather he was a great eclectic. Thus he freely assimilated all the brightest virtues of every country, irrespective of their coming from the East, West, North or South. One cannot object, then to call him a Cubist.
On the other hand, he was an ardent lover of his country and an enthusiastic propagator of his national culture, arts and crafts. Apart from painting, his creative genius found expression in designing furniture suitable to the Indian climate and customs endowed with subtle artistic flavour. All the furniture in the Indian Society of Oriental Art was designed by Gaganendranath and was executed by a South Indian master craftsman, Dhanushkodi Achary by name, who was especially invited from Madras by the Tagore brothers.
Gaganendranth possessed not merely visionary and creative faculties but he had the great power of organisation as well. The credit of founding the famous Indian Society of Oriental Artand of conducting it meticulously goes to him, despite the fact that his younger brother, Abanindranath as well the endeacours of several other persons in this sphere were not less remarkable.
To return to his pictorial work, the type of each picture varies in every respect from that of the other so remarkably that we are unable to believe that his “Temple at Puri”, “Dream Palace”, “Arjuna and Chitrangada”, “Chaitanya”, “Rainy Day”, “Paper Boats”, “olden Cage”, and “Revealer” have been the works of the same artist.
Gaganendranath was a unique creator of light out darkness. His master pieces were done in black and cream. His “dream palace” is one of his masterpieces in this black and cream, hat creates romantic impressions in the heart of the beholder.
Another cubist study by Gaganendranth is the “Revealer”, this is the remarkable picture hung in the Bose Institute at Calcutta. In this picture Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose is depicted throwing luminous rays on a dark and mysterious background. In this artistic study of the scientific invention “the invisible waxing and waning of life is revealed by the moving trail of lights.”
Gaganendranath Tagore’s source of inspiration for creative expression was both extensive and intensive. His production was tremendous and he did know no rest. It is said, however, that his last years were very tragic, for he lost his power both to speak and to paint during the last nine years of his life. His mind beheld iridescent visions but, alas, his hand could not give shape to those visions! What a silent agony!!
Published in Aesthetics, Vol. 5, No. 2, April-June 1951