Nandalal Bose writes in The Visva-Bharati Quarterly:
Rabindranath was all his life a deeply observant student of Nature in all its aspects and moods. To catch the abstract spirit hidden behind forms was with him an easy process. Whenever he would sit down to paint anything, the abstract idea would present itself to his mind almost at once and his pen would readily bring it out on paper. (I use the word “pen” advisedly for Gurudev hardly ever handled the conventional brush and when colouring had to be done the loose end of his cloak-sleeve more often than not was brought into service!) In his art there is ample evidence of how the abstract and the concrete could he brought together to create a harmony. At every turn you feel the hand of a master-artist.
Another characteristic was his keen sense of propor-tion. There was never a misplacement or the suggestion of a miscalculation in his compositions. Proportion sometimes follows popular convention, sometimes an art tradition. The proportionate dimensions of the figures, say of an elephant and a goat, are easily judged by the eye. When an artist places them together on the canvas showing their respective dimensions in relation to each other, he is only following the 'popular convection’. In decorative art, however, the artist has to fit in a variety of dimensional forms into a given space. The proportion is necessarily disturbed but the artist here has to follow the decorative tradition. When the artist enters into the realm of the grotesque, he must again disturb the proportion in order to create the necessary effect. For instance, when an artist depicts, say, a human figure out of all proportion vis-a-vis a diminutive lion, he only follows a particular art tradition, his idea being to create a viewpoint for the display of the grotesque. Often on walls where damp has eaten into the lime and plaster are found lines and patches suggestive of forms and figures as if they were caricatures of Nature. Gurudev's eye would often dwell on these and he would sometimes create similar ones in colour only more superb in their grotesqueness and more decorative in effect. In these attempts too are found all the characteristic qualities of his art: virility, adherence to the life principle and correct proportions. Besides, there is a keen appreciation of the grotesque and the decorative.
Gurudev, in the pursuit of his art, followed the Indian tradition. In his pictures there is more of suggestion than an attempt at detailed expression. The strength of Indian poetry rests in its sound-suggestion, words and their meaning taking but a secondary place. In Indian art too, line and colour are of secondary importance, the primary consideration being the suggestion that could be conveyed through their rhythmic blending. In the West, art is viewed from a scientific angle. Mathematical accuracy is aimed at in proportion. The three dimensional forms are very much in evidence and light and shade are a necessary adjunct. On the other hand, in our old paintings there is hardly ever found more than two dimensions. They are painted flat on walls or papers with no attempt at realistic treatment. This was also Gurudev's way.
I once described Gurudev's art as “real without being realistic.” This requires further elucidation perhaps. In the West, objectivism has been carried too far. An artist of the realistic school concerns himself mainly with correct technique in his presentation of an object. But if he has failed to reproduce the reality behind the object, he has failed to produce a work of art. For instance, a lion may be painted with correct anatomical proportions. but if that which constitutes the “lionhood”-dignity, strength and fearlessness-in the lion is not found in the composition, it might pass as a realistic representation of the lion, but it will/ certainly not be a work of art. The Oriental artist would, on the contrary, lay emphasis on the “lionhood” when he paints a lion. He would ignore anatomical details. In spite of this, his lion would be real enough- it would not appear to be anything else even to the untrained eye though it would not be "realistic". Gurudev chose to follow the latter school.
Published in the Modern Review, 1942. Courtesy - Swaraj - The Art Archive.