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Tagore familylocked

  • R. Siva Kumar

Indian family of intellectuals and artists. The Tagores played a leading role in the Indian cultural renaissance of the early 20th century. (1) Rabindranath Tagore provided intellectual stimulus and encouraged his nephews, (2) Gaganendranath Tagore and, particularly, (3) Abanindranath Tagore, as leaders of the Neo-Bengal art movement. His niece, Sunayani Devi, was also a painter.

See also Indian subcontinent, §V, 4(x).


  • R. Parimoo: The Paintings of the Three Tagores, Abanindranath, Gaganendranath, Rabindranath: Chronology and Comparative Study (Baroda, 1973)

(1) Rabindranath Tagore

(b Calcutta, May 25, 1861; d Calcutta, Aug 7, 1941).

Poet, philosopher, playwright, novelist, composer, painter and social reformer. His literary genius was recognized with Sandhya Sangeet (‘Evening Songs’) in 1882, and in 1913 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for the English translation of Gitanjali (‘Song offerings’). Although closely associated with the Indian struggle for independence, when confronted with the savagery of World War I he denounced nationalism and became a spokesman for creative freedom and human values. His school at Santiniketan (Abode of Peace), West Bengal, founded in 1901, the scene of his experiments in social reconstruction and education, became in 1921 a world university (Skt: Visva-Bharati) and a platform for East–West understanding.

Rabindranath was closely associated with the modern art movement in India. He drew the attention of his nephews, (3) Abanindranath Tagore and (2) Gaganendranath Tagore, to the scale and vitality of Japanese art (1916) and urged them to quicken their sensibilities through contacts with world art. He was also instrumental in bringing an exhibition of German Expressionist art by the Bauhaus artists to Calcutta in 1922, as part of the annual exhibition of the Indian Society of Oriental Art. He supported the Vichitra Club, which was an organization of artists and literati formed at the house of the Tagores. They ran an art class and were active between c. 1915 and 1917. When it closed he started the art school at Santiniketan (1919), which through Nandalal Bose, Mukherjee family, and Ramkinker Baij contributed richly to the development of modern art in India. Together with his friends Ernest Binfield Havell, Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy, Tenshin Okakura and Stella Kramrisch, Rabindranath also provided theoretical support for the new art movement.

Despite this contribution and despite his elementary training in drawing in his childhood and intermittent dabbling in painting, he only became seriously involved himself as an artist when he was 63. Painting then became an obsession, and in the next 17 years he produced over 2000 untitled paintings. He began by turning the crossed-out lines in his manuscripts into rhythmic patterns that soon became independent configurations, often covering the whole page. Grotesque and gestural, they have a strong graphic presence. The Puravi manuscript of poems (1924; Santiniketan, Rabindra-Bhavana), where such obliterations first appear in number, contains the whole range of transformations, suggesting that the growth from doodles to serious art was quick and came from an inner compulsion. Soon he began to make paintings independent of manuscript texts, using brightly coloured inks, gouache and coloured pencils. Beginning with semi-automatic doodlings, he turned them into definite images through projective interpretations. Mostly composite images, a hybrid race born of man, beast, bird, plant and arabesque, in their rhythmic complexity and weave of colours they can be compared to Art Nouveau motifs or to artefacts—Chinese bronze motifs, South-east Asian and Oceanic art objects etc—with which he would have been familiar from books and from museum visits.

In 1930 his paintings, previously known only to his close associates, were exhibited widely in Europe, America and Russia. European critics compared him favourably with such modern masters as Paul Klee, Emil Nolde and Edvard Munch. With his growing recognition as an artist in India and abroad, Rabindranath began to draw more from the seen reality around him, depicting landscapes, figure groups and portraits. Guided by his inner promptings, however, even such slices of reality freely changed their character.

For Tagore, art belonged to the region of intuition, the unconscious, the superfluous. With few dated examples, a style that changed little in 17 years and recurrent images, stylistic and chronological classification of his paintings remains inconclusive. Compared with his accomplishment as a poet, his achievement as a painter is considered marginal, but he was a liberating influence for modern Indian art.


  • Chitralipi I [Pictographs] (Calcutta, 1940) [reproductions and artist’s statements]
  • Chitralipi 2 (Calcutta, 1951)
  • P. Neogy, ed.: Rabindranath Tagore on Art and Aesthetics (New Delhi, 1961)


  • W. G. Archer: India and Modern Art (London, 1959)
  • C. Cuthbertson: Tagore: An Artist (Calcutta, 1960)
  • P. Neogy, ed.: Drawings and Paintings of Rabindranath Tagore (New Delhi, 1961)
  • K. Kripalani: Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography (London and New York, 1962; rev. Calcutta, 1980)
  • Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Works of Art (exh. cat., New Delhi, N.G. Mod. A., 1981)
  • S. Bandyopadhyay: Rabindra Chitrakala: Rabindra sahityer patabhumika [Rabindranath’s painting in the context of his literature] (Calcutta, 1982)
  • Six Indian Painters (exh. cat., London, Tate, 1982)
  • Rabindranath Tagore: A Celebration of his Life and Works (exh. cat., ed. R. Monk and A. Robinson; Oxford, MOMA, 1986)

(2) Gaganendranath Tagore

(b Calcutta, Sept 18, 1867; d Calcutta, Feb 14, 1938).

Painter and designer, nephew of (1) Rabindranath Tagore. Largely self-taught, he began painting in 1905, probably inspired by contacts with traditional Japanese painters in 1903; East Asian influence is visible in his early ink paintings (e.g. Jeevansmriti illustrations, 1911; Santiniketan, Nandan Mus.) and watercolours (e.g. Chaitanya series, c. 1913; Calcutta, Rabindra-Bharati Soc.). His later works show a personalized use of post-Cubist conventions (e.g. House Mysterious, c. 1922–5; Santiniketan, Nandan Mus.). He was also a versatile pioneer in lithography and design in India. He issued three portfolios of lithographed social satire between 1917 and 1921 and designed ‘Oriental’-style interior decoration to replace prevalent Victorian models. He also took a keen interest in theatre, nurtured different art organizations and wrote a book in the manner of Lewis Carroll, Bhodor Bahadur (‘Otter the Great’; Calcutta, 1956).


  • Adbhuta Loka [Realm of the absurd] (Calcutta, 1917) [portfolio of 16 social cartoons]
  • Virupa Vajra [Ugly diamonds] (Calcutta, 1917) [portfolio of 13 social cartoons]
  • Nava Hullor [Reform screams] (Calcutta, 1921) [portfolio of 15 social cartoons]


  • C. Kar: Gaganendranath Tagore (Calcutta, 1957)
  • Gaganendranath Tagore (Calcutta, 1964) [portfolio of reproductions, intro. by N. C. Chaudhury and useful list of works]
  • K. Roy: Gaganendranath Tagore (New Delhi, 1964)
  • P. Sen, ed.: Gaganendranath Tagore (Calcutta, 1972)
  • K. Sarkar: Rupadaksha Gaganendranath [Artist Gaganendranath] (Calcutta, 1986)

(3) Abanindranath Tagore

(b Calcutta, Aug 7, 1871; d Calcutta, Dec 5, 1951).

Painter and writer, brother of (2) Gaganendranath Tagore. Intermittently taught by two undistinguished European academicians, Olinto Ghilardy and Charles Palmer, in 1897 he came under the influence of Ernest Binfield Havell (see Havell family, §3), art scholar and catalyst of indigenism. Impressed by Mughal and Persian miniatures and the work of the Japanese artists Taikan Yokoyama and Shunso Hishida, who visited India in 1903, Abanindranath discarded Western realism for the stylized naturalism of Japanese art, which suited his poetic temperament, and the general John Ruskin–William Morris thought axis of such early indigenist theorists as Havell and Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy. His work until the Omar Khayyam illustrations (1906–10; Santiniketan, Nandan Mus.), with their revivalist nationalism and fin-de-siècle affectations, greatly influenced the Neo-Bengal art movement formed chiefly by his pupils at the Calcutta Art School, where he was Vice-principal from 1905 to 1915. His own later work developed an imagist focus. The Arabian Nights series (1930; Calcutta, Babindra-Bharati Soc.), his magnum opus, in which literary and visual antecedents give the image a cultural ambience without intruding on its independence, marks the beginning of modern Indian narrative painting. His aesthetic theories, formulated in lectures he gave as the Vageswari Professor of Art at Calcutta University (1921–9), stressed the role of individual sensibility and imagination in creativity. Induced by his uncle Rabindranath, he began writing in 1895 and became one of the finest prose writers in Bengali. After 1930 he painted little but wrote prodigiously.


  • Sadanga or the Six Limbs of Paintings (Calcutta, 1914)
  • Some Notes on Indian Artistic Anatomy (Calcutta, 1914)
  • Gharoa [Intimate memories] (Calcutta, 1941)
  • Vageswari Silpa-Prabandhavali [Vageswari lectures on art] (Calcutta, 1941)
  • Jorasankor Dhare [Reminiscences] (Calcutta, 1944)
  • Apankatha [Childhood memories] (Calcutta, 1946)
  • Sahaj Chitrasiksha [Primer of art for children] (Calcutta, 1946)


  • K. Kripalani, ed.: Vishva Bharati Quarterly, 7/1&2 (Santiniketan, 1942) [Abanindra issue]
  • R. Chakrabarty, ed.: Abanindranath Tagore: His Early Work (Calcutta, 1951)
  • P. Sen, ed.: Abanindranath Tagore (Calcutta, 1961)
  • J. Appasamy: Abanindranath and the Art of his Times (New Delhi, 1968)
  • Abanindranath Tagore (Calcutta, 1972) [portfolio of plates]
  • Abanindranath Tagore (Santiniketan, 1973)