The Story of Indian Art #6: Gaganendranath Tagore
Gaganendranath Tagore, one of the earliest modern artists in India, was born this month (18th September) in the year 1867 at the Tagore Family Home in Jorasanko into a family whose creativity defined Bengal's cultural life. Let's meet them and him.
Gaganendranath Tagore, one of the earliest modern artists in India, was born this month (18th September) in the year 1867 at the Tagore Family Home in Jorasanko into a family whose creativity defined Bengal’s cultural life. Let’s meet them and him.
The Tagore Family
The Tagore Family, with over three hundred years of history, has been one of the leading families in India, and is regarded as a key influence during the Bengal Renaissance. The family has produced several persons who have contributed substantially in the fields of business, social and religious reformation, literature, art and music
After Rabindranath, the most notable in the Jorasanko family were Gaganendranath Tagore (1867–1938), Abanindranath Tagore (1871–1951), and Sunayani (1875–1962), who made immense contributions to Indian art. Even earlier, Abanindranath Tagore’s grandfather, Gindranath (1820–1854), and father, Gunendranath (1847–81), and subsequently Abaindranath Tagore’s cousin, Hitendranath Tagore (1867–1908) and his nephew Jaminiprakash Ganguli, were all gifted and prolific painters, specialising in a genre of dusky landscapes and romantic studies of peasant life.
Gaganendranath was the eldest son of Gunendranath Tagore, grandson of Girindranath Tagore and a great-grandson of Prince Dwarkanath Tagore. His brother Abanindranath was a pioneer and leading exponent of the Bengal School of Art. He was a nephew of the poet Rabindranath Tagore and the paternal great-grandfather of actor Sharmila Tagore.
At the time when the art of India was breaking free of the shackles of the sterile confines of the British controlled Company School, the multi-talented Tagore family was at the fountainhead of the emerging modern school, popularly known as the Neo-Bengal School.
Gaganendranath received no formal education but trained under the watercolourist Harinarayan Bandopadhyay. In 1907, along with his brother Abanindranath, he founded the Indian Society of Oriental Art which later published the influential journal Rupam. Between 1906 and 1910, the artist studied and assimilated Japanese brush techniques and the influence of Far Eastern art into his own work, as demonstrated by his illustrations for Rabindranath Tagore’s autobiography Jeevansmriti (1912). He went on to develop his own approach in his Chaitanya and Pilgrim series. Gaganendranath eventually abandoned the revivalism of the Bengal School and took up caricature. The Modern Review published many of his cartoons in 1917. From 1917 onwards, his satirical lithographs appeared in a series of books, including Play of Opposites, Realm of the Absurd and Reform Screams.
The Earliest Practitioner of Modern Art in India
Gaganendranath and his brother Abanindranath are considered one of the earliest practitioners of modern art in India. He was inspired by the visiting Japanese artist Yokoyama Taikan and other Far Eastern styles, early in his artistic life. With his proficiency in the European water-colour techniques he was probably the first artist to explore with French style of painting in India. He also came under the influence of experimentalist art prevalent in Europe at that time and was allured towards geometric compositions.
A True Pioneer
Gaganendranath was a pioneer in many ways – in adopting Indian styles of painting after training in western art, and then absorbing Japanese styles. Along with his brother, Abanindranath, they inaugurated what became known as the “Bengal school” or “Neo-Oriental school”. Its influence spread across the country while it incorporated various strains of South Asian influence. Between 1920 and 1925, Gaganendranath pioneered experiments in modernist painting. Partha Mitter describes him as “The only Indian painter before the 1940s to make use of the language and syntax of Cubism in his painting”. From 1925 onwards, the artist developed a complex post-cubist style.
Gallery of Gaganendranath
Tagore on Gaganendranath
Rabindranath Tagore, his uncle commented on his art, thus, in 1938: “What profoundly attracted me was the uniqueness of his creation, a lively curiosity in his constant experiments, and some mysterious depth in their imaginative value. Closely surrounded by the atmosphere of a new art movement … he sought out his own un-trodden path of adventure, attempted marvellous experiments in colouring and made fantastic trials in the magic of light and shade.”
- The Story of Indian Art #1: K G Subramanyan
- The Story of Indian Art #2: Jamini Roy
- The Story of Indian Art #3: Rabindranath Tagore
- The Story of Indian Art #4: Syed Haider Raza | The Story of Indian Art #5: Amrita Sher-Gil
To read other editions of the series, click here.