Harvest of a Lifetime


A travelling showcase of Rabindranath Tagore's paintings gets an Indian stopover to coincide with his 150th birth anniversary celebrations.

The visuals that emerge inside the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) look like narratives sprouting out of the stories that one has read in the childhood. A familiar bearded face wearing a turban looms, with eyes fettered in dark and melancholic shadows. On the other side, the birds and animals look agitated as they mount themselves inside the frames. Even the women seem to stare into oblivion, cast under a spell of gloom, just like their inscrutable ways in the stories. All of these belong to the world of Rabindranath Tagore.

The Bengali polymath, known to be a connoisseur in the field of literature and music, was a late bloomer in the field of fine arts though — after he turned 67. Now, his 80 years old oeuvre as an artist has come to India through an international exhibition titled "The Last Harvest: The Sesquicentennial Exhibition of the Paintings of Rabindranath Tagore", which is on display at NGMA. The travelling exhibition started last year with simultaneous shows in Berlin, New York, Seoul, London, Chicago, Paris, Rome, Kuala Lampur and Ontario.

In Delhi, the maroon-brown walls of the gallery feature 208 works — the largest display in the series. This also happens to be the biggest exhibition of Tagore's paintings since 1932 in Kolkata, when 250 of his works were showcased. His debut exhibition, however, goes back to 1930 when Tagore — doubtful of his artistic endeavours in the beginning — was encouraged by writer and friend Victoria Ocampo, who found merit in his doodles and helped him organise the first exhibition in Paris.

Art historian and curator R Sivakumar, who has written four volumes on Tagore's oeuvre, brandishes many a misconception and stresses upon the need to open Tagore's works to interpretations. "Tagore simply refused to title his works," he says, adding, "As a painter, he started with a scribble, which went on to forms, colours, and finally, the figures. He didn't start a work with a predetermined idea. If you don't begin with a preconceived idea, then the title is something that comes in the end and camouflages the whole process."

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