7 August 1871|
Calcutta, Bengal, British India
|Died||5 December 1951(aged 80)|
|Movement||Bengal school of art|
Abanindranath Tagore (7 August 1871 – 5 December 1951) was the principal artist and creator of 'Indian Society of Oriental Art' and the first major exponent of swadeshi values in Indian art, thereby founding the influential Bengal school of art, which led to the development of modern Indian painting He was also a noted writer, particularly for children. Popularly known as 'Aban Thakur', his books Rajkahini, Budo Angla, Nalak, and Khirer Putul are landmarks in Bengali language children's literature.
Tagore sought to modernise Moghul and Rajput styles in order to counter the influence of Western models of art, as taught in Art Schools under the British Raj and developed the Indian style of painting, later known as Bengal school of art. Such was the success of Tagore's work that it was eventually accepted and promoted as a national Indian style within British art institutions under the epithet of Indian Society of Oriental Art.
Personal life and background 
Abanindranath Tagore was born in Jorasanko, Calcutta, British India to Gunendranath Tagore. His grandfather was Girindranath Tagore,the second son of "Prince" Dwarkanath Tagore. He is a member of the distinguished Tagore family, and a nephew of the poet Rabindranath Tagore. His grandfather and his elder brother Gaganendranath Tagore were also artists.
Tagore learned art when studying at Sanskrit College, Kolkata in the 1880s. Around the age of twenty years of age, in 1890, Abanindranath attended the Calcutta School of Art where he learnt to use pastels from O. Ghilardi, and oil painting from Charles Palmer, European painters who taught in that institution.
In 1889 he married Suhasini Devi, daughter of Bhujagendra Bhusan Chatterjee, a descendant of Prasanna Coomar Tagore. At this time he left the Sanskrit College after nine years of study and studied English as a special student at St. Xavier's College, which he attended for about a year and a half.
He had a sister Sunayani Devi.
Painting career 
Early days 
In the early 1890s several illustrations were published in Sadhana magazine, and in Chitrangada, and other works by Rabindranath Tagore. He also illustrated his own books. He is nephew of Rabindranath Tagore. About the year 1897 he took lessons from the Vice-Principal of the Government School of Art, studying in the traditional European academic manner, learning the full range of techniques, but with a particular interest in watercolour. At this time he began to come under the influence of Mughal art, making a number of works based on the life of Krishna in a Mughal-influenced style. After meeting E.B. Havell, Tagore worked with him to revitalise and redefine art teaching at the Calcutta School of art, a project also supported by his brother Gaganendranath, who set up the Indian Society of Oriental Art.
Later career 
Abanindranath Tagore believed that Western art was "materialistic" in character, and that India needed to return to its own traditions in order to recover spiritual values. Despite its Indocentric nationalism, this view was already commonplace within British art of the time, stemming from the ideas of the Pre-Raphaelites. Tagore's work also shows the influence of Whistler's Aestheticism. Partly for this reason many British arts administrators were sympathetic to such ideas, especially as Hindu philosophy was becoming increasingly influential in the West following the spread of the Theosophy movement. Tagore believed that Indian traditions could be adapted to express these new values, and to promote a progressive Indian national culture.
His finest achievement however was the Arabian Night's series which was painted in 1930. In these paintings he uses the Arabian Nights stories as a trope for looking at colonial Calcutta and picturing its emergent cosmopolitanism.
With the success of Tagore's ideas, he came into contact with other Asian cultural figures, such as the Japanese art historian Okakura Kakuzō and the Japanese painter Yokoyama Taikan, whose work was comparable to his own. In his later work, he began to incorporate elements of Chinese and Japanese calligraphic traditions into his art, seeking to construct a model for a modern pan-Asian artistic tradition which would merge the common aspects of Eastern spiritual and artistic culture.
His close students included Nandalal Bose, Kalipada Ghoshal, Kshitindranath Majumdar, Surendranath Ganguly, Asit Kumar Haldar, Sarada Ukil, Samarendranath Gupta, Mukul Dey, K. Venkatappa and Ranada Ukil.
For Abanindranath, the house he grew up in (5 Dwarakanath Tagore Lane) and its companion house (6 Dwarakanath Tagore Lane) connected two cultural worlds – 'white town' (where the British colonizers lived) and 'black town' (where the natives lived). According to architectural historian Swati Chattopadhay, Abanindranath "used the Bengali meaning of the word, Jorasanko – 'double bridge' to develop this idea in the form of a mythical map of the city. The map is, indeed, not of Calcutta, but an imaginary city, Halisahar, and is the central guide in a children's story Putur Boi (Putu's Book). The nineteenth-century place names of Calcutta, however, appear on this map, thus suggesting we read this imaginary city with the colonial city as a frame of reference. The map uses the structure of a board game—golokdham—and shows a city divided along a main artery; on one side a lion-gate leads to the Lal-Dighi in the middle of which is the 'white island.'
Abanindranath maintained throughout his life a long friendship with the London-based artist, author, and eventual president of London's Royal College of Art William Rothenstein. Arriving in the autumn of 1910, Rothenstein spent almost a year surveying India's cultural and religious sites, including the ancient Buddhist caves of Ajanta; the Jain carvings of Gwalior; and the Hindu panoply of Benares. He ended up in Calcutta, where he drew and painted with Abanindranath and his students, attempting to absorb elements of Bengal School style into his own practice.
However limited Rothenstein's experiments with the styles of early Modernist Indian painting were, the friendship between him and Abanindranath ushered in a crucial cultural event. This was Rabindranath Tagore's soujourn at Rothenstein's London home, which led to the publication of the English language version of Gitanjali and the subsequent award to Rabindranath in 1913 of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The publication of Rabindranath Tagore's Gitanjali in English brought the Tagore family international renown, which helped to make Abanindranath's artistic projects better known in the west.
Re-discovery of Abanindranath Tagore's Art 
Within a few years of the artist's death in 1951, his eldest son, Alokendranath Tagore, bequeathed almost the entire family collection of Abanindranath Tagore's paintings to the newly-founded Rabindra Bharati Society Trust that took up residence on the site of their famous house on No. 5, Dwarakanath Tagore lane. In a situation where only a small number of the artist's paintings had been collected or given away in his lifetime, the Raabindra Bharati Society became the main repository of Abanindranath's works of all periods. Banished into trunks inside the dark offices of the society, these paintings have remained in permanent storage ever since. Caught in these many binds the full range and brilliance of Abanindranath's works could never be effectively projected into a public domain. they remained intimately known only to a tiny circle of Art connisseurs and scolars in Bengal – some of whome like K. G. Subramanyan and R. Siva Kumar have long argued that the true measure of Abanindranath's talent is to be found in his works of the 1920s, 30s and 40s but could do little to offer up a comprehensive profile of the master for the contemporary art world. R. Siva Kumar's Paintings of Abanindranath Tagore (2008)is a path-breaking discovery in re-defining Abanindranath's art.
Art Historian R. Siva Kumar's views on Abanindranath Tagore 
Abanindranath Tagore (1871–1951) is one of the father figures of modern Indian art. Born into the house of the Tagores he grew up surrounded by art, literature, music and theatre; and amongst men who were shaping a cultural renaissance. Towering above them all was Rabindranath Tagore, his uncle, ten years older than him and his mentor.
Abanindranath himself was besides being a painter, a literary writer of great originality, a seminal thinker on art, and a musician who played the esraj with some competence. Although he was trained in the Western tradition under two European teachers Charles Palmer and Olindo Ghilardy he soon began to find its rigid academic realism revolting to his sensibility. A chance encounter with a set of illustrations to Irish Melodies by an amateur British artist and a folio of late miniatures suggested to him an alternate approach which he believed was also more Indian.
Inspired by these paintings and adopting their miniature format and their way of weaving literature and history with art Abanindranath painted the Krishna Lila series in 1896. Soon after he met E.B. Havell, the British artist and art educator who was even more exercised about reviving the Indian sensibilities in art which were being smothered out systematically by British art school training and the general Westernisation of Indian taste under colonial rule. Havell recognised Abanindranath as a fellow crusader and familiarised him with the wider panorama of Indian miniatures, especially with Mughal painting which Abanindranath found most fascinating. Other paintings based on Kalidasa’s Ritusamhara and Meghaduta, and on themes from Mughal history followed. Havell introduced them through English art journals to the Western art world as the first modern Indian paintings in an India style. He also persuaded Abanindranath to join the art school as his deputy and to train students in an Indian manner. Thus what began as a disagreement of sensibility grew into an indigenous counter-stance and the first effort at decolonisation in Indian art.
Abanindranath’s discovery of Indian miniature painting was followed by his discovery of Japanese painting. The technique of wash-painting, reconciling Western watercolour technique with Far-Eastern ink painting, grew out of this encounter. Like the miniature format, it became a coherent part of his style and a means for the expression of his intimate sensibility. Though highly reflective of his personal sensibility his style was passed on to his students who came from different parts of the country who in turn became teachers in different art schools and transformed his personal style into a pan-Indian style which later came to be known as the Bengal School.
During these early years his art became closely associated with the nationalist movement and his paintings like Bharatmata became emblematic of its aspirations. But in formal terms, although he is often described as a revivalist, it was more pan-Asian, and was built on a foundation of naturalist representational tradition. This eclecticism can also be seen in his themes and their sources. The first paintings in his fully developed style were a series based on the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. These were followed by a series on characters from the popular Bengali stage, Illustrations to Rabindranath’s Gitanjali and The Parrot’s Training, and paintings based on his play The Cycle of Spring, as well as others based on Bengali folk tales, Shankaracharya’s Mohamudgar and a trip to Odisha etc. Even a cursory listing shows a thematic broadening which, on the formal plane, was complemented by more complex narrative techniques and a richer visual language.
That he often uses traditional or older sources to foreground his individual sensibility is even more evident in his literary writings. Much of it being autobiographical or retelling of well-known stories their uniqueness lies not in the plot but in the telling. The pleasure his texts and paintings offer is that of seeing the familiar metamorphosed into the enchanted as it passes through his sensibility. The artist he believed do not reflect the world as the mirror but like the moon leaves his stamp on what ever he reflects. The importance of imagination and personal sensibility to the creative artist is more elaborately and unequivocally brought out in the lectures he later delivered as the Vageswari professor at the Calcutta University. The aesthetics he develops for all its terminological links with traditional Indian theories, is not very different from the Symbolists aesthetics of Baudelaire. Like most Symbolists he was also a dandy and a flaneur who cultivated his sensibilities almost to the point of excessive refinement. Like a flaneur he sat in his famed south veranda studio and watched the world go by, and wove stories from the vivid fragments he gathered in his mind. In Pathe Vipathe, Jorasankor Dhare and Mashi we see him at his literary best as a Flaneur. And in his Shahjadpur Series and the even more brilliant Arabian Nights series we see him excelling as a flaneur-painter.
The Shahjadpur Series is the most distinctive of Abanindranath’s landscapes. They demonstrate his dexterity in transforming the factual into an evocative image and of holding together in a delicate balance the real and the imagined. Balancing fact with imagination is even characteristic of his portraits in which he seeks an image that takes us beyond resemblance. Besides portraits of people he knew closely he also did imaginary portraits of historical and literary characters. Shahjahan, Alamgir, Zeb-ul-Nisa, Vasantasena and Malini belong to this category. He fashioned them like a novelist inventing characters by grafting together elements drawn from life and imagination. Even when he did a more straight forward portrait, like the famous triple portrait of Tagore, Gandhi and Andrews, he gave it an almost iconic quality. This traffic between person and persona is also at the centre of his Mask Series many of which were based on theatrical performances of Rabindranath’s plays in which people he knew took on new personae as actors.
The Arabian Nights series he did in 1930 is an extension of this project, the elaboration of iconic representations of personae into a novelistic narration with multiple characters. It is in more than one sense his highest achievement and a landmark in Indian painting. In it his thematic concerns are much larger, his narrative techniques are more complex, and his visual language richer and more eclectic than in any of his previous works. And more importantly they are not illustrations of the Arabian Nights but a narration of contemporary life in Calcutta perceived through the incisive eyes of a flaneur. It captures the beginnings of modern urban India with its many strands of culture.
Of the Arabian Nights series Abanindranath wrote, ‘All my life’s experience is in here.’ There was a sense of finality about this series. After it he did not paint for eight long years and yet it would be wrong to say his creative energies had dried up with it. During these years he wrote jatras, often based on the epics and modelled after folk narrations and theatre and yet very individualistic and touching on contemporary life. The folk also inspired his last paintings – the Kavikankan Chandi and Krishna Mangal series – he did during 1938–39.
Around 1940 Abanindranath he began to make toys grafting found and discarded commonplace material, playfully utilising their texture and shape to invoke real and fanciful creatures and figures. In these last works whatever their limitations he was clearly trying to steer away an art of skill and training to the creative pleasures of imagination and play.
List of paintings 
A list of paintings by Abanindranath Tagore is as follows:
- John Onians (2004). "Bengal School". Atlas of World Art. Laurence King Publishing. p. 304. ISBN 1856693775.
- Abanindranath Tagore, A Survey of the Master’s Life and Work by Mukul Dey, reprinted from "Abanindra Number," The Visva-Bharati Quarterly, May – Oct. 1942.
- Chaitanya, Krishna (1 January 1994). A history of Indian painting: the modern period. Abhinav Publications. p. 145. ISBN 978-81-7017-310-6. Retrieved 12 December 2011.
- Siva Kumar, R. (2008). Paintings of Abanindranath Tagore. Pratikshan Books. p. 384. ISBN ISBN 81-89323-09-1.
- Video of a London University Lecture detailing Abanindranath's Importance to Global Modernism, London University School of Advanced Study, March 2012.
- Swati Chattopadhyay, Representing Calcutta: Modernity, Nationalism, and the Colonial Uncanny. Routledge 2006.
- Rupert Richard Arrowsmith, "An Indian Renascence and the rise of global modernism: William Rothenstein in India, 1910–11", The Burlington Magazine, vol.152 no.1285 (April 2010), pp.228–235.
- Unattributed. "Abanindranath Tagore Biography". iloveindia.net. Retrieved 11 December2011.
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