In 1932, when Rabindranath Tagore first exhibited hispaintings in his hometown, he'd already exhibited in Paris, London, Moscow,Germany, Norway, Denmark... Had he not come armed with rave reviews in theseplaces, the lines that shaped evolved characters that in his words "oftenexpressed passions that were abstract," stood the chance of being rejectedas non-painting'.
Seventy years after his death, an exhibition at the samevenue, showing 23 unseen works along with some unpublished writings and a letterto Victoria Okampo, is being dubbed "fake".
"Ultra-modern delineations... that baffledescription" that's how Mukul Dey described Tagore's paintings then."It's a joy to see a body of Tagore's paintings and sketches after a longtime," Sunil Gangopadhyay wrote in the comments book on Friday. PoetSankha Ghosh was likewise "delighted" to see the poet's doodles asthey emerged in his own handwriting. However, some critics from Kolkata andSantiniketan have questioned the provenance of the collection obtained by theGovt College of Art and Craft from Jayanta Banerjee of Dhanbad, to commemoratethe 1932 exhibition of Tagore's drawings, paintings, engravings, pottery andleatherwork.
It is noteworthy that these critics have not visited theexhibition: they have all reacted to digital images of paintings that, in anycase, are difficult to see since they were created on paper with watercolour,or in fine strokes of pen and ink, in dark tones that have led to theconclusion that the Nobel laureate was colour blind.
"All the paintings had become dark with age; had losttheir brightness and had become brittle," says Biswanath Chanda, theCollege restorer who has worked on five of these. "They were actually in astate of near disintegration and had started to crack... I found bits of Nepalitissue paper on the reverse. I removed them, cleaned the paintings, and finallydid a lining," explains the artist who has recorded all the stages of thiswork.
"None of these works is on sale," stresses JayantaBanerjee, the 70-ish collector speaking from Dhanbad. "They will return tome after the show, and I will decide which institute to donate them to,"he says in a conversation recorded by Aniket Mitra, a final year student of theCollege. The collector's grandfather Rai Bahadur H P Banerjee, who ownedseveral collieries and landed property, was close to Tagore. "That is whyRani Mahalanobis accorded a special place to me in her affection," he saysof the childless widow of Prasanta Mahalanobis, the father of Indian Statisticswho performed as PA to Tagore.
Rani Mahalanobis's brother Haridas Bhattacharya, who hadmarried the renowned actress Kanan Devi, "had laid claim to everythingowned by her since she was childless. However, since the general opinion wasthat these objects of national importance should go an institution such as theMuseum or Visva-Bharati, the court appointed a gentleman as receiver of thegoods that ran into several trunks. My uncle, chief justice Manas Nath Roy, hadthen said, 'See what's happening to your Ranidi's collection!' But I didn'twant to get involved in court proceedings," Banerjee explains in theconversation recorded on telephone.
Of course, by then, he had a sizable collection of Tagores,one of which is now owned by Jogen Chowdhury, the renowned artist who hasserved as Principal of Kala Bhavan, it is reliably learnt.
After the death of Mahalanobis, Rathindranath and PratimaDevi, Rani Mahalanobis was inconvenienced for money and Jayanta Banerjeeattended to her personal needs. "She had trunks of paintings, papers,letters, and personal objects of Tagore including the scissors he used to trimhis beard with, and his tunics." Lady Ranu Mukherjee often came to her,asking for some objects from this collection, and at least on one occasion thisled to an altercation "in chaste English", narrates Banerjee. To putan end to it, "in her presence Ranidi picked up the phone and told someSubramaniam, This boy Jayanta will take these things from me. Don't ask for anygatepass."