Abanindranath Tagore

Abanindranath Tagore (1871-1951) was a nephew of Rabindranath Tagore. He was born at Jorasanko and was educated at the Sanskrit College, Calcutta. He learnt painting privately under English and Italian instructors. He led the revivalist movement in Bengal in the field of modern Indian paintings with the help of a band of disciples such as Nandlal Bose, A.K. Halder, K.N. Majumdar, S.N. Gupta and a host of others. The first major exponent of Swadeshi values in Indian art, he is known to have founded the Bengal School of Art or Neo-Bengal School. He was also a noted writer and known as Aban Thakur. In the realm of painting, Abanindranath Tagore and Nandalal Bose are known to have expressed the nationalist ethos.

Contribution of Abinandranath Tagore in Indian Paintings:
  • He was of the belief that the western art was materialistic in character and India needed to return to its own traditions to recover the spiritual values in the art.
  • Abanindranath Tagore’s works reflect the synthesis of Ajanta murals and Mughal painting. Essentially a romantic painter, he delighted in painting the hoary past. He along with his disciples viz. Nandalal Bose and Ashit Kumar Haldar are said to be the Pre-Raphaelites of Bengal. Pre-Raphaelites refer to a group of reformer English painters, poets, and critics, who came together and tried to reform art by rejecting what it considered the mechanistic approach first adopted by Mannerist artists.
  • In those times, the Hindu Philosophy was becoming more and more influencing in the west. Taking clue from that, Abanindranath Tagore believed that Indian traditions could be adapted to express these new values, and to promote a progressive Indian national culture.
  • The first major work accomplished by him was Arabian Nights series (1930). His later works show the influence of Chinese and Japanese calligraphic traditions.
  • Famous paintings are: Bharat Mata, The Passing of Shah Jahan (1900), My Mother (1912–13), Fairyland illustration (1913), Journey’s End (circa 1913)

Abanindranath Tagore portrayed Bhārat Mātā (1905) as a four-armed Hindu goddess wearing saffron-colored robes, holding a book, sheaves of rice, a mala, and a white cloth. The image of Bharatmata was an icon to create nationalist feeling in Indians during the freedom struggle.

The image was imaginative, with Bharatmata standing on green earth and blue sky behind her; feet with four lotuses, four arms meaning divine power; white halo and sincere eyes.

  • The historical context, in which Abanindranath painted Bharatmata was the Swadeshi Movement sparked off in 1905 around the partition of Bengal. This image does not incorporate the map of India; instead it had followed the protocols of the emergent “Neo-Bengal” revivalist style of depicting the female form as ethereal and austere.
  • She has four arms, which to Indian thinking, denote the divine power. The Shiksha, Diksha, Anna , Bastra, these are the four gifts of the motherland which she has been depicted as offering with her four hands.
  • Though, she has been painted as a common Bengali woman, her divine statuture is most obvious from her four arms and the delicate halo that rings her head. The impact of this painting was that Bharatmata became the new deity of the country, even if she was first named “Banga Mata” and later was renamed by him as “Bharat Mata“.
  • Bharatmata was used as a mobilizing artefact during the anti-partition processions. The critics appreciated as a new nationalist aesthetic.

Sister Nivedita was such an admirer of this painting that she wanted to publish it in tens of thousands and scatter it all over the land so that there is not a peasant’s cottage is left between Kedarnath to Cape Camorin that had not the presence of Bharatmata somewhere on her walls.

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