The complicacy of the Tagore fakes case seems to be ever increasing. Dhanbad-based art collector and allegedly the supplier of 19 fake paintings of Tagore at the March 2011 exhibition, Jayanta Banerjee, claimed in a petition to a district court of Dhanbad that none of the canvases belonged to him. Neither did he supply them.
HT has obtained a copy of the petition dated December 13, 2011 filed under Summon for Settle of Issue, where Banerjee claimed he had given six paintings for restoration to former art college head Deepali Bhattacharya, key organiser of the tainted exhibition, but those six paintings were not displayed at the exhibition in Government College of Art and Crafts (GCAC).
The petition is significant as this is the first such statement of Banerjee, the principal accused, in the landmark fake case. He claimed that he gave six paintings to Bhattacharya in 2006 but she never returned them.
Interestingly, the petition was filed about two weeks after the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)’s expert panel told the Calcutta high court that all 20 paintings were fakes and handiwork of one single artist. However, the petition has no mention of the case in Calcutta high court.
After a lull of several months, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) took over the investigation in October this year. CID sleuths twice raided both his residences at Dhanbad and Kolkata in November, but Banerjee was missing and has not showed up since.
Incidentally, last week HT reported that Banerjee had claimed in a videographed statement (recorded without his knowledge days after the exhibition) that all the 19 paintings were originals and that paintings in his collection were also purchased by Victoria Memorial Hall and famous painter Jogen Chowdhury in his personal capacity.
However, in the petition, Banerjee claimed he had no idea that an exhibition was taking place in GCAC with paintings from his collection until various media reported the controversy and named him as the source of 19 paintings.
“This is simply white lie as the plaintiff (Jayanta Banerjee) had given to the defendant (Bhattacharya) only six numbers of pictures,” Banerjee wrote in his petition before Dhanbad court.
“Moreover, it has come to the knowledge of the plaintiff that the six numbers of paintings taken from his custody for restoration has not been exhibited and that the defendant in connivance with some other people want to grab the paintings,” he further claimed.
“Out of benevolence and infatuation she (Rani Mahalanabis) gave some paintings and letters of Tagore during the mid-seventies and the plaintiff was made to believe that these paintings and letters were drawn/painted and written by Tagore himself,” Banerjee said in his petition.
Speaking to HT on Monday, Bhattacharya rubbished Banerjee’s claims, saying that one Biswanath Chandra did the restoration work in 2011. She has also produced a letter of receipt, in the letterhead of GCAC containing digital images of the paintings, where she declared GCAC has received 19 paintings from Banerjee and would return him all of them once the exhibition is over.
“Jayanta Banerjee is lying. He sent me 18 paintings on February 23, 2011, and another one the next day. All of these were exhibited. He had requested me for the restoration work in 2007 but no restorer was available at that time. I was given the paintings for restoration only in 2011,” she told HT.
Bhattacharya submitted her statement before the Dhanbad court in May 2012. The case is slated for next hearing in December.