In 1924, when Tagore, 63 and ailing, was recuperating at Victoria Ocampo’s Villa Miralrio in Argentina, little did he realise that his stay with her over a month and 20 days would channel his creativity towards a whole new medium, and one day, earn him laurels as one of the most influential modernist painters of all times.
Indeed, Tagore would confess later to a friend that the paintings Victoria encouraged him to flesh out from his doodles, would cast so great a spell on him that “I have almost managed to forget that there was a time when I used to write poetry.”
Today, as the curtain goes up on the yearlong celebrations to mark the Poet’s 150th birth anniversary, Tagore fans can look forward to possessing invaluable treasure. After his books and music, connoisseurs can now expect to have the entire corpus of his paintings. Pratikshan Books, in association with Visva-Bharati, is bringing out Rabindra Chitravali, an exhaustive collection and study of Tagore’s paintings. The four-volume found life after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh threw his weight behind the idea of this anthology as part of the yearlong celebrations.
The collection will have 1,600 paintings, currently with Rabindra Bhavan and Kala Bhavan, along with an additional (approximately) 200 paintings culled from institutions like the Academy of Fine Arts, Rabindra Bharati University and the National Gallery of Modern Art. Together, the volumes will contain 1,800 paintings, doodles and texts by Tagore, catalogue entries with information on each painting, comments on his work, lists and reviews of exhibitions and documentary photographs and other archival stuff.
Thanking the Prime Minister and Jawhar Sircar, secretary to Ministry of Culture, Visva-Bharati Vice-Chancellor Rajat Kanta Ray said from Santiniketan, “The culture ministry has, in principle, agreed to help us out with the project. As of now, we have received a grant of Rs. 1 crore out of the Rs. 6.33 crore earmarked for the venture. The prints will be as close as 90 per cent of the originals.”
The texts in the collection have been complied by R. Siva Kumar, art historian and professor of Kala Bhavan. One of the best aspects of the project will be its accessibility to the public. “The ink used in the originals is not very durable. The paintings can’t be left in the open for long, and need careful preservation. As such, most of Tagore’s paintings have remained inaccessible to the public. This collection, done in very high resolution, apart from bringing them out in the public domain, will be an invaluable source material for scholars, painters, and connoisseurs of art,” Kumar said. It will also help provide a picture of the art scene prevalent in Tagore’s times, assess him as an artist and measure his influence on art through the generations after him “Without a dependable corpus of work, it’s very difficult to authenticate things. This collection will answer these queries,” he added.
The collection had been due for a long time, said Uday Narayan Singh, director, Rabindra Bhavan. “We should have had this collection (of paintings) long ago. But things couldn’t progress owing to poor printing standards and high costs. Also, publishers weren’t ready to take risks. Today, advancement of technology, proliferation of libraries across the world and India becoming a seller’s market, have contributed to the making of this project,” Singh said.
A special colour-bar had been procured from Germany for the project, said Priyabrata Deb, publisher of Pratikshan Books. “Till date this is our most ambitious project. Some of the paintings in this collection have not been published before. As of now, the price for the entire set has been fixed at Rs. 20,000,” he said.
Rabindra Chitravali will be launched during Tagore’s birth anniversary celebrations in 2011. A curtain raiser to the collection, ‘Behind the Veil’, with selected paintings from Rabindra Chitravali and published by Granthan Bibhag of Visva-Bharati, will be launched by the V-C on Sunday. “It has paintings from Tagore’s Jiban Debata series,” he said.