His career as an artist had begun around 1891. His first works appeared in Sadhana magazine. He received an academic training in art from Olinto Gilhardi, and Charles Palmer, an English teacher of oil and water-colour. Abanindranath was home tutored in Bengali, English, Sanskrit and Persian languages. His name figures alongside Raja Ravi Varma in discourses related to the beginnings of modern art in India.
His art practice was largely habits of social practice focused on contexts of modernity, community, regionality and transnationality, which formed a space or interchange between theory and practice; and was devoted to the economy of culture. His works echo the notion: “art is representation and not imitation”. His association with modernity saw an organic growth that had an uninterrupted flow.
The pages of ‘Sadhana’ marked his debut as an artist; one of his illustrations of Dwijendranath Tagore’s poem ‘Swapnaprayan’ was published in its 1298 Agrahayan inaugural issue (Nov Dec, 1891). He incorporated Chinese and Japanese symbolism to bring about the liberation of Indian art. His “Indian Classic” art form often projected Asia as spiritual which stands in stark contrast to Europe’s ‘othering’ of the continent. The form has a touch of Japanese origin with roots reaching biotic layers of the shared history of local communities. The Bengal School was soon characterized by its unique miniature water-colour paintings based on ‘wash’ and ‘rhythmic lines’.
The “Krishna Lila” series, which he painted in 1896, in the form of miniatures and experimented with Rajput and Mughal style of paintings, stirring a sense of community and manifesting his nationalist-revivalist concern.