Gaganendranath Tagore

Born in 1867, brother of Abanindranath Tagore and the eldest son of Rabindranath’s cousin, Gunendranath, Gaganendranath Tagore took a concise interest in drawing, painting and academic studies. Following Gunendranath’s premature death in 1881, Gaganendranath at the age of fourteen, took over as the potential head of the junior branch of the Tagores at Jorasanko. In 1896, subsequent to the partition of family estates, he began to take care of the administration.

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Schooled at St. Xavier’s and later trained by Harinarayan Basu, Gaganendranath’s interests spanned photography, lithography, play-acting and book-reading. Gaganendranath was considered one of the significant figures among the masses and the elites, who saw the shift from colonial to orientalist design innovations. He is hailed as a forerunner to the design activism of Nandalal Bose at Santiniketan. Gaganendranath was one of the founder members of the Indian Society of Oriental Art (1907). He committed himself to promoting Indian traditional art in colonial India, playing an active role in the organizational activities of the society. He played a crucial role in setting up the Bengal Home Industries Association, and as a Secretary of the Association, he fostered the crafts of the Eastern region. He had a fervour for reviving the artistic crafts of Bengal, particularly, the silk industry of Murshidabad.

Hailed as one of the first modern Indian painters, Gaganendranath’s works were at harmony with western modernism, with a blend of individuality. He painted a small number of pictures in oil, presumed to be following the western form, circa 1901. He also drew brush drawings in Japanese style, a couple of them stand out with magnificent golden backdrops.

Through 1916 – 1918, Gaganendranath discovered a new medium of expression: humour and satire in the form of caricature. Amongst his significant works are ‘Adbhut Lok’, ‘Birupa Bajra’, ‘Naba Hullor’. Some of his other important works and series are, ‘Dadabhayer Deyala,’ later published as ‘Bhodor Bahadur’, illustrations for ‘Jivansmriti’ (1912), sketches of rural Bengal, Ranchi and Puri, employing water-colour as the medium, and ‘Chaitanya Series’. He also experimented with cubism, folk-lore and images of the deceased and the world beyond.

He was paralysed a year before his death, in 1938.


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