THE LAST HARVEST:
PAINTINGS BY RABINDRANATH TAGORE
Organized by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India and the National Gallery of Modern Art
May 24 to July 15, 2012
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) is lauded around the world as a poet, playwright, musician, and philosopher, yet few outside India know that he was also a highly regarded visual artist. The Last Harvest, produced to mark the 150th anniversary of the year of Tagore’s birth, comprises more than sixty works on paper created by this versatile and prolific visionary, drawn from three collections in India. The exhibition is curated by Professor Raman Siva Kumar of Visva-Bharati University and is organized by the National Gallery of Modern Art and the Ministry of Culture, Government of India.
Tagore began drawing and painting at the age of sixty-three with no formal training, although several members of his family were educated in art. His artistic practice grew from his habits as a writer and a poet; revision marks and scratched-out words on his manuscripts became free-form doodles. The constant working of Tagore’s mind may be seen in the unfettered flow of lines, free choice of colours, and moods that are at times whimsical and at others pensive.
Tagore was the first Indian artist to exhibit his works in 1930 across Europe, Russia, and the United States of
America, earning him critical acclaim in the West, where Expressionists and Surrealists were celebrating the subconscious and exploring raw sensations as a means of breaking from academicism and stylistic conventions.
The Last Harvest is divided into four thematic sections: The Discovery of Rhythm; Images of Nature; Theatre of Gestures; and Faces–Between Masks and Portraits. While Tagore’s memories and impressions of nature generated atmospheric landscapes, he also discovered the human body and its movement through his contemplation of natural scenes. Many of his works are populated with agile figures that seem to sometimes acrobatically morph into various forms found in nature.
Tagore’s paintings could not be compared to what was prevalent amongst Indian artists of his time. When shown in India for the first time, the paintings evoked perplexity, and were termed incomprehensible even by the modern Indian artists. His paintings and drawings even today remain fresh and thought-provoking while they continue to elude any kind of categorization under the narrow boundaries of “isms” of other modern art experiments. Through his paintings, like in his poems, songs, and literature, he searched for a unifying theme or universal truth that ran as a common thread through all his creations.
In recent decades, many new foreign language translations of Tagore’s writings have appeared, spurring a new surge of interest in his art, politics, and educational philosophy. This contemporary focus is perhaps due to his belief in cross-cultural fertilization and unbridled pursuit of harmony through the notion of global citizenship, a unique world view pioneered by Tagore that is even more relevant today than during his lifetime.
The exhibition at the McMichael is presented in collaboration with the Tagore Anniversary Celebrations Committee, Toronto (TACCT) and Panorama India. This exhibition is the only showing in Canada; it has previously been presented in New York at the Asia Society Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago. Other versions are being exhibited in Paris, Rome, London, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, and Berlin.
It is particularly noteworthy that the only Canadian presentation of the exhibition will take place here, at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection—Tagore was an important influence on members of the Group of Seven and during his visit to Canada in 1929, he met with Fred Varley and Lawren S. Harris.
The Last Harvest: Paintings by Rabindranath Tagore is on display May 24 to July 15, 2012. It is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, edited by Professor Raman Siva Kumar and featuring essays by leading scholars on Tagore’s writing, philosophy, and artistic practice.
Biography: Rabindranath Tagore
Born in 1861 to a wealthy and prominent Bengali family, Rabindranath Tagore published his first poetry collection at the age of seventeen. He attended school at the University College of London in 1878, but soon returned to India to manage his father’s agricultural estates. As Tagore’s fame grew in the West, he remained devoted to political and social progress in India and particularly in his home state of Bengal. In 1901, he founded the school that later became Visva-Bharati, a progressive, experimental university still in operation today.
Tagore received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913—the first non-European to win the prize—for the English translation of his work Gitanjali (Song Offerings). In 1915 he was knighted by the British government, but later renounced this title in protest of British involvement in the massacre of civilians in Punjab. Tagore was an advocate for the abolition of the caste system and for Indian independence, and was a close friend of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He wrote the national anthems of both India and Bangladesh. Tagore died at the age of eighty in 1941, without seeing an independent India.
There are some who are insularly modern, who believe that the past is the bankrupt time, leaving no assets for us, but only a legacy of debts...It is well to remind them that the great ages of the renaissance in history were those when men suddenly discovered the seeds of thought in the granary of the past. The unfortunate people, who have lost the harvest of the past, have lost their present age.
—Rabindranath Tagore, from The Centre of Indian Culture, 1919
Coloured ink and opaque white on silk
90.5 x 60.5 cm
Untitled (Striding Bird), 1928
Ink on paper, 21.9 x 34.6 cm
Coloured ink and pastel on paper
37.4 x 70 cm