The Last Harvest is the largest curatorial project of the paintings and drawings of Rabindranath Tagore. Visual art came late to the Nobel laureate. At the age of 67, after the world celebrated him as a playwright, author, poet and composer—and he had travelled and assimilated the cultures of the world—Tagore discovered the painter in him, a passion that he would have time for often at night after his day’s commitments and work were over, says Prof. Raman Siva Kumar, a Tagore historian who teaches at the Visva-Bharati University in Santiniketan, West Bengal. “I am hopelessly entangled in the spell that the lines have cast around me," Tagore wrote at the time.

His writings have doodles and basic sketches, some of which are now on the walls of some Metro stations in Kolkata, including the Rabindra Sadan Metro station. In his late 60s, Tagore developed his doodles and took them to their aesthetic end, often erasing the text under them. “Sketching was often a way to erase meanings for him, and to find new meanings," said Prof. Siva Kumar, on a guided tour of the show that opened to the public on 20 April at Mumbai’s National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA). He never dated or titled his paintings because he said that contrary to his writings, which always began with an idea, his drawings and paintings began with a line of a form, and the idea emerged later.

The Union government had asked Prof. Siva Kumar and Visva-Bharati to curate this show as part of the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Tagore. It has already travelled to Berlin (Germany); Rome (Italy); Paris (France); London (UK); New York and Chicago (US); Ontario (Canada); South Korea; Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia); and Delhi before opening in Mumbai. The works on show, from 1928-41, are from the collections of Rabindra Bhavana, Visva-Bharati and the NGMA. In all he created around 2,000 drawings and paintings.

The works are categorized in four groups: the earliest paintings, geometrical, playful cross-projections of ink on paper; meditative landscapes and flower pieces; dramatic gestures and moments (influenced by his work as a playwright); and portraits that are products of social and psychological probing.

It is a fallacy to describe Tagore only as a “universalist or humanist" who borrowed rationalist ideas from the West and applied them in his art. He was a nationalist first. He found his subjects around his immediate reality; his eye and soul were in subjects steeped in situations common to Bengal and the nation—as in the work of all great artists, in Tagore’s work it is impossible not to find the provincial in the universal. Needless to say, Tagore played a monumental role in India’s freedom struggle.

When it comes to his drawings and paintings, as this show illuminates, the provincial is more hidden, and needs to be found. In fine art, his lines are fluid, and they exalt in the possibility of infinite expression.

Here is a visual tour of the works on display:

The Last Harvest is on at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Fort, Mumbai, till early June,11am-6pm (closed on Mondays and national holidays).

Entry, 10 for Indians; 150 for foreign nationals; and 1 for children and students.

Close