initialed 'G.T.' (lower right); further titled and inscribed 'Movement / Echo (crossed out) / by / G.N. Tagore / 100/= / Movement / Rs 100/- / by G.N. Tagore' (on the reverse)
watercolor on paper
12 x 17 7/8 in. (30.5 x 45.1 cm.)
Executed circa 1920s
Acquired directly from the artist by Mr. Stokvis and Mrs. Pinkhof, circa 1920s
Thence by descent
Bubb Kuyper Haarlem, 27 November 2014, lot 4830
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Lot Essay

Gaganendranath Tagore only began to paint in 1905, quite late in his life, much like his polymath uncle Rabindranath Tagore. In fact, it was Gaganendranath who illustrated his uncle’s autobiographical text, Jeevansmriti, around 1912. A few years before that, he helped establish the Indian Society of Oriental Art, Calcutta, with his brother Abanindranath, where several exhibitions of his work would be held. Apart from his early paintings and illustrations, the artist is known for his refined watercolor landscapes, unique cubist constructions, experiments with black and white photography, and portfolios of caricatures like Birupa Bajra and Adbhut Lok, which offered a satirical take on Bengali society of the time.

It was Tagore’s experiments with Cubism, which began as early as 1921, that cemented his standing as a pioneer of modernism in Indian art. Combining his interests in photography, theater and stage design, the artist’s work from this period drew from several sources, both artistic and scientific. Describing his unique approach to Cubism, Nandalal Bose wrote that Gaganendranath Tagore was “inspired by the experimentalist art of modern Europe, but it did not sweep him off his feet; indeed his later paintings are splendid examples of how fresh forms and moods can be created through a complete assimilation of the alien and the familiar.” (N. Bose, Gaganendranath Tagore, Calcutta, 1964, unpaginated)

Well informed about modern art and scenography in Europe, it is likely that in addition to reproductions of Cubist works, Tagore would have encountered the representation of dynamism in works like Nude Descending the Staircase (1912) by Marcel Duchamp and in paintings of the same period by Italian Futurists like Giacomo Balla. During the famous Bauhaus exhibition held at the Indian Society of Oriental Art in 1922, he would have also seen the work of artists like Lyonel Feininger, Johannes Itten and Paul Klee in person, expanding his understanding of the ways in which he could explore and extend the ideas formulated by the Cubists.

“For Gaganendranath, the dynamic forms of the Futurists were more suitable than the more static Analytical Cubism [...] The lyricism and theatricality inbuilt in his works also on the other hand prompts us to see the dissolution of the harder side of Cubism and an invocation of a certain kind of orientalist proclivity. However, Gaganendranath’s moments with Cubism played an extraordinarily important role in the normative feature of his pictorial art. He began to conceive, more effectively than before, of the pictorial components as tangible elements, to be freely arranged, to far greater extent than he could do earlier. He was no longer tied to illusionistic or naturalistic space; he was now able to arrange its elements at will, following his own ideas and visions of space and atmosphere.” (S.N. Majumdar, 'Gaganendranath's Moments with Cubism: Anxiety of Influence', June 2012, art etc news & views website, accessed January 2018)

Rather than dynamism or speed, Tagore’s primary concern in Movement is light and its relationship with time, space and motion. Known to have experimented with refraction using kaleidoscopes and crystals, and studied color theory from publications like The International Scientific Series, in this work the artist restricts himself to a monochromatic palette to highlight the role illumination can play in the expression of kinetic energy. Closely related to his interest in theater, this painting is perhaps a meditation on representing mechanical movement on the stage through light and shadow.

Writing about his works from this period, Stella Kramrisch calls Tagore’s paintings ‘musical’, noting “Our artist introduced cubism in India, and at once cubism shows another aspect. It is not the static and crystallic, but the animate and dynamic which crystalise into cubes, cones, etc. Here the cubes do not build up a systematic structure, but they express the radiating, turbulent, hovering or pacified forces of inner experience.” (S. Kramrisch, ‘An Indian Cubist’, Rupam, A Journal of Oriental Art, Calcutta, No. 11, July 1922, p. 109)

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