Abanindranath Tagore figures prominently in discussions about the beginnings of modern Indian art. Tagore started as a nationalist-revivalist artist, a categorization that is largely due to his relationship with E. B. Havell, Rabindranath Tagore and Sister Nivedita, but on closer examination one discovers that Tagore assimilated much from oriental art, relied heavily on symbolism and is a modernist in the true Baudelairean sense - Tagore was an artist of his own time, he articulated new content in his art through new ways of expression, simultaneously capturing the ephemeral quality of change and that which is eternal and immutable.
K. G. Subramanyan explains, "At a time when one kind of educated Indian was getting progressively alienated from his antecedents and facing the prospect of rootlessness and another kind was trying to fossilise some of these and preserve them unchanged for prosperity [Abanindranath Tagore] was one of those few who wanted to save them from both extremes and demonstrate that in a dynamic society, the past and the present exist in organic community." (R. S. Kumar, Paintings of Abanindranath Tagore, Kolkata, p. 16)
Around 1908-1910, Tagore began to distance himself from nationalist art and began to move toward a more individualistic art, where his interest in classical art, independent of nationalist goals, grew into a modernist search for his spiritual forebearers. His paintings from 1910-1912, many inspired by the paintings of Ajanta, reflect this search, clearly seen in his captivating Siva-Simantini. Rathan Parimoo elaborates, "The eyes are half-closed, the upper eyelid is drooping just as in the contemplative faces of the Sarnath Buddha of the Gupta period [...]. The eyebrows are arched, the slightly pouting lips are pink [...] The entire face is oval, from the right hand contour of which emanates Uma's wavy hair. She is holding the Shaivite attribute of Naga in her right hand, who has her necklace in its mouth, an activity at which her downcast eyes are glancing. As a result, what could have been just a dead pan face, has been rendered quite lively. The white form over her forehead could be the moon, another Shaivite attribute. Havell had referred to this painting as Siva-Simantini (Siva and the Lady) complimenting Abanindranath for treating Hindu mythology with the imagination and fervor of the great Chola artists." (R. Parimoo, Art of Three Tagores, New Delhi, 2011, p. 197)