A self-taught artist, Gaganendranath Tagore began to paint late in his life at the age of thirty-eight, much like his uncle Rabindranath Tagore. Along with his brother Abanindranath, he was instrumental in the establishment of the Indian Society of Oriental Art, Calcutta, in 1907. Apart from his early paintings and illustrations, the artist is known for his refined watercolour landscapes, unique, colourful cubist constructions, his experiments with black and white photography, and his portfolios of caricatures like Birupa Bajra and Adbhut Lok, which offered a satirical take on Bengali society of the time.
This painting from 1920, one of the very few works dated by the artist, illuminates the penultimate phase of his oeuvre, which ended prematurely in 1930 when Tagore suffered a cerebral stroke that left him paralysed for the rest of his life. Most likely an impression of Dashwamedh Ghat on the banks of the River Ganga in Benares, this ethereal watercolour masterfully negotiates the territory between realism and impressionism in the artist’s unique idiom. Recalling the Puri and Calcutta landscapes Tagore painted a few years earlier, this work is a perfect example of the varied brushwork and wash techniques that he perfected, first under the tutelage of the Japanese artists Kakuzo Okakura and Yokoyama Taikan and then through his own experimental creative process.
Speaking about his nephew’s art, Rabindranath Tagore noted, “What profoundly attracted me was the uniqueness of his creation, a lively curiosity in his constant experiments, and some mysterious depth in their imaginative value. Closely surrounded by the atmosphere of a new art movement [...] he sought out his own untrodden path of adventure, attempted marvelous experiments in colouring and made fantastic trials in the magic of light and shade.” (R. Tagore, 1938)