When Rabindranath Tagore took to painting around 1928, he was approaching seventy and had already been recognised internationally as a remarkable poet and writer. His paintings were publically displayed for the first time ever in Paris in 1930, followed by an exhibition in Calcutta in 1931. By the time of his death ten years later, Tagore had produced over two thousand paintings and drawings mostly datable to the last twelve years of his life.
The world Tagore revealed in his best work was one of self-reflexive evolution, where the images themselves were in the process of taking shape, as was his art. His early paintings were rendered mainly in monochrome, followed by two-toned and three-toned drawings. The pen-point brush was often used laterally, fingers and bits of rag spread the inks, and the brush was the last to be adopted.
It is Tagore's heads and figures, which he executed in a variety of styles, that have elicited the most interest. Restrained yet restless, suggestive, bizarre and haunting, these portraits are considered to be among his most memorable works. 'The pensive ovoid face of a woman with large unwavering, soulful eyes was perhaps his most obsessive theme. Exhibited first in 1930, endless variations of the same mood-image continued to emerge throughout. The earlier ones were delicately modelled and opalescent, while the later examples were excessively dramatic with intensely lit forehead, exaggerated nose-ridge, painted in strong colours, bodied forth from a primal gloom.' ( Robinson, The Art of Rabindranath Tagore, Calcutta, 1989, p. 56.)