Gaganendranath was Rabindranath’s cousin once removed, and the brother of artist Abanindranath. He was one of the earliest modern Indian painters and caricaturist. Gaganendranath Tagore was born at Jorasanko, Kolkata on 18 September 1867. He was the eldest son of Gunendranath Tagore, grandson of Girindranath Tagore and a great-grandson of Prince Dwarkanath Tagore.
When he was fourteen, he lost his father and therefore had to end his formal education to become a zamindari and the head of the family. He educated himself in arts and literature and received lessons from the occidental watercolourist Harinarayan Bandopadhyay. Between 1906 and 1910, he studied Japanese brush techniques and the works of Yokohama Okakuru and Tykan Taikowan and began to incorporate the art of the Far East into his work (e.g., his illustrations for Rabindranath’s Jeevansmriti, 1912).
Gaganendranath held lectures for the Indian Society of Oriental Art, published a journal for this society and arranged exhibitions. Gaganendranath later took up satirical caricature (published in the Modern Review and in books such as Realm of the Absurd and Reform Screams).
His paintings and sketches between 1910 and 1921 most famously showed the Himalaya and portrayed Indian life; they were published as Abadhut Lok (1915), Birup Bastra (1917) and Naya Hullod (1921). In his paintings from 1920, he adopted Cubism and various forms of French and German artistic styles in his own original way. His uncle Rabindranath wrote about his art in 1938, in the Journal of the Indian Society of Oriental Art (Vol. 6):
“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 marvellous experiments in colouring and made fantastic trials in the magic of light and shade.”
Between 1914 and 1927, his paitings were displayed in exhibitions in Paris, London, Berlin, Hamburg, and various American cities. Gaganendranath also designed furniture and changed the interior design of the Jorosanko house: Imbued by the Swadeshi Movement, he replaced Western luxuries with Indian crafts and products from the Bengali cottage industry. In 1916, he became secretary of the Bengal Home Industries Association.
Gagendranath wrote the children’s book Bhodor Bahadur (‘Otter the Great’), which was published thirty years after his death. He acted in various plays (also by Rabindranath), and designed theatre sets. Furthermore, he brought about changes in dress and deesigned the Tibetan buku-inspired over-coat that Rabindranath wore in his late years.
Dey, Mukul. Gagendranath Tagore’s Realm of the Absurd.
Mitter, Partha. The Triumph of Modernism: India’s artists and the avant-garde 1922-1947, London, 2007.