Fake Tagore paintings kick up a controversy

Fake Tagore paintings kick up a controversy

 With the loss of Nobel, a big slice of Tagoreana has been lost forever. Now, it is another occasion of shame. The Government College of Art & Craft, Kolkata, has earned the dubious distinction of hosting an exhibition on ‘Show of Rabindranath Tagore’s paintings’ where the works on display that were purported to have drawn by Gurudev, are all fake.

Sounds shocking but true. All the 18 paintings were poor copies of Tagore and some academically trained artists had made some bold attempt to copy from the original Tagore paintings that had little or no resemblance to Tagoreana. All the leading painters, Tagore historians of the city and those teaching at Visva Bharati at Shantiniketan have concurred with the revelation.

The point of shame is not about the number of fake paintings, but the fact of faking. And when the matter was brought to light by Tagore art experts, there was a fierce attempt to shield and justify everything about the show and paintings that were at display by none other than college principal Deepali Bhattacherjee. Her determined but apparently callous defence of the show triggered a wave of protests among the city intelligentsia who pleaded with Governor M K Narayanan to order an inquiry.

Ironically, the exhibition was inaugurated by him on February 26 to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Tagore and a perturbed governor lost no time in doing so.
When the art critics, after visiting the exhibition, raised a ruckus and were unanimous that the paintings were fake and they did not match the style of Tagore, the Calcutta University authorities were compelled to order a probe.

“We’ve noted the concern of the painters and it’s quite disturbing. I’ve already asked the principal of the college to send me a report at the earliest,” Calcutta University Vice-Chancellor Suranjan Das told Deccan Herald here.

That was apparently just the beginning of the controversy and it did not deter the college principal from going ahead with the show, notwithstanding the war of words that broke out in the aftermath. What has intrigued the painters and critics was the brave front that the principal consistently put up, despite being an artist herself.

Tagore art lovers are stunned as to why she had to defend the paintings when critics and historians, more illustrious than her, had been consistently saying that the same were fake and poor imitations. What has stopped her from appointing a panel to authenticate them as the original ones and draw a curtain to the controversy, which is doing least justice to Tagore?

To ordinary viewers, it will be difficult to fathom from a first brush with the paintings that they are not originals though the arts college principal has a different story to tell. In her defence, Bhattacherjee claimed that the paintings on display belonged to Tagore. In her statement released to the media, she contended: “We can only express our shock, disappointment and disgust at such an irresponsible statement made without any professional inspection of the exhibits or putting them through any established method to verify their authenticity.”

Claiming that the collection of the paintings was from various sources, she claimed that three of them were from the Indian Museum and the rest were organised from Jayanta Banerjee of Dhanbad who had received the same from Rani Mahalanobis, wife of P Mahalanobis, a very close friend of Tagore.

According to famous art historian and Tagore painting expert R Shivakumar who is a veteran of Shantiniketan, attention of Bhattacherjee had already drawn to the  ‘plagiaristic content’ that had been laid bare at the exhibition.

“I’ve seen the CD of the paintings shown in the exhibition and made it clear to her that they are fakes. Viewers should be aware of it,” he observed.

Even the curator of Kala Bhavan,Visva Bharati, S Adhikary, pointed out that the paintings were ‘weak imitations of Tagore and lack his warmth and intensity.’

Another Kala Bhavan senior official Nilanjan Banerjee demanded a thorough inspection of the paintings through electron microscope to ascertain the pigmentation style followed by Tagore.

Ironically, the exhibition was to have travelled to Indian Museum here after its closure on March 9.The show did close on the scheduled date; fortunately though, it didn’t travel to the museum, thanks to the intervention of the Union Human Resources Development Ministry and a more sane museum curator who cancelled it outright.

The next good thing that happened was a public interest litigation filed by Tapas Sarkar with the Calcutta High Court, seeking a thorough investigation into how a premier art institute in the city could hold exhibition of Tagore paintings that were labelled as fake by leading Tagore historians and painters. Sarkar, an ex-student of the college and an ardent lover of Tagore’s works, was extremely peeved at the goings-on in the college.

According to Sunil Das, 72, a leading painter and Tagore exponent, such a mess was just waiting to happen as the art market, especially those dealing in works from the Bengal school, is flooded with fakes. “That’s the precise reason I’ve organised an exhibition of my paintings in original and the fakes side by side,” explained Das whose exhibition of originals and fakes had recently closed in a city gallery. And Kolkata has become one of the ‘biggest fake factories’ of art in India, he argued.

All said and done, what is increasingly becoming clear is that Tagore and Tagoreana have become a victim once again, notwithstanding the loss of his Nobel medallion. The slew of allegations is extremely damaging for the image of Tagore at home and abroad as also a Government Art College which is supposed to foster art and craft in its originality.

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