Rabindranath Tagore began to paint in the last decades of his life, at the age of 63—between 1924 and 1939. Largely self-taught, he exhibited naive spontaneity, playfulness, and automatism in his simple, bold forms, which he drew quickly with rhythmic lines, gaining a following in the West. Free from academic principles, his art—which made use of dream imagery, fantasy, and an exploration of the unconscious—was characterized as “pure painting.” At the time that Surrealism was reaching its zenith in Europe, Tagore’s painting was well received by European art critics, thanks to a series of international exhibitions that began in Paris, May 2–19, 1930, at the Galerie Pigalle.
Tagore’s earliest artwork took a graphic form, as was natural for a man of letters. Stemming from doodles and calligraphic erasures that he made on his poetry manuscripts, his images evolved into fantastic animals, often birdlike, created with geometric shapes. He described these as “a probable animal that had unaccountably missed its chance of existence” or “a bird that can only soar in our dreams.” Mostly working with colored ink on paper, Tagore preferred to use a medium that allowed him to paint rapidly and that dried immediately.
Rabindranath Tagore. Untitled, c. 1929