Abanindranath Tagore Fought Westernism to Accept Indian Art

Abanindranath Tagore, known for his influence of Indian art of painting, was crucial in reviving the traditional forms and developing an expertise to shape the 1900s.


The expression of a painting is simply a resemblance to any story. A great artist is always an observer, and the observation gives rise to a colorful theory of Emotions. Indian artist and writer Abanindranath Tagore believed in this, and the 1800s was a storybook.

Abanindranath Tagore Quote
Abanindranath Tagore’s Quote

Personal Life and Family Background of Abanindranath Tagore.

An artistic segment of the Tagore family, Abanindranath, was born on the 7th of August 1871 in Jorasanko, Calcutta, British India. He was the son of Painter Gunendranath Tagore and Saudamini Devi. His grandfather Girindranath Tagore was an artist and the second son of Prince Dwarkanath Tagore. Abanindranath had an elder brother Gaganendranath Tagore and a younger sister, Sunayani Devi, both of whom were artists. Additionally, he was also a nephew of Rabindranath Tagore.

In the 1880s, Abanindranath attended Sanskrit college in Kolkata, where he learned art. After nine years of learning at the same college, he studied English as an extra student at St. Xavier, which he attended for one and a half years. His expertise in using pastels and oil painting developed in 1890 when he studied at the Calcutta School of Art.

 Calcutta School of Art
An old picture of Calcutta School of Art © GCAC Gallery

In 1889 he tied the knot with Suhasini Devi, daughter of Bhujagendra Bhusan Chatterjee, belonging to the lineage of Prasanna Coomar Tagore.

Career and Revolutions Led by Him.

The earliest works of Abanindranath Tagore’s painting career were illustrations published in Sadhana magazine, Chitrangada, and other works by Rabindranath Tagore.

In 1897, the artist attended the Government School of Art that pursued European Academic Manner helping him learn various techniques, but he developed a particular taste in Watercolor. At the time, Abanindranath Tagore adored Mughal Art and produced some epic works representing the life of Krishna using a similar style. He was also a key player alongside Gaganendranath Tagore and E. B. Havell in redefining the teaching of art at the Calcutta School Of Art.

Under the British Raj, revolutions were only common nature. The council had opposed India in every manner and recalled the facts, one of those related to traditional Indian Art. In the 1850s, when the British established art schools, their ultimate goal was to influence western art forms among learners. Aban Thakur (Abanindranath Tagore) repelled this thought as he considered western art forms materialistic and wanted India to return to its traditional art forms and recover spiritual values.

Pre-Raphalities were of help to the artist as they replaced the changes made by the British, and rooting to the movement, Abanindranath Tagore made artworks that were too Indocentric. The style, however, was different. He made paintings that represent Mughal artistry and Whistler’s Aestheticism. For this reason, he was also not targeted by British administrators as ideas with Hindu and Buddhist philosophy were becoming incredibly influential in the West following the spread of the Theosophy movement.

These situations led to artists expressing their imagination through Indian traditions, further developing Indian national culture.

With the success of his ideas, he came in contact with several Asian cultural figures and slowly incorporated Chinese and Japanese calligraphic traditions to construct a modern pan-Asian art form that merged Eastern spiritual and artistic culture.

Calligraphy On Krishna As Cowboy Artwork by Abanindranath Tagore
Calligraphy On Krishna As Cowboy Artwork by Abanindranath Tagore | Source: Google Arts and Culture

Abanindranath Tagore was also a teacher to Nandalal Bose, Samarendranath Gupta, Kshitindranath Majumdar, Surendranath Ganguly, Asit Kumar Haldar, Sarada Ukil, Kalipada Ghoshal, Manishi Dey, Mukul Dey, K. Venkatappa, and Ranada Ukil. He was a nephew of Rabindranath Tagore and the foundational figure of the Bengal school of art. Few know about the lifelong friendship of Tagore and London-based artist, author, and eventual president of London’s Royal College of Art, William Rothenstein. This friendship led Rothenstein to learn at the Bengal School of Art and incorporate Aban Thakur’s style into his work.

The Studio of Abanindranath Tagore by Nandalal Bose
The Studio of Abanindranath Tagore by Nandalal Bose | Source: WikiArt

Besides his valuable dedication to art, Abanindranath Tagore was famous for his books Rajkahini, Buro Angla, Nalak, and Khirer Putul which were outstanding contributions to Bengali language children’s literature and art.

In 1913 Rabindranath Tagore won the Nobel Prize for Literature which gave the Tagore family immense fame and even helped Abanindranath Tagore’s projects gain popularity in the west.

Abanindranath Tagore and Rabindranath Tagore
Rabindranath Tagore (right) singing with nephew Abanindranath Tagore

Having taken the time to learn how important he was to the art movement, let’s move on to his series of captive depictions.

Ten of the Abanindranath Tagore Paintings You Must Know About.

Abanindranath Tagore Photograph
Abanindranath Tagore, Photograph | Source: StirWorld

1. Bharat Mata (1905).

Being an Indian, listening to the chants of ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai‘ is quite common. During political rallies or at national events, the people of India speak this out of respect to the nation. It first emerged in Bengal in 1875 when Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay composed Bande Mataram and used this in his novel Anandamath in 1882. During the Bengal partition in 1905, Abanindranath Tagore painted Bharat Mata. Indians believe that the painting is inspired by goddess Durga and Kali, although it has no official description. It is a powerful depiction of love and power that only a mother can provide. Because of this, it came in as a tool of nationalism in the tough times of 1905.

Bharat Mata is a four-armed Hindu goddess with a saffron saree. She holds a Ved, a piece of white cloth, and a rudraksha necklace.

Bharat Mata by Abanindranath Tagore | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

2. Birth of Krishna (1897).

यशोदा नंदन (Yashoda Nandana) meaning the child of Yashoda. He is the eighth avatar of Lord Vishnu, worshipped as a god in Hinduism. You might have seen his references in several mythological books like Mahabharata or Bhagavata Purana. The admirer of lakes, cows, and the lover of Radha yet, some people don’t know about his birth. As shocking it might sound to you, Krishna was born in a dungeon, and to save Krishna’s life Vasudeva, secretly carried him across the Yamuna river and exchanged him with his friend’s baby girl.

Abanindranath’s depiction of the birth of Krishna is only to express the amount of happiness it bought to the world on this day.

Birth of Krishna Abanindranath Tagore paintings
Birth of Krishna by Abanindranath Tagore | Source: Google Arts & Culture

3. Khagen Babu.

Abanindranath Tagore’s interest in watercolor isn’t just a theory. His paintings are a living testament to it. But Khagen Babu belongs to a different class. It’s one of the popular and few sketches representing the modern world’s reality to date. Often, governments in our country work towards improving the economy by assisting the rich to get richer and by promoting policies that shield the poor from harsh realities. In between these people are those who work hard to provide for their families. We use the term ‘Middle Class’ for them, people owning small businesses or doing a regular 9 to 5 job. With a population percentage close to 20%, these people suffer the most through pandemics, inflation, protests, or say anything.

Despite being the simplest, this sketch depicts the reality of what you see close up.

Khagen Babu by Abanindranath Tagore
Khagen Babu by Abanindranath Tagore | Source: Google Arts & Culture

4. The Passing of Shajahan (1900).

A capable military commander and emperor, he is most remembered for his architectural achievements under the Mughal Empire. Shah Jahan is a name that needs no formal introduction. The Mughal King captivated historical moments and marked epic events with failures, also registered in columns.

Yet, in his last moments, it was his family that declared war on him.

To speak up the truth, Abanindranath Tagore dedicated this painting to Taj Series. It displays an episode of Shah Jahan’s deathbed where he is lying with no royal service in existence. The King’s shoes and royal helmet resting on the flank of the carpet with his daughter Jahanara weeping at father’s feet. The eerie silence surrounded by the flowing river and the calm weather is too brutal to be true.

The Passing of Shah Jahan Abanindranath Tagore
The Passing of Shah Jahan by Abanindranath Tagore | Source: Victoria Memorial, via Wikimedia Commons

5. Finding of the Ninth Doll (1930).

The painting with no description yet swirling the papers of Hinduism will tell you about it. The story is about an incident with Lord Bhoja. At the time, when King Bhoja accepted the position of royalty, a lady showed up. She stated,

“Lord Bhoja, my name is Madhumalti Prior to sitting on this position of royalty, you should get characteristics like King Vikramaditya. In this story, you will come to think about Vikramaditya’s fortitude and worry for his subjects and kingdom. At that point, choose whether you are deserving of sitting on this royal position or not.”

King Vikramaditya is known for his generosity, courage, and patronage to scholars. The lady or the ninth doll narrated the story when the King offered himself in death as a sacrifice for the children of his nation.

When asked about the same occurrence, King Bhoja had no reply, and so he returned to his residence discouraged and upset.

The painting is a part of the most popular series by Abanindranath Thakur; The Arabian Nights Series.

Finding of the Ninth Doll Abanindranath Tagore
Finding of the Ninth Doll by Abanindranath Tagore | Source: Google Arts & Culture

6. Ganesh Janani (1908).

Indian Art is a creative structure of numerous fragments. Artists explored the richness of this culture for inspiration, and in all respects, they were able to achieve something glorious. Ganesha is one such fragment that lets artists devote their skill and imagine representation and patterns over time.

This artwork by Abanindranath Tagore carries the same thought. It is from the pages of Puranas (Indian literature composed between the 3rd and 10th centuries).

Ganesha is said to have been created by Goddess Parvati through Earth. She accepted him as her son and asked him to guard the gates of Gauri Kund until she baths. (Read Complete Story)

The painting shows Goddess Parvati playing with baby Ganesha on Kailash. Hence it is called Ganpati Janani (the mother of Ganpati).

Ganesh Janani Abanindranath Tagore painting
Ganesh Janani by Abanindranath Tagore | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

7. Asoka’s Queen (1910).

A king who hated Bloodshed yet ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from c. 268 to 232 BCE Asoka (written as per Maski Minor Rock Edict) The Great contributed vastly to Indian history. The architectural remark he left behind is still present at various places in the Indian subcontinent. Fascinated by this, the artist dedicated a painting to Asoka’s Queen.

The monumental episode of the Mauryan Empire shows Queen Tishyaraksha (the last wife) standing in front of the railings of the Buddhist monument at Sanchi built during the reign of King Asoka.

Asoka's Queen Abanindranath Tagore Paintings
Asoka’s Queen by Abanindranath Tagore | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

8. My Mother (1913).

The first person to take care of us is our mother. No one in this world can give nine months to pain, exhaustion, and a whole lot more that we cannot even begin to understand yet. As a writer, it is difficult to explain this bond in words. Even the word love doesn’t have so many emotions we feel.

Indeed Abanindranath Tagore carried the same feeling towards his mother. So after she passed away, he realized that there was neither a photograph nor a portrait of her. One day, she suddenly appeared to him in a vision, and he painted her in profile like a miniature painting and surrounded it with ornamental borders.

It creates a resonance around how he said it.

My mother Abanindranath Tagore
My mother by Abanindranath Tagore | Source: Indian Culture

9. Slaying the Tornado Demon (1936).

Following the Goddess Yogmaya’s warning of Kamsa’s death, he became furious and ordered his demons to kill Krishna. One of those was a servant of Kamsa known as Trinavarta. As per the instructions, he appeared in the shape of a whirlwind and picked baby Krishna on his shoulders, causing the whole area of Vrindavana to go densely dark.

In the hopes of killing the baby, the demon went high into the sky. However, Krishna made himself heavy and incapable of it Trinavarta fell to the ground of Vrindavana and died.

The epic episode of Krishna’s life is depicted in this painting by Abanindranath Tagore.

Slaying the Tornado Demon Abanindranath Tagore painting
Slaying the Tornado Demon by Abanindranath Tagore | Source: Google Arts & Culture

10. Portrait of Rabindranath Tagore.

A poet, writer, playwright, composer, philosopher, social reformer, and painter, the description says it all. Rabindranath Tagore was an Indian Bengali catalyst of change. He represented Bengal several times, including when he wrote Banglar Mati Banglar Jol (Soil of Bengal, Water of Bengal) to unite the Bengali population.

As an advocative figure and an uncle of The Indian Artist Abanindranath Tagore, he portrayed him with absolute respect.

Portrait of Rabindranath Tagore by Abanindranath Tagore
Portrait of Rabindranath Tagore by Abanindranath Tagore | Source: Unknown Author


The flake of artistry dropped on every element of the Bengal school of art, and Aban Thakur’s work has been showcased in countless frames in the gallery for decades. Sometimes hailed as the father of Indian Modern Artworks, he contributed in ways we only can be thankful for. It’s time when we should start recognizing the generation that left behind wonders and did it for the upbringing of society and not to self-serve.

Frequently Asked Questions.

Who was Rabindranath Tagore to Abanindranath Tagore?

Abanindranath Tagore was the nephew of Rabindranath Tagore. He was ten years younger than the poet and played a significant role in shaping Modern Indian Art. Commonly referred to as Aban Thakur, he was also a famous Bengali writer and the founder of the Bengal School of Art.

What kind of painting did Abanindranath Tagore make?

While attending the Government School of Art in 1987, Abanindranath Tagore mastered watercolour. His paintings were particularly Indocentric, and the style represents Mughal artistry and Whistler’s Aestheticism. However, he incorporated Chinese and Japanese calligraphic traditions, as well, in some of his later works.

What was the contribution of Abanindranath Tagore?

Abanindranath Tagore’s contribution to Indian art is significant, as he revived traditional Indian art through his influence. He was also the principal artist and creator of the Indian Society of Oriental Art.

Where was Abanindranath Tagore educated?

Abanindranath attended Sanskrit college in Kolkata in 1880, Calcutta School of Art in 1890 and Government School of Art in 1896, the same year he founded Bengal School of Art.

Who made Bengal art school?

Abanindranath Tagore, alongside Gaganendranath Tagore and E. B. Havell, saw the need to Indianize art education in the country and to promote the same thought- they established Bengal art School in 1896.

Who is the founder of Oriental art?

Abanindranath Tagore, alongside his brother Gaganendranath Tagore, founded the Indian Society of Oriental art in 1907. The motive behind it was to revive traditional Indian art and the cultural sentiments among artists.

Who created the first image of Bharat Mata?

Bharat Mata was painted by Abanindranath Tagore in 1905. However, her first depiction was made by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee in 1870s.

Who created the painting my mother?

Abanindranath Tagore painted My Mother in 1913 to portray his late mother Saudamini Devi. He painted her in a profile similar to a miniature painting and surrounded it with ornamental borders.

What is the aim of Bengal School of Art?

Under British Rule, westernism in art was promoted extensively around India and to oppose it by bringing back Indian traditional art, the Bengal School of Art was established.

When was Indian Society of Oriental Art started?

Indian Society of Oriental Art started in 1907.

How many members were in Indian Society of Oriental?

Even though its aim was to promote Indianism in art, the Indian Society of Oriental Art had 38 members, among which 30 were Britishers while 8 were Indians.


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