Reclaiming Tagore

It’s happened again. After the get back Gandhi’s stuff that I discussed here, we are crying about Rabindranath Tagore’s paintings being auctioned by Sotheby’s. The 12 works fetched £1.6 million (about Rs 11 crore). They were owned by the Dartington Hall Trust in England.

I do not understand how activists who have been urging the government to intervene kept quiet all this while. Besides, how did those paintings get to be with the Trust?

In 1939, Tagore presented the paintings to a close friend, Leonard Elmhirst, who had worked as his private secretary both at Santiniketan and overseas, whose Dartington Hall Trust has been the proud owner of them since.

They plan to expand their artistic endeavours to charity work in the field and it will help many new artists.

The buyers do not belong to a consortium we are told and have made individual purchases. A report states:

An Indian diplomat familiar with the matter expressed fears of the set being “cannibalised’’.

We have scant respect for art and many of our museums are in terrible condition. Some years ago Tagore’s Santiniketan was no better and his books were not even available there. Is the big deal about heritage value or about the big money and how we rate our greats according to it?

Individual connoisseurs have often shown more respect and if the work is displayed for snob value then so be it. What do you think these precious art galleries are upto? They sell art as investment, anyway.

This business about reclaiming what is ours - a contemporary form of swadeshi - is getting to be a pain. If it could be ours in England with a Trust for over 70 years, then it can be ours for however long it exists. An expat Indian who has purchased one painting is being looked upon as a shining white hope who will bring it back to India. Art is not property. You can bring it back to India and pickle it for all you want but if you do not appreciate art, then it is worthless. If you do not know how to encourage people with creative talent, it is worthless. If art belongs to a coterie, then it is worthless.

Tagore will be rather happy that his works went for six times the estimated price. He was high maintenance and rather liked the regality of status.


  1. As a Bengali I would like them in Kolkata but it was a gift so we can't do anything.We have sentimental attachment to Tagore

  2. Don't tell me about sentimental attachment...Bengalis get attached to the river and the boat drowns :)

    Incidentally, the government did not promise it would stay in Kolkata...


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