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Untitled (Couple)

Untitled (Couple)
signed in Bengali (lower right)
mixed media on paper laid on card
22 3/8 x 18 in. (56.8 x 45.7 cm.)
Executed circa early 1930s
Acquired directly from the artist by Friedrich and Edith Andreae, Berlin, circa 1930
Thence by descent


Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari Specialist, Head of Department


Tagore has demonstrated to us how much one inspired human being is capable of achieving among men. Tagore descended from his dreams into reality and gradually worked out an understanding between human beings in his school, his university and his interaction with the wide world.
- M. Kämpchen, Rabindranath Tagore in Germany, 1999

Today, the world remembers the great Rabindranath Tagore as a renowned poet and the first Asian to win the Noble Prize in Literature in 1913. This achievement alone stands as a testament to an extraordinary life. The esteemed honor of being a Noble Laureate for most would be the culmination of a career, but for Tagore, the ultimate polymath, this accolade was merely the tip of the iceberg. For India, he was the very embodiment of a national cultural renaissance, and a pivotal figure in shaping the modern nation.

Tagore began this artistic renaissance in Calcutta and the nearby Santiniketan, an educational center whose name means 'abode of peace', where he founded Visva Bharati University. The University's renowned art school, Kala Bhavana, was founded in 1919 and was run by Nandalal Bose. Unlike conventional educational institutions, the University implemented the ancient ashram-style system, based on open communication between teachers and students who studied in close proximity to nature and rejected rigid rules surrounding rote learning. Santiniketan would "adopt the best ideal of the present age along with all that was true and great in humanity" (P. Pal, G. Howe and E.O. Hoppes, Santiniketan Photographs from 1929, Mumbai, 2010, p. 13) and become a center for cultural exchange both nationally and internationally, attracting artists and scholars from around the world.

In India, Tagore was instrumental in the nationalist and anti-colonial movement, a struggle animated by the principle of freedom, tolerance and knowledge for all. Tagore believed that the highest form of humanity accepted and lived on the ideals of a universal culture. This extended far beyond the borders of India. The first literary figure from India to be celebrated and lecture across Europe, Tagore travelled to England as well as the continent several times. In fact, the first exhibition of Tagore's paintings was held at Galerie Pigalle, Paris in 1930. It was during this trip in 1930 that the great polymath visited Germany, bringing with him the present lot, Untitled (Couple). Tagore had already developed many important relationships with German liberal intellectuals from his first visits to the country in 1921 and 1926. In 1930, Germany was a recently conquered nation under allied rule. Tagore therefore had empathy with the plight and post World War I struggle of the German people. During a month long trip across the country, he gave readings to packed venues with huge crowds hoping to hear the Indian poet speak on spirituality, harmony, ecology and education.

The notion of the democratic, harmonious exchange of ideas and dissemination of knowledge and culture was the core of Tagore’s ethos. R. Siva Kumar, the critic and biographer of Tagore, identified the importance of this stating, "The inclination to know and understand other cultures was innate to his personality, and contributed to his emergence as an artist. A world traveller and a creative artist with interest in cross-cultural contacts, he looked at the art of the countries he travelled to […] Primitive and modern art that he saw during his many travels abroad played such a role in his emergence as an artist" (R. Siva Kumar, 'Rabindranath Tagore as Painter and Catalyst of Modern Indian Art', The Last Harvest, Ahmedabad, 2011, p. 56). Although Tagore had maintained private journals over the years where he would doodle and sketch, it was only in 1924, while in Argentina as Victoria Ocampo's guest, that these doodles assumed more elaborate and expressive intent. It was Ocampo who recognized Tagore's talent and noted the spiritualism in his images of figures, beasts and birds, and helped organize the first exhibition of his work in Paris a few years later.

Untitled (Couple), one of the largest paintings by Tagore to ever be offered at auction, was painted circa 1930 and was one of a series of works which Tagore sold in Europe in order to fund his travels across the continent. This picture was acquired by Edith Andreae, (born Rathenau), whom Tagore had met on his first visit to Germany in 1921. The Rathneau family were esteemed in Germany; Edith was the daughter of Emil Rathenau, a leading figure in the early European electrical industry, and the sister of Walter Rathenau, the liberal thinker and foreign secretary during the Weimar Republic, who was tragically assassinated in 1922 just after Tagore’s first visit. A liberal intellectual, Edith was also a patron of the arts alongside her husband, and a great admirer of Tagore. The feeling was clearly mutual, as Tagore visited the Andreae family at their home in Berlin. Unfortunately, only a few years after Tagore's 1930 visit, Hitler came to power in Germany and he was not able to meet the family again.

The present painting is rendered in Tagore’s iconic flat, non-naturalistic or naive style, and depicts two figures in profile with the woman almost fully turned away from the viewer. Wonderful tones of purple and mauve shimmer from within the dark background, giving a vitality and dynamism to the image. Tagore only turned to painting when he was in his sixties, and worked free of any formal training. This picture is therefore not about verisimilitude but instead acts as a vehicle for the artist to break away from the limitations of language. The two free flowing figures are the epitome of Tagore’s belief that painting, unlike any other art form, was closer to nature and could be universally understood and shared. He noted, "One thing which is common in all arts is the principle of rhythm which transforms inert materials into living creations. My instinct for it and my training in its use led me to know that lines and colours in art are no carriers of information; they seek their rhythmic incarnation in pictures. Their ultimate purpose is not to illustrate or to copy some outer fact or inner vision, but to evolve a harmonious wholeness which finds its passage through our eyesight into imagination" (Artist statement, W. G. Archer, ‘My Pictures’, India and Modern Art, Norwich, 1959, pp. 51-52).

The former Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, eloquently encapsulated Tagore’s immense contribution in bringing cultures closer together both with his words and his art. He noted that Tagore was a "genius of modern India who built bridges between East and West as well as the past and the future" (R. Siva Kumar, ed., Rabindrachitravali: Paintings of Rabindranath Tagore, Kolkata, 2011, Vol. 1, frontispiece).

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