Untitled (Standing Figure)

Untitled (Standing Figure)
signed 'Rabindranath' (lower center); further dated '9 NOV. 28' (on the reverse)
ink and wash on paper
13 5/8 x 8 1/2 in. (34.6 x 21.6 cm.)
Executed in 1928
The Royal India, Pakistan and Ceylon Society, London
The Collection of H.E. Colin
The Collection of E.C. Ormond
Private Collection, United Kingdom
Christie's London, 17 October 2003, 506
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari Specialist, Head of Department


Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913, was already a renowned poet and philosopher when he took up painting in his sixties. 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 Galerie Pigalle, Paris in 1930. Inspired by this turn of passions, Tagore created more than 2000 works of art in the last years of his life.

While his writing addressed the intricacies of society and the ideals of a tolerant, universal culture, his art presented a more personal and revealing side to the renowned polymath. There is a sense of longing and sadness palpable in many of Tagore’s drawings and paintings, which perhaps reflects the melancholia in his own life at the time. Within the two decades preceding the creation of the present lot, Tagore lost his wife, his two eldest daughters, and his younger son. There is a profound grief that stemmed from the tragedies in his life that Tagore expresses in his drawings and paintings, which is discernable in his choice of colors and subjects. However, while a lot of his art explored loss and ideas that had not come to fruition, it also left room for hope.

In the present lot, rendered in Tagore’s iconic flat, non-naturalistic or naive style, the artist depicts the figure of a man standing in profile against a dark wall. Tagore highlights the angularity of the stoic figure’s head and robes, and the despair that seems to weigh heavily on him, with his eyebrows and eyes slanting dramatically downwards. This weight is exacerbated by the heaviness of the robes he wears, and the sense of darkness that permeates the composition. It may be noted that the figure bears some resemblance to the artist himself, with his long hair and beard, as well as his iconic robe. Though his torso is well covered, his thin legs are not, suggesting an emotional bareness to this figure and revealing his vulnerabilities to viewers.

Tagore creates a sharp contrast between the areas of light and darkness in this work, and his figure seems to be straddling the threshold between the two. It is almost as if he is stuck in time, in a space between contentment and sadness, hope and despair. However, it is possible that this threshold also signifies the potential to move forward from the past and its associations to a different future. The viewer can only hope that the subject will step further into the light.

The figure in this lot clearly illustrates 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).

更多来自 南亚现代及当代印度艺术