Jewels Of Indian Art Go Missing

Recording the possible disappearance of two works by Jamini Roy & Abanindranath Tagore.

Jamini Roy

What is not known to many, is that Jamini Roy was a successful portrait painter (a commissioned painter) in the early part of his career.

Repeating a quote from the Indian Museum in Kolkata, "His career as a painter started with portraiture. The realistic portraits of rich persons in oil revealed his technical mastery in western academic training and soon Jamini Roy earned reputation as a professional painter in the Calcutta art world."

One of his most famous portraits is that of Debendranath Tagore - a reformer and founder of the Brahmo Samaj.  The story goes that Abanindranath, Jamini teacher, recruited him to make a copy of Debendranath Tagore's (Rabindranath Tagore's father) portrait as the original portrait by Sashi Hesh was withering away fast.

Apparently this work has gone missing from Bangiya Sahitya Parishad

These images are from the seminar room of the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad (Bengali Literature Academy). The original portrait - which has been previously photographed and even filmed and is not a figment of my imagination - a close up of Debendranath ( 3ft x 2 ft) - is missing and likely replaced by the large life-size ( 5ft by 4ft) portrait.

Abanindranath Tagore

A pastel portrait of Rabindranath Tagore by Abanindranath Tagore documented in various places including in Andrew Robinson's book on Rabindranath Tagore. This was last seen at the Bosu Vigyan Mandir (Bose Institute)  

Missing! With the people in charge claiming there was never such a work! Both the institutes mentioned above are historical institutes of great repute.These two institutes probably have a lot more undocumented works of art. If such prominent works can go missing, I fear for the others.

Gaganendranath Replaced At Victoria Memorial?

Similarly, there is another work of Gaganendranath at the Victoria Memorial that seems to be have been replaced. This is my observation and has not been independently verified and could very well be that the original has not been displayed for safe-keeping? Or this could very well be my mistake.

The reason why a Gaganendranath Tagore and some of these older works cannot be easily forged is partly due to the paper/medium used.

Hundred Year Old Paper

A note below on the reasons for my fixation on the mediums (paper/canvas/paints) used in an art work. I used to be a stamp collector - specifically postage stamps issued by Indian Princely States.

An example - A registered cover from the princely state of Duttia (Datia) - registration no. 4 used in 1896 on  a half-anna postal stationary envelope and with additional three anna stamps (for registration). The stamps have been cancelled with a black intaglio seal. The blue intaglio seal was added as a control mark to the postal stationary cover. This cover is the only cover known in existence with stamps from the first seven stamp issues of the state - quite fascinating and very historical!

But while these have been forged, determining the forgeries is quite easy - the medium, the type of paper used is key - a certain type of paper was used that is no longer available. And in keeping with the accepted norm of documenting forgeries but not fully mentioning why I refrain from talking about the type of paper.

If by some chance one does manage to get an old (correct type of) paper - writing/painting on an older paper with ink is not the easiest. The same applies to these older works of art - forgeries due to the medium and the ageing are easily discover-able and chai-patti (tea) stain type of ageing doesn't quite cut it.

Speaking of chai-patti stains - I don't think most people understand what the wash technique is.

Wash Technique

As an example of Gaganendranath Tagore's work - just look at the water and the sky, the colours - orange, green, blue, the transitions - colours have been reduced to hues where one hue simply changes to another - exceptionally subtle - these are very very hard to copy and need exceptional skill.

We have discussed papers and ageing of the medium, technique, and now further add to this the requirement of provenance (the above work is from the estate of Lady Ranu Mukherjee)

Why do I mention this? Firstly, I mention this generally in regards to works of early Bengal and secondly that I find the paper in one of the works by Gaganendranath Tagore at the Victoria memorial completely wrong and hence my suspicion.

Victoria Memorial also has a Jamini collection. Last month this gallery was under renovation and upon asking I was told the works have been temporarily stored in the "garage". I assume and hope that the person meant storage.   

Indrajit Chatterjee

P.S. I sincerely hope that I have reached the wrong conclusions.

Image Credit

Self Taken,

Featured Image - Sandip Sarkars Book

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Indian Museum On Jamini Roy

Bangiya Sahitya Parisharad (translated as Bengali Literature Center) - Beadon Street , Kolkata

Jamini Roy - His Life In Art - Sandip Sarkar