A multi-faceted personality, Rabindranath took to painting seriously in 1928 when he was in his late sixties. It was shortly before this that he was seized with an urge to experiment in what was for him a new medium of creative expression. He had always been drawn to this art and had occasionally cast furtive and longing glances at it, ever since as a young boy he had seen his elder and versatile brother Jyotirindranath draw.
Later, when his nephews Abanindranath and Gaganendranath discovered their talents in painting he encouraged them in their pursuit and helped in founding what came to be known as the Bengal movement in Indian art. But he himself did not take the brush in hand. But though he did not wield a brush, he doodled freely with his pen. His manuscripts bear ample and fascinating testimony to these playful exercises interwoven with his verses.
Most of these exercises were induced by what he has called 'casualties in my manuscripts', deletions and erasures which he hated to leave alone as desultory scratches on his page. They seemed to him like 'widowed gypsies' in frantic search of mates, calling to him piteously to rescue them with the self-same pen and connect these various 'solitary incongruities' into some kind of rhythmic pattern, fanciful or grotesque. Gradually, his pictures won their right of independence from his manuscripts. From now on he painted not to provide rhythmic patterns to the erasures in his writings, but as he liked. He painted fast and with a sure hand, in between the intervals of his literary activity, finishing each picture at one sitting, and has left behind nearly 2500 paintings and drawings, all done in the last fifteen years of his life.
He himself described his paintings as 'my versification in lines' and confessed in a letter that he was '.. .hopelessly entangled in the spell that the lines have cast all around me'. There is no doubt that many of these drawings are marked by a strong feeling for rhythm, but apart from this affinity there is little in common between his poetry and his painting. It would seem that some other self of his, if not deeper, at any rate more hidden, were seeking expression through this new medium. When he painted, it was like someone who was sure of his step without seeing, driven by an urge of which the direction is outside his control. The grotesque, the bizarre, the cruel, the sardonic, all that he scrupulously kept out of his writings peeps out of his drawings.
Nandalal Bose, writing on Rabindranath's pictures, said "We need to be reeducated in the fundamental values of art and can do it better than he who is creating before our very eyes forms whose vigour baffles our classifications and compels the admiration of the artist. If Rabindranath seems rough and destructive, it is because he is breaking the ground anew for us that our future flowers may be surely assured of their sap."