The more rarely known artist in the Tagore family — Sunayani Devi

Home » The more rarely known artist in the Tagore family — Sunayani Devi
Lady holding a fan, c. 1920s, watercolour on paper, 14.5 cm;1.7 cm, Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata. | Museums of India

June 18, On This Day

Sunayani Devi

Amid a lineage of prolific littérateurs and artists, the Tagore family, was yet another eminent painter and woman. Sunayani Devi was the younger sister of painters Abanindranath, Gaganendranath and Samarendranath Tagore, and the niece of Rabindranath Tagore.  

She was born to Saudamini Devi and Gunendranath Tagore on June 18, 1875. She was married at the age of 12 to the grandson of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Rajanimohan Chattopadhyaya. It is reported that she started painting only at the age of 30. 

Milkmaids by Sunayani Devi | Via NGMA

Sunayani Devi is called “a true primitive of the Bengal Art School”, and it is said that she never had formal training in art other than the art and music lessons as feminine accomplishments. 

Watercolour on paper by Sunayani Devi depicting Radha and Krisna standing side by side | Via Google Arts & Culture

It is said that she would often observe on her two older brothers experimenting with different art forms, like the Japanese wash techniques. She drew inspiration from the Pata folk painting style which was familiar to the women of the Tagore household, often depicting scenes from Indian epics and mythologies in her works. The Heritage Lab also writes that she was fascinated by the devotional pictures that hung in her aunt’s room, especially the Ravi Varma prints, and was later inspired by Rajput miniatures.  

Krishna Consorting Radha in a Guise of a Gopi by Sunayani Devi | Via Google Arts & Culture

There is a unique vibrancy and charm in the earthiness of her art. 

Sunayani Devi passed away on February 23, 1962, at the age of 86. 

Sunayani Devi, Self Portrait, India (1920s) | Watercolour on paper | The Heritage Lab

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