Calcutta, Nov. 25: Twenty purported Rabindranath Tagore paintings that were on display at a city exhibition commemorating the poet's 150th birth anniversary earlier this year have been declared fakes in a report submitted to Calcutta High Court on Friday.
The additional solicitor-general of India presented the report on behalf of Gautam Sengupta, the director-general of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), stating that all the 20 paintings exhibited at the Government College of Art & Craft from February 27 to March 8 had been examined stylistically and scientifically before being held as counterfeit.
The Telegraph was the first to highlight the scam in a report on March 2, quoting the veteran art critic Pranabranjan Roy as saying that the paintings displayed at the central Calcutta institute were all counterfeit.
The exposé prompted sculptor Tapas Sarkar to file a petition in the high court on March 9, leading to the first-ever probe in India into a dispute relating to an art treasure under the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972. R. Siva Kumar, a Kala Bhavan professor at Visva-Bharati, too had pronounced the paintings as fakes after seeing their digital images. He had warned Dipali Bhattacharya, the principal of the Government College of Art & Craft, against holding the exhibition but she went ahead with it. In the face of a chorus of criticism from the art world, she maintained that the paintings were genuine works by Tagore.
The fake paintings were sourced from the collection of Jayanta Banerjee of Dhanbad, who had, according to Dipali Bhattacharya, received them from Rani Mahalanobis. It was later revealed that this Tagore associate had nothing more than some manuscripts, sketches and other paraphernalia in her famous trunk, which she bequeathed to Rabindra Bhavan in Santiniketan in the early 1980s.
Poet Sankha Ghosh, who was witness to the negotiations with Mahalanobis for institutional acquisition, had earlier confirmed that there was no painting in that collection, a statement later endorsed by the UK-based Tagore scholar, Ketaki Kushari Dyson. Both Dyson and Sushobhon Adhikary, the curator of the Kala Bhavan Museum at Visva-Bharati, had categorically stated that the paintings were fakes after seeing their digital images emailed by The Telegraph.
Counsel Kausik Chanda, appearing for the petitioner, said in court on Friday that "there was a criminal conspiracy" behind the exhibition with the "ill motive" of passing off these counterfeits as genuine Tagore paintings so that they would fetch the same price as the originals, running into crores.
Ashok Banerjee, the advocate appearing on behalf of the Government College of Art & Craft, said it was a serious matter and he would look into it. Jaidip Kar, appearing on behalf of artist Jogen Chowdhury, said his client owned one of the 20 paintings that were exhibited, and it was only from the report submitted on Friday that he came to know that it was a fake. Chanda said the source of the fake painting should be disclosed.
The division bench of chief justice Jaynarayan Patel and Dr Sambuddha Chakrabarty directed the additional solicitor-general of India to circulate the report among the parties. The next hearing is slated for December 9.