Tagore fake trail leads to art dealer's address

soumitra das

Dipali Bhattachaya, the suspended principal of the Government College of Art and Craft, has zeroed in on 26A Fern Road, better known in the neighbourhood behind Aleya cinema as "Nepal Rajar bari", as the house from which the fake Tagore paintings had emerged.

When Bhattacharya organised the "Show of Rabindranath Tagore's paintings" from February 27 to March 8, 2011, at the art college, she had claimed that of the 20 putative Tagore paintings on display, three were from the collection of the Indian Museum, and the rest were sourced from the collection of Jayanta Banerjee of Dhanbad, who had apparently received them from Rani Mahalanobis.

Banerjee, an art dealer from a zamindar family, is the current owner of 26A Fern Road, which once belonged to the ruler of Nepal. His son, Sanjay, who is also said to be an art dealer, now lives in the quaint tubular building off Gariahat, possibly of 1930s vintage, with an abundance of marble and jali screens.

Sanjay Banerjee told Metro over the telephone that his father had handed over those controversial paintings to Dipali Bhattacharya for "restoration" five-and-a-half years ago. "We never wanted those paintings to be displayed. She is entirely responsible for what she does with those paintings. I have tried to call her but she does not reply. We have had no contact for four years. We want her to return those paintings," he said.

Samindranath Majumdar, an assistant professor at the Indian College of Arts and Draftsmanship in Dum Dum, told Metro that he had visited 26A Fern Road about five years ago along with veteran art critic Pranab Ranjan Ray to take a look at the paintings in question. "But we were not convinced that the paintings were authentic," he said, and so they left the house near Gariahat never to return.

Majumdar, who had seen the fake works at the art college Rabindranath exhibition last year, is convinced that they are composed of elements from various Tagore paintings.

The paintings, it was later revealed, had nothing to do with Rani Mahalanobis, as the Tagore associate only had some manuscripts, sketches and other paraphernalia in a trunk she bequeathed to Rabindra Bhavan in Santiniketan in the early 1980s before her death. Poet Sankha Ghosh, who was witness to the negotiations with Mahalanobis for institutional acquisition, had said last year that there was no painting in that collection, a statement later endorsed by the UK-based Tagore scholar, Ketaki Kushari Dyson.

The Telegraph was the first to highlight the display of the fakes last year, but Bhattacharya had then said: "The Government College of Art and Craft is proud to host the Tagore Show.... and dismisses such comments with the contempt that they deserve." Sculptor Tapas Sarkar later filed a petition in Calcutta High Court, leading to the first probe in India into a dispute relating to an art treasure under the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972.

After a court-appointed probe panel confirmed that the paintings were fake, Bhattacharya was suspended by the higher education department last month. She is scheduled to retire on December 31.