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Item Description:


Oil and acrylic on canvas


69 3/4 x 48 in. (177.2 x 121.7 cm.)

Signed 'KKhanna' and inscribed 'KRISHEN / KHANNA / ACRYLIC / ON / CANVAS' on reverse

'The Christ Series are set here in Delhi, Nizamuddin in fact, and appear as current happenings. He is wandering amongst us or sleeping with us... I painted Jesus, not in the image given by European painters, but as one of the fakirs one sees around Hazrat Nizamuddin.'

('Interview with Chanda Singh',India Magazine, September 1984)

Christian imagery has fascinated Krishen Khanna throughout his career, and one of its earliest expressions (dated to 1955) is found in a work titled Betrayal. The painting, originally in the collection of Rudi von Leyden, depicts Judas kissing Christ at the moment of his betrayal, a theme that he returns to frequently at several later stages in his career. In 1980, the artist exhibited thirteen paintings at Rabindra Bhavan in New Delhi, returning once more to the theme of Christ's betrayal and death. Throughout this suite of works, the artist uses biblical references within a specifically Indian context, to illustrate his present day social concerns. In particular, Khanna uses the theme of the betrayal, trial and persecution of Christ as a metaphor for the plight of the everyday working-man. The current painting, although undated, was acquired in the mid 1970s when he was working on a series of Balcony paintings.

'The most powerful memory I have of Krishen was from the two to three weeks that I spent with the Khanna family in Simla in the summer of 74. It was that summer that Krishen was painting the Balcony Scenes...I recall being invited into Krishen's studio and looking at the canvases...all at different levels of completion. He clearly had a vision of how the scene would flow from one canvas to another.... watching everyday as the paintings took on shape, colour and black lines turned into recognisable features... fascinating... and then many years later to see the painting hanging in our home... Every time I am home and look at the painting it brings back wonderful memories of my time in Simla with the Khanna family.' (Edited from Dadiba Pundole's recent correspondence with Rekha Khote)

The current painting, which depicts a random group of people looking out from an Indian balcony, does not seem at first glance to be related to the religious or social concerns outlined above. However, in a recent conversation with the artist, Krishen explains that the scene was intended to be part of his Christ cycle. The painting depicts a crowd of onlookers during Christ's final journey to the cross, looking out from a balcony above the procession of figures escorting Christ to his place of execution. The final choice of composition is unusual, for the majority of such scenes in the western canon of Christian imagery depict Christ at the centre of the scene weighed down beneath his cross. Instead, here, the onlookers to this tragic scene are the central characters of the composition, rather than secondary details, and the figure of Christ is absent. Initially, the artist had intended to paint elements of the procession at the lowest edge of the canvas, but finally decided to leave even these elements out. He explains, 'here you have a child reaching down from the balcony... and I thought that I would add in some details of the procession just the tops of the things they were carrying or a cap, and this chap is leaning down to grab it ! ... I think this is a very fine painting.' (Krishen Khanna in conversation with Dadiba Pundole, January 2020)

Once the broader themes of the painting are understood, the absence of Christ makes the composition all the more poignant. For the most part, the onlookers to the scene appear indifferent to the plight of the victim that passes unseen beneath the balcony. A bespectacled man looks bored by the events surrounding him, whilst a woman raises her camera to take a photograph of some other scene above the heads of the procession. The boy, likewise, leans down, not for a blessing from the saviour of the world, but, rather, in a cheeky attempt to steal a hat from a passer-by. Only one lady, standing directly behind the boy, appears to grasp her head in anguish as she gazes down at the tragic scene that is unfolding below.

The inspiration for the Christ cycle came to Krishen whilst driving from New Delhi to Simla with his father. Along the way, they stopped at a dhaba for tea, when Kahan Chand remarked that any of the waiters at the cafe could be a Christ figure. By giving this group of works a modern context, the artist intentionally blurs the boundaries of the story, allowing the painting a less specifically religious significance. He has carefully selected scenes from the life of Christ, such as the moment of betrayal and Christ's trial and death, and not the moments of miracles or resurrection. By placing the paintings within an Indian context, Khanna's paintings become related to modern day social concerns, such as the plight of the labouring classes, the corruption of figures placed in authority, and the public's seeming indifference to the on-going persecution of the poor by those that they have placed in power.

On a more personal level, the paintings in part represent the betrayal and persecution that the artist had witnessed during Partition, the Bangladesh war and the period of Emergency. As Gayatri Sinha states, Krishen Khanna's 'Christ becomes emblematic of a resistance to persecution ... this is neither the healing Christ, the divine worker of miracles nor the haloed Son of God, but the persecuted figure within an oppressive system.' (Gayatri Sinha,Krishen Khanna, The Embrace of Love, Ahmedabad, 2005, p.18)


The colours of the original are considerably richer and brighter than they appear in the catalogue illustration, especially in the burgundy tones of the balcony itself. The faces of the figures are brighter than they appear in the catalogue. The painting has been recently cleaned and varnished. A 3.5 cm. vertical cut to the canvas (in the sky directly above the balcony) has been repaired with a small patch to the reverse of the canvas with associated retouching to the front of the canvas, which is visible under UV light. Good overall condition.

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