PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN
Oil on board
39 7/8 x 29 7/8 in. (101.1 x 76 cm.)
Signed and dated 'Tyeb / '62' on reverse
The symbol of the bull remained a central theme for Tyeb Mehta throughout his career, and the current Untitled work is one of several images created by him in the early 1960s. Like his fellow Progressives, Mehta had diverged from the nationalist art promoted by the Bengal school, in favour of an Indian avant-garde inspired by European mannerism. Moving to London in 1958, Mehta encountered the works of the Expressionists, and became inspired by their choice of thick colour application and bold lines. Critics note that the artist was equally influenced by Francis Bacon and his distinctive macabre distortions that spoke to him of turmoil and anguish. In his own works, he promptly adopted a thick impasto technique, a visual element that would dominate the early stages of his career. The bull, equally, remained a symbol of power for Mehta throughout his career, although its paradigms shifted gradually with the progression of Mehta as an artist.
Growing up in Mumbai, Mehta had witnessed the riots of Partition in 1947, whose horrors haunted his imagination, and his early art became a visual expression of these emotional demons. The communal clashes instilled a desire in him to locate new forms to visualise the violence. Mehta recalls looking for an image to express his inner anguish, which he found in the British Museum in the form of a trussed bull on an Egyptian vase, which became a recurring element in his works. By depicting the bull, traditionally considered to be a symbol of masculinity, power, and dominance, in powerless and vulnerable conditions, the artist considers a duality of contrary juxtapositions in order to suggest the violence and suffering experienced by the animal.
The current work, executed in 1962, is the portrayal of a youthful beast gazing at the beholder. Rendered with a monumental sense of volume, the bull stands calmly within his environment. The animal is executed in muted colours and thick impasto, offset against a bold, green background. The volumes and forms of the bull are visualised through the use of thick, angular blocks of impasto that are almost sculptural in their application. This sculptural quality reflects the forms of contemporary British sculptors like Elizabeth Frink, whose monumental animal bronzes bear a striking similarity to Tyeb's paintings. Unlike Tyeb's more distressing paintings of bulls from the same period, such as Thrown Bull or Trussed Bull , where a powerful mature animal is restrained in an undignified posture, the current bull stands unfettered and free. In a rare instance from this early period, the image appears to reflect a sense of hope and optimism, a symbol of fertile potential.
Despite the use of thick impasto which is characteristic of this period of Mehta's work, the structure of the composition points towards his later phase of painting where flat planes of colour interlock with one another in an almost jigsaw-like manner. This distribution of space within a composition was to become more and more important to the artist in his later career. 'In transferring the image to canvas, I begin to think in terms of modulating the canvas, distributing areas of colour and apportioning space. I put a certain distance between myself as the seer, and the canvas as the seen, to allow the painting to exist as an entity in its own right.' (Tyeb Mehta in conversation with Nikki Ty-Tomkins Seth, Tyeb Mehta: Ideas Images Exchanges, New Delhi, 2005, p. 343) Although the treatment of the interlocking forms here is somewhat simplistic when compared to his later compositions, the line of the horizon at the shoulder of the beast is notable. Like the angular diagonal forms that appear in his later work, the horizon line dissects the composition in its entirety and can be read as a tentative forerunner to the diagonal series of the 1970s. It is in these subtle elements of image construction that we witness Mehta evolving as an artist. The gradual changes to his artistic language witnessed in the 1960s were to mutate further in the following decade and then explode into a fully mature phase by the end of the 1970s.
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The colours of the original, especially the browns of the bull, are more saturated and the background colours seem brighter than the catalogue illustration. Fine scattered craquelure in the thickest areas of impasto in the bull partially visible in the catalogue illustration. Two small areas of paint consolidation and retouching visible in the green to the right of the animal.
One spot of retouching above the animal's head and one further area in the green to the left of the animal just beneath the horizon line. Overall good condition.
About The Artist:
TYEB MEHTA (1925 - 2009)