PROPERTY OF A DISTINGUISHED GENTLEMAN
Oil on canvas
23 7/8 x 71 1/8 in. (60.7 x 182.6 cm.)
Signed and inscribed 'K Khanna / Dead Christ" / oil on canvas / 2' x 6'' on reverse
Christian imagery has fascinated Krishen Khanna throughout his career and finds its earliest expression in 1955, with a work titled Betrayal. The painting, originally in the collection of Rudi von Leyden, depicts Judas kissing Christ at the moment of his betrayal. In 1980, the artist exhibited thirteen paintings at the Rabindra Bhavan in New Delhi, returning once more to the theme of Christ's betrayal and death. The current painting and the following sketch (lot 45) follow this theme. The current work depicts the dead Christ after his Crucifixion being prepared for burial, whilst the title of the following lot Is It I? refers to a conversation between Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper, concerning his forthcoming betrayal by Judas. The phrase ‘Who is it?’ is taken from the Gospel of John chapter 13, verse 25.
‘Truthfully I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me... “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered “it is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.” Having dipped the bread he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.’ (John’s Gospel, The Holy Bible, chapter 13, verses 21-26)
As with the original Gospel story, the painting raises questions about the nature of love and betrayal. By giving the work 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 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.
'When viewed against the large corpus of images of Christ in European art, Krishen’s post-colonial, subaltern subjectivity is on view. Christ has lost his halo, there is no reference to the divine family…the neoclassic arches and pillars recall the architecture of British-Indian police stations dotted around the country and are emblematic of colonial power…This cycle of paintings eliminates all affirmations of belief, faith and celebration, concentrating almost entirely on the modern dilemmas of betrayal, doubt, fear and suppression.’ (Gayatri Sinha, Krishen Khanna, New Delhi, 2001, p. 138)
An early source of inspiration for the Christian theme was a conversation with his father while driving up to the hill station of Simla. 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. In the artist’s own words, '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 Nizammuddin.' (Interview with Chanda Singh, India Magazine, September 1984)
The rugged physique of the figures in both works, with their rough calloused faces, are a representation of the labouring class of India and so 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)
About The Artist:
KRISHEN KHANNA (b. 1925)