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Item Description:


Oil on canvas


45 1/2 x 35 in. (115.5 x 89 cm.)

Signed and dated 'Padamsee / 56' upper left


Originally in the collection of Solange Gounelle Padamsee.


Venice, XXVIII Biennale International of Art, 1956.


Bhanumati Padamsee and Annapurna Garimella, (eds.), Akbar Padamsee - Work in Language, Mumbai, 2010, p. 51, no. 39, illustrated.

Richard Bartholomew The Art Critic, New Delhi, 2012, p. 204, fig. 76, illustrated.

Shamlal, Padamsee, Sadanga Series by Vakils, Mumbai, p. 15, illustrated.

The figure is a recurring theme in Akbar Padamsee's work and the early works from the 1950s reveal his close association with the Progressive Artists Group, and with the Indian modernist idiom. His early male heads tend to be religious in theme, frequently treated in the manner of a Christian stained glass window, outlined in thick heavy black lines, enclosing glowing colours. Padamsee's nudes, however, are less immediately appealing. With the exception of his early Lovers series, they are isolated figures, solid and uncompromising in stance. They are not beautiful, but instead monumental and enduring. There is the influence of Gupta period sculpture in their form and in the ornamentation of their heavy jewellery. However, Padamsee's central concern is not to redefine classical Indian art within a modernist vocabulary. Instead, his quest is to create a new compositional order that retains a deeply humanist approach. 'What makes Padamsee's image of man different from all these is that it is free of all pathos, sentimentality, nostalgia and even compassion. It is as if he wants us to see that what man needs is not pity, but understanding.' (Shamlal, Padamsee, Sadanga Series by Vakils, Mumbai, p. 6)

In the current work from 1956, the seated nude is unlike any that have come before. Gone are the narrow waists and shaped volumes of his standing figures; instead the torso is heavy and weighs down the figure. In an interview with Homi Bhabha, the artist describes his nudes using the current painting as an example. 'During the mid '50s in Paris, I was making a lot of studies from life. The problem for me was how to transform these raw drawings that I had made from the model, when I painted it... It is a form of sublimating the fleshy aspect of the body to an otherness. For example, if we look at the Seated Nude (1956 [figure 39]), you don't see flesh in this painting. In practical terms this drawing that I made, I subjected it to my mathematical method of drawing, but trying not to lose the quality of the model.' (Akbar Padamsee in conversation with Homi Bhabha, 'Figure and Shadow: Conversations on the Illusive Art of Akbar Padamsee', Akbar Padamsee Work in Language, Mumbai, 2010, p. 48) This sense of raising the individual to a higher transcendent form is integral to Padamsee's quest.

'Sensitivity to the human presence has been Akbar Padamsee's obsession, inspiration and purpose of his art. Direct in a nearly-tactile way, but also sublimated and universalised, his heads and nudes initially exude a feeling of almost-real persons. Gradually, however they reveal themselves as distanced and generalised. Sometimes strong, even harsh in their impact, and sometimes indistinct and ethereal, Padamsee's images are never portraits of identifiable people. In fact, they resemble a residual vision after an encounter. An aura left by a presence transposed in the memory. They come through like quick notations of transitory meetings, the heads and bodies deeply attuned to what is experienced within them, while also absorbing the proximity of their surroundings, especially other human presences. The background becomes a part of the human situation imprinting its character and compulsions on people, and in turn being influenced by them - the process both violent and soothing.' (Marta Jakimowicz, 'Tracing Shadows of the Sublime', Akbar Padamsee Works on Paper - Critical Boundaries, Mumbai, 2004, p. 9)

At different stages in his career the artist has often imposed certain aesthetic means of self-discipline upon himself. In 1959, Padamsee paints only in monochromatic tones of grey and white; later in his career his figures appear in tonal shades of red and orange. In his Metascapes, his colours are plotted in an almost scientific manner before being applied to the canvas. The current work is no different in that Padamsee focuses his attention on the surface of the nude. Particularly striking is the strong contrasts in colour of the background and the texture and grid-like structure of the nude itself. 'Everything is said simply with an almost classical restraint. Others may deplore the density of things which refuse to reveal their secret. Padamsee is upset by how much they reveal. The red-and-green nude painted by him in 1956 shows us more than we can bear to look at. What is oppressive about this woman is not the weight of her flesh but her immense weariness of spirit, which fills the whole picture. She cannot even wish, like Hamlet, for the too, too solid flesh to melt. She knows it is no use. She must carry it like a cross with her.' (Shamlal, op. cit., p. 7)

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