PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF THE LATE BADRIVISHAL PITTI
Oil on canvas
26 3/4 x 17 1/4 in. (68 x 43.8 cm.)
In 1946 Ram Kumar completed his Masters degree in Economics at Delhi University. After University, Ram Kumar returned to Simla, his place of birth, where he briefly worked in a bank. Within a year, however, he chose to move jobs to work as a trainee journalist for the Hindustan newspaper. During this period, he met the artist Jagdish Swaminathan. This encounter clearly had an impact on his thinking, because after only six months employment with the newspaper, he gave up his job to work full time as an artist.
'In those early years, my enthusiasm knew no bounds. On the verandah of our Kushak Road house, I would paint on anything - paper, cardboard, even logs of wood. I painted all kinds of things - human figures, landscapes, still life... I was excited when 'Caravan of India' suggested a solo exhibition in Simla... I ran into Dr. Zakir Husain on the ridge. He was in Simla in connection with some meeting. He had been my teacher in Delhi University. I went up to him and invited him to my exhibition. The next day he came. At the end of it when he expressed his desire to buy four of my works, I couldn't believe it. My first ever paintings were being sold and that too, to a person who was held in great esteem by everybody. This first exhibition assured my family especially my father that I could take up painting as a fulltime vocation and that if I worked hard, perhaps I would be able to eke out a living from it one day..' (Ram Kumar, Ram Kumar's Notebooks republished in Ram Kumar: A Journey Within, New Delhi, 1996, p. 195)
In the spring of 1949, shortly after the success of this first solo exhibition, Ram Kumar left India by boat and travelled to France. On his arrival in Paris, he studied painting under Andre Lhote, a well-known artist and theoretician. Ram Kumar remembers that Lhote's teaching method was unusual, and entailed sequential drawing of straight lines and curves and an alternating use of warm and cold colours. These exercises in restraint seem to have suited Ram Kumar's artistic temperament, and the basic structure of his later landscapes can be understood in part perhaps, as a belated response to this early artistic training process. Then in 1950, Ram went on to join the Atelier Fernand Leger, where he was taught by Leger himself. Whilst in Paris, Ram Kumar met several influential writers and poets, who may have also inspired him to consider his own writing career more seriously, for it was shortly after his return to India that he published his first novel.
Ram Kumar continued to paint and write simultaneously upon his return to India. His painting focused on a series of figurative works, where he chose to portray the monotony and decay of urban existence. The works from this period reflect his personal disillusionment with society and Indian politics, but form part of a larger artistic commentary on the despair and desolation experienced in India after Independence. The figures he depicts in his early paintings are reminiscent of the characters he portrays in his first novel, Ghar Bane Ghar Toote. The novel narrates a grim tale of homeless squatters and dispossessed people. 'It is as if the muted characters of his novel, the refugees, leave the shelter of the written page and get transmuted into the shadowy squatters of his paintings. It is in this near surreal borderland between the two where Ram the painter meets the writer in him... If Ram Kumar's figures look so bereft, it is because they are bereft of all emotions, entirely de-emotionalised; frozen in their immobility they freeze us from within. Not that there is any willful distortion or dismemberment of the figures in Ram Kumar's paintings. With all his stylisation one can recognise the human contours of the bodies, their gaunt faces and staring eyes, they even have a certain kind of wan beauty.' (Nirmal Verma, 'From Solitude to Salvation', ibid., p. 22)
Verma notes that Ram's early stories have a certain mood of 'melancholic warmth' that is largely absent in his figurative paintings of the same period. Ram's figures, despite sometimes appearing huddled in family groups, tend to stare out from the canvas and away from each other, with rarely any sign of tenderness or interaction between the figures contained within the picture frame. Indeed, as the decade progresses, his figures also start to diminish in scale, and by late 1958, they have become abstracted, sometimes condensed in form to geometric shapes that merely reflect the structures of the city that surrounds them.
The current work, although undated, appears to belong to this last phase of figurative works completed in the late 1950s, before his move to more abstracted landscapes. The red geometric shape surrounding the head of the figure in the current composition reflects a similar form around a figure in a lithograph created by the artist, which is dated to 1958. Equally, the composition as a whole bears striking similarities to another work, Figure, dated to 1959 ( see Ram Kumar: A Journey Within, New Delhi, 1996, p. 65).
Verma describes eloquently Ram Kumar's retreat to a less figurative mode of expression, 'meanwhile, something was happening very quietly, almost imperceptibly in Ram's paintings. The figure which played so important a role in the entire drama of the Ram's odyssey, was already beating a retreat, slowly hesitantly into the margins, almost merging with the dark greys and browns of the horizons. And what till then only vaguely lurked in the background - the shadowy outlines of dilapidated houses, a floating glimpse of the city roofs surged forward, pushing the figures onto the edges, occupying the centre stage, as it were'. ( ibid)
In 1949, Badrivishal Pitti started Kalpana , a Hindi literary magazine that was highly regarded by writers and authors of his time, and is still considered to be one of the finest Hindi publications. Ram Kumar, who was both a painter and an avid writer of short stories in the 1950s, was a regular contributor to the magazine. His drawings in black and white were featured on the cover of the magazine and his stories were carried inside. Badrivishal first met Ram Kumar in Benaras at the home of Sripat Rai, a poet and a common friend. He admired the artist's writing and painting alike, as is seen from the Collection.
The colours of the original are slightly brighter, especially the reds, than the catalogue illustration. The painting has been recently cleaned, re-varnished, strip lined and re-stretched. The extreme edges of the canvas in all four corners have been toned in. Two small areas of consolidation with associatedretouching in the upper left corner and in the grey quadrant to the left of the central figure. Overall good condition.
About The Artist:
RAM KUMAR (1924 - 2018)