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Item Description:


Oil on canvas


33 x 24 in. (83.9 x 60.8 cm.)

Signed and dated 'Ram Kumar 1971' on reverse


Purchased directly from the artist.

While Ram Kumar's painterly exploits on the canvas are well known and explored, his written words have always remained on the periphery of his artistic achievements. In reality, the two were closely linked and remained constant in the artist's life. He wrote throughout his career, and always kept a notebook or diary with him so as to facilitate a quick and easy way to capture his thoughts. During his early years studying 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 in 1952 that he published his first novel.

Upon his return to India, Ram Kumar continued to paint and write. He focused on a series of figurative paintings, where he chose to portray the monotony and decay of the new post-Partition urban existence in a style that was distinctly influenced by his years in Paris. The works reflect his personal disillusionment with society and Indian politics of the time, but also form part of a larger artistic commentary on the despair and desolation experienced by the middle class in post-Independence India.

His stories, too, reflect this angst that he was witnessing around him. The stories capture '...the mundane yet moving details of middle class existence, the essence of daily drudgery, the finer moments of relationships' that leave a deep and lasting imprint on the mind. (Prayag Shukla, 'The Artist as Story-teller', Ram Kumar The Journey Within, New Delhi, 1996, p. 213) This is also the period when his paintings and stories shared the greatest commonality. Later in his career, they would still co-exist, but often take divergent paths.

By the end of the 1950s, the figures in Ram Kumar's works were disappearing, and in their place appeared elements of a cityscape and architectural features specific to the city of Benaras, a city that influenced him deeply and immediately from his first visit there with fellow artist and friend Maqbool Fida Husain in 1960. The decade was dominated by a combination of crowded Benaras cityscapes and semi-abstracted landscapes that continued to evolve in the 1970s as landscapes with multiple, aerial perspectives and angular planes of colour.

The current work, painted in 1971, therefore, appears to be an unusual choice of subject for the time, although the colour palette reflects the period perfectly. The vertical canvas is dominated by two abstract figures, similar in composition to several works of the 1950s which depict two figures standing abreast of each other. However, their rendering has changed to reflect the artist's current concerns with the landscape and abstraction. Unlike the early works, the focus here is not on the details of the faces of the figures, the clothes they wear or the crowded city they inhabit. Whilst they are still distinctly identifiable as figures through their upright postures and overall shape, the energy is far more concentrated on the emotions they convey. The physical bond between the two figures remains, uniting them in their larger struggles with the outside world. However, they appear to have lost their individual features, symbolic of their identity, and instead blend into the landscape they inhabit.

When considering this work within the larger body of work of the 1970s, it is abundantly clear that it is unique both in subject and composition. One could conjecture that the digression could be inspired by one of the short stories he had written in the past. The protagonists of his story, overcome with the futility of their existence, seem to have lost their will to survive the daily drudgery, thereby giving in and becoming just another face in the sea of humanity that surrounds them. 'There is a visionary link between his paintings and his stories. Both are characterised by an asceticism of form. If there are no extravagant lines in his drawings, there are no melodramatic gestures in his stories. The melancholic stillness that settles over his city landscape is analogous to the arid silence that separates the characters he creates. The severe beauty of colours in his sketchbooks finds its equivalent in the sad cadence of sentence in his writing. His landscapes are remote, alien, threatening; his stories are sad, troubled and brooding.' (Alok Bhalla, Introductory Essay, The Sea and Other Stories by Ram Kumar, Shimla, 1997, p. ix)

It is unclear why the figure left Ram Kumar's canvas at the end of the 1950s and even more ambiguous why they reappear sporadically. Nirmal Verma speculates that this is, perhaps, not to do with 'some fortuitous fascination for abstraction for its own sake, but a real discomfort with the human figure itself.' (Nirmal Verma, 'From Solitude to Salvation,' op. cit., p. 24)


The colours of the original are lighter and brighter than the main catalogue illustration. The range of tonal contrasts is greater in the original with the background tones appearing much lighter in the original than they appear in the catalogue. One 6 cm. vertical band of retouching is visible along the right edge towards the lower right corner of the canvas, which fluoresces under UV light, and is partially visible to the naked eye. A second 2 cm. vertical band of retouching is visible under UV light within the figure towards the left edge of the canvas. Good overall condition.Please see the installation photos for additional colour reference.

About The Artist:

RAM KUMAR (1924-2018)


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