PROPERTY OF A DISTINGUISHED GENTLEMAN
Oil on paper board
57 x 24 in. (144.8 x 61 cm.)
Signed 'ARA' lower right
Formerly in the Collection of Dr. Homi J. Bhabha
K.H. Ara is best known for his attractive compositions of fruits, flowers and vases and his gentle, contemplative renderings of the female nude. After spending most of the 1950s experimenting with still life forms, the 1960s saw him focus on the female nude. In fact, in 1962 he had an exhibition at the Taj Gallery exclusively showing his nude paintings, and the following year, his Black Nude series formed part of the inaugural exhibition at Pundole Art Gallery. As an artist, Ara was frequently criticised for having a weak understanding of anatomy, but as is seen in the current example and other large format works, he had mastered the subtleties of the female anatomy far better than his sternest critics suggest. The current painting is a rare example for Ara of a monumental nude in a bold, full, frontal posture. He only painted very few works in this tall, narrow format, usually preferring more standard sizes of art paper.
Ara was essentially an intuitive painter who had come from very humble beginnings. At the age of seven, he left his hometown for Mumbai, where he was hired as a member of domestic staff by a European lady. In 1930, by the age of sixteen, he was working for a Japanese company washing cars for Rs. 18 a month. Fortuitously, during the bombing of Pearl Harbour, his Japanese employer fled Bombay, leaving Ara to take care of his home. Ara lived there and the small employee quarters would serve as his studio for the rest of his life.
Yashodhara Dalmia questions to which artistic tradition Ara's nudes belong, and concludes that they stand somewhere between the classical tradition and the modern idiom. 'In many essential ways, Ara was allied to the classicists of the early nineteenth century. His massive nudes with their backs to the viewer remind one of Ingres' Baigneuse de Valpincon (1808), one of the most beautiful yet simple delineations of a woman. Her gently curved posterior, balanced on a pair of shapely legs, satisfies all notions of beauty, gracefully heightened by an unbroken outline.' (Yashodhara Dalmia,The Making of Modern Indian Art, New Delhi, 2001, p. 138) She concludes that while he may have been inspired by several sources, 'his commitment was to modernism and everything was grist to the mill of painterly language.' (ibid., p. 139)
The colours of the original are deeper and richer than the catalogue illustration. The flesh tones of the nude are a richer coffee colour, and the background browns darker than the catalogue illustration. The work has been flattened and laid down onto conservation paper and mounted and backed with acid free mount board. An approximately 3cm. vertical tear along the middle of the lower edge has been restored and strengthened from the reverse and further minor abrasions along the lower edge have been toned in. A horizontal crease runs the entire width of the painting just beneath the knees of the figure and a further horizontal crease runs across the figure's chest, both are partially visible in the catalogue illustration. Further minor creases along the extreme upper edge of the painting, visible in the catalogue illustration. The paper is slightly undulating within the frame. Good overall condition.
About The Artist:
KRISHNAJI HOWLAJI ARA (1914-1985)