• South Asian Modern+Contemporar auction at Christies

    Sale 2194

    South Asian Modern+Contemporary Art

    16 September 2009, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 521

    RAM KUMAR (B. 1924)

    Untitled (Benares)

    Price Realised  


    RAM KUMAR (B. 1924)
    Untitled (Benares)
    signed in Hindi and dated in English '63' (lower right)
    oil on canvas
    32 x 22¼ in. (81.3 x 56.5 cm.)
    Painted in 1963

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    [...] Ram Kumar's colours range between greys and yellow ochres and browns, but they derive their significance from their tonal subtleties, the tensions they create in passing from one tone to another. His line again is not a boundary, its function is not merely to define form. It pulsates at every point of its length, alive like the colours, alive like the spaces it creates.
    Ram Kumar's Banaras landscape lift one out of the toil of the moment into the timeless world of formless memories. What he paints is not what the eye sees in the ancient city, it is rather the response of the soul to the visual impacts. February 26, 1961
    (J. Swaminathan, Ram Kumar-A New Stage, Lalit Kala Contemporary 40, New Delhi, 1995, pp. 42-43)
    After apprenticing in Paris with Fernand Leger in 1950, Ram Kumar's style as a figurative painter became suffused with a melancholic realism. "Ram Kumar spent that decade, the first decade of India's independence, perfecting an elegiac figuration imbued with the spirit of tragic modernism. [...] To this period belong those lost souls: the monumental Picassoesque figures packed into a darkened picture-womb, the bewildered clerks, terrorized workers and emaciated doll-women trapped in the industrial city. Rendered through a semi-cubist discipline and memorialised in paintings like 'Sad Town' and 'Hidden Sorrow', these fugitives are trapped in a hostile environment and in their own divided selves." (Ranjit Hoskote, 'The Poet of the Visionary Landscape,' Ram Kumar, A Journey Within, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 1996, p. 37)
    Lot 522 is one of the artist's last figurative works from the 1960s, before he abandoned figuration after his pivotal journey to Benares undertaken with Husain. The empty spectral city by the banks of the Ganges River has an architectural formalism that in reality would be chaotically teeming with bathers and pilgrims. Benares as the Eternal City, has since pre-occupied him for over four decades. "...And then the mysterious steps on every ghat emerged from the river leading upward to enter the dark labyrinths of the city which was submerged in the stark reality of daily life. Every sight was like a new composition, a still life artistically organized to be interpreted in colours. It was not merely outward appearances which were fascinating but they were vibrant with an inner life of their own, very deep and profound, which left an everlasting impression on my artistic sensibility." (G. Gill ed., Ram Kumar: A Journey Within, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 1996, p. 89)


    Collection of Frances McAllister, founder of the Arboretum
    Acquired from Kumar Gallery, New Delhi on October 12 1963

    Pre-Lot Text