RAM KUMAR (B. 1924)
THE ESTATE OF KEKOO AND KHORSHED GANDHY Property from the Collection of Rashna Imhasly-Gandhy and Behroze Gandhy
RAM KUMAR (B. 1924)

Untitled (Benaras)

RAM KUMAR (B. 1924)
Untitled (Benaras)
signed in Hindi (lower right)
oil on canvas
32 7/8 x 34 3/8 in. (83.5 x 87.3 cm.)
Painted circa 1960s

Lot Essay

"I visited Varanasi about half dozen times in these years, sketching,
to revive and refresh my memories, and of course they change from time to time. At the beginning they were just images of ghats,
straightforward, but later they became more complicated and
organisational. After all, I was maturing as a painter also, and so
memories of Benares receded. I was trying to go forward, and
simplify... " Ram Kumar, 1993

Ram Kumar was introduced to Khorshed and Kekoo Gandhy by M.F. Husain and exhibited with Gallery Chemould in Bombay and Delhi through the 1960s and 70s. It was also with Husain that Kumar first visited Benaras in 1960 to sketch his impressions and experiences of the famed holy city on the banks of the River Ganges. He recalls, "I had gone to Benaras for the first time about 35 years ago [...] Every sight was like a new composition, a still life artistically organised 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. I could feel a new visual language emerging from the depths of an experience." (Artist statement, Ram Kumar: A Journey Within, New Delhi, 1996, p. 89)

The impression Benaras left on Kumar's artistic sensibility heralded a marked change in his work in the early 1960s, perhaps the most significant development over the course of his career. Abandoning his figurative idiom and shunning colours other than sombre tones of brown and grey, Ram Kumar sought to express the stark contrasts he had experienced in India's holiest city, particularly those between divinity and mortality, the celebration of life and the rituals of death.

In this painting, a tightly packed mass of architectural forms, etched out of the impasto background by Kumar's assured line, hugs the river bank. Like the austere sky above these uninhabited structures, the river before them is grey and unwelcoming. "There is no sky to lighten the melancholy and no trees to break the monotony of stone and earth. Even Varanasi which he paints obsessively, is not the city of pilgrims, priests, temples and lights, but a city which is slowly sinking into primeaval mud." (A. Bhalla, "Introduction", The Sea and Other Stories by Ram Kumar, Shimla, 1997, p. xv)

More from South Asian Art

View All
View All