"I think, perhaps every artist starts with the figurative, because when we go to an art school, there is a model there, and we have to do drawings, learning anatomy and all that, and so perhaps a very natural thing, along with landscape, at least for me. The reason I made these sort of paintings, was that I was a bit inspired by the left politics at that time, there was an inclination towards the tragic side of life [...] it started here, becoming more mature in Paris. And even if I had not been inspired by politics, perhaps I would have made the same kind of paintings, because that is a part of my nature some sort of sadness, misery or whatever it is. Also in my short stories, it is always towards people who have suffered." - Ram Kumar, 1993
RAM KUMAR (B. 1924)

Untitled (Family)

RAM KUMAR (B. 1924)
Untitled (Family)
signed 'RAM' (lower centre)
oil on paper laid on board
29¾ x 21 5/8 in. (75.6 x 54.9 cm.)
Executed in 1957
Gagan Gill ed., Ram Kumar A Journey Within, New Delhi, 1996, p. 61 (illustrated)
Ram Kumar, Vadehra Art Gallery exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 2007, p. 9 (illustrated)

Lot Essay

"By 1957 a few church steeples appeared in Ram Kumar's paintings, and some cafes. There was an element of fantasy as well, and some intensely portrayed themes of childhood. The themes of starvation and of unemployment, or of their specters [...] the faces were more eloquent, the stances more intimate and tender. There was passion and there was prayer, and though sorrow was a large theme, hope was not entirely absent." (R. Bartholomew in G. Gill, ed., Ram Kumar: A Journey Within, New Delhi:, 1996, p. 43)

Ram Kumar's Family comprises four young largely unclothed forlorn figures huddled in the foreground against a cropped foreboding cityscape. Far from a middle class family, this trapped clan of kinfolk is both excluded and trapped in this urban labyrinth and demand our pathos. Richard Bartholomew discussed these subaltern groups, "[...] city people in a city environment circumscribed by the constrictions of urban society and motivated by conflicts which ensue from dense population, unemployment, and artificial relationships [...] Somewhat marionette-like and angularly stanced with half gestures that seem to clutch at something precious, the boldly but starkly portrayed people [are] related to one another because of the pervading quality of introspection, of a searching for meaning, purpose, release which is written large on their countenances" (R. Bartholomew, 'Attitudes to the Social Condition: Notes on Ram Kumar, Satish Gujral, Krishen Khanna and Ramachandran', Lalit Kala Contemporary 24-25, Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, 1977-78, p. 31). In this composition, Kumar creates a tableau vivant. This painting combines the melancholy and tragedy of social realism, with a softness and closeness that sparks hope, and the faint promise of reprieve from this harsh reality that envelop this naked, starving and forsaken domiciliary. This family shares an intimacy and dignity that give them a stoic heroism as if somehow enlightened in the face of such tribulation.

Ram Kumar's paintings of the 1950s are a reaction to the social events he witnessed around him upon his return from Paris. The influence of European Modernist Amedeo Modigliani is evident in the four family members in this painting with the elongated dark faces and hollow eyes. He was acutely aware of his urban surroundings and the pervading sense of disillusionment and alienation he sensed in those around him. "Ram Kumar, an artist born and brought up in the atmosphere of the city middle class, looking into the empty souls of people ground down by the grueling run of the daily mill, looking into eyes that have lost their animation, eyes that are windows opening into nothingness, is again a painter who has relied on his personal vision for his artistic endeavors [...] sad drooping figures, rendered with childlike directness, lingering like shadows in gloomy surroundings of gaunt and empty streets and houses." (J. Swaminathan, 'Trends in Indian Modernism', Lalit Kala Contemporary 40, New Delhi, 1995, p. 39) However Kumar treats these figures tenderly, invoking admiration and hope as much as sympathy and sorrow. Even in such a testing moment, their devotion and inner strength triumphs as they seem to transcend their own circumstances.

More from South Asian Art

View All
View All