PROPERTY OF A PROMINENT COLLECTOR 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 (Orphans)

RAM KUMAR (B. 1924)
Untitled (Orphans)
signed and dated 'Ram 56' (lower right)
oil on canvas
27½ x 22 5/8 in. (69.9 x 57.5 cm.)
Painted in 1956
Sotheby's New York, 19 September 2006, lot 47
G. Gill ed., Ram Kumar, A Journey Within, New Delhi, 1996, p. 53 (illustrated)

Lot Essay

Ram Kumar's restrained portraits of the 1950s are permeated with a resounding sense of loss. Through their muted palette and forsaken figures, these paintings express the artist's despondent reaction to the harsh realities of urban life that he came face to face with in France and India.

As Ranjit Hoskote notes, the artist "spent that decade, the first decade of India's independence, perfecting an elegiac figuration imbued with the spirit of tragic modernism. Infused with an ideological fervour, he drew equally upon exemplars like Courbet, Rouault, Kathe Kollwitz and Edward Hopper dedicating himself to the creation of an iconography of depression and victimhood [...] To this period belong those lost souls: the monumental Picassoesque figures packed into a darkened picture-womb, the bewildered clerks, terrorised workers and emaciated doll-women trapped in industrial city. Rendered through a semi-cubist discipline [...] these fugitives are trapped in a hostile environment and in their own divided selves." (R. Hoskote, 'The Poet of the Visionary Landscape', Ram Kumar, A Journey Within, New Delhi, 1996, p. 37)

Reminiscent of the forlorn characters in his novels like Ghar Bane Ghar Toote, the figures in these cityscapes capture the alienation and disillusionment of individuals trapped in the urban chaos of cities like Delhi, where socioeconomic issues like poverty and unemployment beat down any aspirations of independence that they may have had. As fellow artist Jagdish Swaminathan observed, the artist's work from this period captures "the world of the city with its slums and squalor-ridden bastis, its wage-slaves and desk-slaves, its grinding routine and of the baffled, beaten, lost beings caught in it." (J. Swaminathan, 'Ram Kumar - A New Stage', Lalit Kala Contemporary 40, New Delhi, 1995, p. 42)

In this painting from 1958, part of this early but short-lived phase in Ram Kumar's oeuvre, the figures are inherently linked to the cityscape they inhabit. Their unnatural, 'marionette-like' postures are echoed in the angular urban forms behind them, heightening the sense of bleakness and disenchantment that their expressions communicate. Like the other figures Kumar painted in the 1950s, these men are symbolic of the human condition, their figures "eloquent of a total aggregate oppressive reality of which they were separate and private manifestations." (R. Bartholomew, 'Attitudes to the Social Condition: Notes on Ram Kumar, Satish Gujral, Krishen Khanna and Ramachandran', Lalit Kala Contemporary 24-25, New Delhi, 1977-78, p. 32)

"As a young artist, Ram Kumar was captivated by, or rather obsessed with, the human face because of the ease and intensity with which it registers the drama of life. The sad, desperate, lonely, hopeless or lost faces, which fill the canvases of his early period, render with pathos his view of the human condition." (S. Lal, Ram Kumar, A Journey Within, New Delhi, 1996, p. 15)

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