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RAM KUMAR (B. 1924)
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The Time of Day

The Time of Day
Signed 'Sabavala' (lower right)
oil on canvas
30 1/8 x 24 in. (76.5 x 61 cm.)
Painted in 1956
The Illustrated Weekly of India, 1 December 1957 (illustrated)
Mumbai, Jehangir Art Gallery, Jehangir Sabavala Exhibition of Paintings, 15-23 November, 1958
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Lot Essay

Following a period of intensive training in the West at the Heatherley School of Art in London and the Academie Julian and Academie André Lhote in Paris, Jehangir Sabavala returned to India in the early 1950s. As he struggled to develop an artistic vocabulary that reconciled the “contrary demands of the Impressionist and Cubist traditions” in which he was trained, he also realised that his work could not ignore its new and unique Indian context.

As the artist’s biographer Ranjit Hoskote explains, “Sabavala employed the 1950s in testing his Cubist education against the patterns of his experience: would it hold, could it be extended and modified?” In this endeavour, Sabavala articulately recognised that “India was not the most congenial context for one of Lhote’s disciples to absorb and practice his principles: the Indian light is much sharper, and the structures it creates far crisper than in Europe; the subcontinent’s natural excess of colour overstimulates the eye, tempts the senses.” (R. Hoskote, The Crucible of Painting: The Art of Jehangir Sabavala, Mumbai, 2005, pp. 62-63)

This painting is part of a series of canvases from the period inspired by the people and landscapes of India underscoring the artist’s early experiments with composition and his “daring” palette. Painted in 1956 and titled The Time of Day, this street scene features three turbaned men who have stopped at a corner for a mid-day chat. The scene was recorded by Sabavala in Jaipur during one of his road trips between Bombay and Delhi, a stop which undoubtedly also inspired him to paint The Pavement Dwellers and A Shop in Jaipur, painted the same year.

In the catalogue for the 1958 exhibition in which this painting was featured, C.R. Mandy, editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India, noted that Sabavala’s “dexterity with colour arrangements may be seen in his striking interpretations of the Indian scene. There is nothing facile about his landscapes; they are deeply thought-out compositions which make a memorable impression on the viewer, as was evident when he showed his work in Basle [sic] and at the International Biennale in Venice.” (C.R. Mandy, ‘Foreword’, Jehangir Sabavala Exhibition of Paintings, exhibition catalogue, 1958, unpaginated)

In these meticulously planned and constructed paintings, “He seeks not only to capture the colours and warmth of the Indian milieu, but to evolve a visual language which is universal, if not conventional [...] Sabavala infuses a lyrical and exotic flavour into his canvases which are authentic without being patently traditional. His manner of building up his compositions plane by plane and the subtle harmonies of his palette bear testimony to virtuosity and sensitivity of a high order.” (A.S. Raman, ‘The Art of Jehangir Sabavala’, The illustrated Weekly of India, 23 November, 1958)

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