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RAM KUMAR (1924-2018)
RAM KUMAR (1924-2018)


RAM KUMAR (1924-2018)
signed in Hindi (upper right); inscribed 'K. GUINNESS' (on the stretcher bar on the reverse)
oil on canvas
32 x 19 5/8 in. (81.3 x 49.8 cm.)
Painted circa 1960
Kumar Gallery, New Delhi
Acquired from the above by Sir Kenlem Guinness, circa 1960

Sir Kenelm Guinness, of the Irish Guinness family most well known for their eponymous brewing factory, was working with the World Bank in the 1950s on the Indus Water Treaty often traveling between Lahore and New Delhi, where he purchased the present lot. By 1960 the negotiations of the World Bank became an official Treaty which was signed on 19 September 1960 by then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru and then President of Pakistan Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan.

Lot Essay

This painting is one of Ram Kumar’s early Varanasi landscapes, painted in the 1960s just after he abandoned figuration following a pivotal journey to the holy city that he undertook with fellow artist Maqbool Fida Husain. The artist describes this visit, vividly recalling “It was the middle of winter. And I had reached the city late at night. The dimly lit lanes were deserted and gave the impression of a ghostly deserted city. I thought the city was inhabited only by the dead and their dead souls. It looked like a haunted place and still remains the same. Wandering along the ghats in a vast sea of humanity, I saw faces like masks bearing marks of suffering and pain similar to the blocks, doors and windows jutting out of dilapidated old houses, palaces, temples. Sitting on the steps of Manikarnika Ghat, watching dead bodies some brought from distant villages in boats, waiting for their turn at liberation, I almost felt the disappearing boundary line between life and death. The temples of death, the smoke rising from funeral pyres, the wailing of the relatives of the dead, and the river Ganga flowing slowly without a sound I could not remain a silent observer. 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 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.” (Artist statement, Ram Kumar: A Journey Within, New Delhi, 1996, p. 89)

In this painting, despite the fragile boat that stands still at the shores of the deep blue river and the densely packed architectonic forms on its banks, there is no sign of inhabitation or life. From what seems to be an aerial perspective, the artist recreates here the unique, fragmented yet vivid vision of the holy city he experienced on his first visit.

For further discussion of the artist's Varanasi landscapes please refer to lots 425 and 432.

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