The Last Chapter
signed, inscribed, dated and titled ‘R. Broota / RAMESHWAR BROOTA / (N. DELHI – INDIA) / 1982 / ‘THE LAST CHAPTER’' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
70 x 49 7/8 in. (177.8 x 126.7 cm.)
Painted in 1982
The Chester and Davida Herwitz Collection
Sotheby's New York, 5 December 2000, lot 124
Acquired from the above by the present owner
R. Karode, Visions of Interiority: Interrogating the Male Body, Rameshwar Broota: A Retrospective 1963-2013, exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 81, 219, 228 (illustrated)
R. Dean and G. Tillotson, eds., Modern Indian Painting: Jane & Kito de Boer Collection, Ahmedabad, 2019, p. 250 (illustrated)
New Delhi, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Visions of Interiority: Interrogating the Male Body, Rameshwar Broota: A Retrospective (1963-2013), 13 October, 2014 - 28 February, 2015

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Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari

Lot Essay

In the early 1980s, Rameshwar Broota’s artistic practice underwent a major shift. Over the next decade, his body of work turned from overt sociopolitical commentary to center on anonymous male figures and their existential trials and tribulations. "At the end of 1980, I started painting the human figure. This was very universal. Why do I paint nude men? Because you will find it is an impression of a gorilla, a prehistoric man... as if the prehistoric man who has journeyed long years and developed in so many ways still has the same tendencies, emotions and spirit to live. The subject was man through the ages. The subject was always the struggle of man. I am quite interested in his structure, his body [...] They have no clothes because clothes contextualize man. I don't want to add any extra meaning to mankind. I don't show emotion or any kind of facial expression. It is the whole body that speaks and the mystery has to be revealed by a simple posture." (Artist statement, R. Dean & G. Tilotson, eds., Modern Indian Painting, Jane & Kito de Boer Collection, Ahmedabad, 2019, pp. 254, 259)

It was during this period that Broota also developed his signature technique of excavating figures and images from the layers of paint he applied on canvases using a razor blade. The Last Chapter is one of the finest examples of Broota’s monochromatic renditions of ‘universal man’. Using the unique scraping technique he invented, the artist bestows the image with a subtle texture and chiaroscuro. This innovative and labor-intensive process involved developing "a method in which [Broota] applied many thin coats of paint beginning with silver and including raw sienna, burnt umber, shades of bluish black as well as pure black, and incorporating linseed oil to preserve the suppleness of the surface for the scraping phase.” (S. Bean, ‘Midnight’s Children: The Second Generation,’ Midnight to the Boom, Painting in India After Independence, New York, 2013, p. 138) Once the layers were ready, the artist used a blade to scrape and work the surface with varying pressure to create fine textures and exquisitely etched details in different tones. Through this process, Broota blurred the definition of painting, becoming part sculptor, part archaeologist, and exhuming his forms and images from the medium itself.

In The Last Chapter, Broota offers viewers the meticulously rendered figure of an emaciated athlete collapsed on the ground under what appears to be a high-jump bar suspended across a gloomy, overcast sky. Broota has incised dark and heavy clouds to make it seem like a storm is coming, amplifying the posture and mood of the defeated athlete who lies limply under them. His process uses an inherantly violent technique to achieve uniquely textured delicate surfaces, where land and sky, ribcage and hip bones are finely detailed and deliniated with only the most subtle variation in tone.

“We encounter metamorphosing figures in several images in the 1980s, revealing an aspect of male vulnerability that has not been so openly addressed by Indian male artists. Broota arrives at the vulnerable self in his art through manifestations of a depleting masculinity [...] In formal terms, his understanding of male anatomy and command on drawing the inside out, helps him in de-structuring the form, pictorially working out the image by labouring effects of the erupted surface of the skin and the withering of the palpable sensuality of flesh.” (R. Karode, Visions of Interiority: Interrogating the Male Body, Rameshwar Broota: A Retrospective (1963-2013), exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 2015, p. 101)

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