signed 'K Khanna' (lower left); further inscribed, signed and titled 'KRISHEN KHANNA / KKhanna / "PIETA" / oil on canvas' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
40 x 30 in. (101.6 x 76.2 cm.)
Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai
Acquired from the above

Brought to you by

Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari Head of Sale

Check the condition report or get in touch for additional information about this

If you wish to view the condition report of this lot, please sign in to your account.

Sign in
View condition report

Lot Essay

The subject of the Pieta has long been a cornerstone in the cannon of European art, from Michelangelo to Vincent van Gogh. The iconic Christian image of the Virgin Mary lamenting the lifeless figure of her only son Jesus Christ is an inspirational image adorning churches across the world. The Pieta signifies a moment of immense sorrow and symbolizes the ultimate sacrifice in giving up a child. Krishen Khanna, who was introduced to Christianity and its stories as a child attending a Catholic school run by nuns in Lahore, is acutely aware of the religious and art historical significance of the subject and has engaged with this iconic trope in different ways throughout his career.

As Gayatri Sinha writes, “From the late 1960s Khanna engaged in a series of paintings on Christ that start with The Last Supper, and Garden at Gethsemane and gradually culminate in Betrayal, Christs Descent from the Cross, Pieta and Emmaus […] The Christ paintings are often located against deeply coloured backgrounds which lend a warm emotive quality and an air of tight compression. Through a lack of physical detail, the paintings aspire towards a quality of timelessness” (G. Sinha, Krishen Khanna: The Embrace of Love, Ahmedabad, 2005, p.17). These works are Khanna’s modern homage to the European Masters, celebrating the potency of such sanctified images and the incredible emotional depth and charge of the instantly recognizable scene.

However, after revitalizing and recontextualizing the Pieta in the 1960s, Khanna would return to the theme two decades later from an entirely different and unique perspective. In these later versions, of which the present lot is one, it is the humanity rather than divinity of the subjects that is emphasized. In this example, deprived of a halo, Christ lies lifeless, prone and pale, his limbs uncomfortably collapsed at his side. Khanna shocks the viewer by cropping out the neck and head of Christ as if to focus the attention on his mother and Mary Magdalene who stands behind her. The Virgin Mary looks despondent, yet is herself attempting to console the distraught Magdalene, who appears with her hands clasped over her face in anguish. With his focus on this emotional realism, Khanna highlights the fact that this kind of loss is sadly all too familiar for some people, most notably for the disenfranchised classes of society.

Khanna, a resident of New Delhi, experienced a sharp rise in the population of poor migrant laborers in the city, and uses Christ as representative of the plight of these ubiquitous workers. Discussing this series, the artist noted, “The Christ series are set here in Delhi, Nizamuddin in fact, and appear as current happenings. He is wandering amongst us or sleeping with us followers on the road islands. They are not religious pictures as such. They deal with persecution and the consequences meted out to those who do not fit into ready-made slots, more so if the endeavor is to change a total view of life and not merely tinker with existing institutions. I painted Jesus, not in the image given by European painters, but as one of the fakirs one sees around Hazrat Nizamuddin” (Artist statement, C. Singh, ‘Looking Beyond His Canvas: Krishen Khanna’, The India Magazine, Vol. 4, No. 10, September 1984, p. 19).

Pieta is a quintessential image of suffering, betrayal and redemption. Khanna’s Pieta transcends the Christian doctrine and creates an accessible image that anyone of any faith or belief can identify with. This is an image about loss and sacrifice and in the words of Richard Bartholomew addresses the ultimate "larger universal issues of freedom and exploitation, of cruelty and persecution" (R. Bartholomew, 'Attitudes to the Social Condition, Notes on Krishen Khanna', Lalit Kala Contemporary 24-25, New Delhi, September 1977 - April 1978, p. 34).

Related Articles

View all
View all

More from South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art

View All
View All