TYEB MEHTA (1925-2009)
TYEB MEHTA (1925-2009)
TYEB MEHTA (1925-2009)
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TYEB MEHTA (1925-2009)


TYEB MEHTA (1925-2009)
signed and dated 'Tyeb 61' (lower left); further titled, signed and dated 'FIGURE / Tyeb / 61' and bearing Bear Lane Gallery label (on the reverse)
oil on board
35 ½ x 25 ½ in. (90.2 x 64.8 cm.)
Painted in 1961
Bear Lane Gallery, Oxford
Acquired from the above by Mrs H.A. Verney, 1962
Sotheby's New York, 20 September 2005, lot 210
Acquired from the above
Tyeb Mehta; Catalogue of Paintings and Drawings, exhibition catalogue, Oxford, 1962, unpaginated (listed as Orange Figure)
Oxford, Bear Lane Gallery, Tyeb Mehta; Catalogue of Paintings and Drawings, 31 October - 26 November, 1962

Brought to you by

Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari Specialist, Head of Department

Lot Essay

Tyeb is a painter among painters. His roots draw substance from both East and West; and he is, himself, of neither or of both.
-G.M. Butcher, 1962

Tyeb Mehta’s early encounters with European Modernism were a watershed moment in his career. They were so impactful, that in 1959, he moved with his wife Sakina to settle in London where he stayed for five years. Supporting himself by working in a morgue by day, Mehta would spend as much time as possible viewing the work of European artists in the city’s great galleries and museums. Reminiscing about his formative years, he noted, “In London, in the 1960s, my wife Sakina and I would visit the National Gallery in the lunch break and sit in front of the Old Masters” (R. Hoskote, Tyeb Mehta, Ideas, Images, Exchanges, New Delhi, 2005, p. 356).

It was during his stay in England that Mehta’s style underwent a radical shift; his paintings came to be characterized by a dynamic, visceral style dominated by a muted and frequently monochromatic palette and thick textured impasto. The present lot, simply titled Figure, was painted in 1961 and exhibited at Mehta’s first ever European solo show at Bear Lane Gallery in Oxford a year later. The celebrated British critic, George Butcher, was so impressed seeing his works in London that he wrote the introduction to the artist’s 1962 catalogue and mentioned Mehta in several newspaper reviews as well. Butcher noted that the artist “uses oil paint as though born to it. He constructs his image with the intense logic of a de Stael, of a Cezanne […] if there was such a thing as an Ecole de Londres [London School], Tyeb would be one of its foundation stones” (G. Butcher, Tyeb Mehta; Catalogue of Paintings and Drawings, Oxford, 1962, unpaginated). Butcher continued to lavish praise upon Mehta writing in a review the same year that, “He re-creates from the ‘inside-out’ […] the main composite result of a struggle to make the brush and the palette knife as eloquent at each moment along the way, as the growth of an embryo in the womb” (G. Butcher, ‘Two Indian Painters’, The Guardian, 24 June 1962).

Works like Figure, painted during Mehta’s early period, show the modern master at his most expressive through the palpable tension they create between the melancholic central subjects and the painterly atmosphere they occupy. Art critic Yashodhara Dalmia describes this phenomenon noting, “The rendering of colours, of equal tonality and applied in verisimilitude, provided a cohesion, which would yet seem like a fierce interlocking. A compressed battle would ensue also between the figure and the space surrounding it, interpenetrative as two entities, which would coalesce to form an independent relationship, creating a new interpretative reality” (Y. Dalmia, Tyeb Mehta, Triumph of Vision, New Delhi, 2011, p. 5).

In Figure, Mehta combines browns and bronzes with orange, embodying the work with a vibrant luminosity. His lone androgynous subject, seated in contemplation, is stylized with no discernable features. This is a characteristic of Mehta’s works from the period, owing to his keen interest in the human condition that was inspired by an encounter with the writings of French Existentialists including Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, André Gide and André Malraux on his first trip to Europe in 1954. Mehta’s subsequent interrogations of fate and the frailty of the human condition, clearly illustrated in Figure, proved a lifelong obsession, coloring all of his work in the decades to come despite the stylistic evolution of his oeuvre.

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