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


RAM KUMAR (1924-2018)
signed in Hindi and dated '61' (upper right)
oil on canvas
25 7/8 x 31 1/2 in. (65.7 x 80 cm.)
Painted in 1961
Acquired from Sistina Gallery, Milan, circa 1960s
Private Collection, Brazil
Thence by descent

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Nishad Avari
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Lot Essay

Like his contemporaries, Ram Kumar sought to break away from traditional and academic artistic conventions and create a new modernist idiom that embraced pioneering developments from the West, while keeping India and its complex realities at the core of his practice. In 1960, Kumar travelled to Benares to sketch his impressions and experiences of the famed holy city on the banks of the River Ganges. Speaking about the experience several years later, he recalled, “I had gone to Benares for the first time [...] Every sight was like a new composition, a still life artistically organized to be interpreted in colors. 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. I could feel a new visual language emerging from the depths of an experience” (Artist statement, G. Gill ed., Ram Kumar: A Journey Within, New Delhi, 1996, p. 89).

The present lot, painted in 1961, a year after the artist’s first visit to Benares, commemorates the transformative experience he had there, now considered the most pivotal moment in the development of his artistic career. Abandoning the figurative style he was known for at the time, Kumar began exploring abstraction in “the mood and sensation of the landscape” (R. Bartholomew, ‘Ram Kumar’s Hallmark of Maturity’, Richard Bartholomew, The Art Critic, Noida, 2012). In doing so, Kumar was able to “emphasize the nullification of humanity, and to deploy architecture and landscape as metaphors articulating cultural and psychological fragmentation, the bandage of an imposed destiny that strangled the will to liberation and self-knowledge” (R. Hoskote, ‘The Poet of the Visionary Landscape’, Ram Kumar: A Journey Within, New Delhi, 1996, p. 37).

In J. Swaminathan’s words, “What he paints now is not what the eye sees in the ancient city, it is rather the response of the soul to the visual impacts” (J. Swaminathan, Ram Kumar: A Journey Within, New Delhi, 1996, p. 73). Freed of the constraints of traditional architectural conventions, the present lot portrays the riverbanks of Benares in a proto-Cubist style. The topographic landscape is broken up into fragments, with geometric structures pieced together at odd angles to simplify their form. Kumar’s memories of the holy city also seep into his monochromatic palette and impasto application of paint, with brown and green hues reminiscent of the muddy banks of the River Ganges.

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