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

Untitled (The Head)

RAM KUMAR (1924-2018)
Untitled (The Head)
signed in Hindi (upper right)
oil on canvas
14 1/8 x 14 1/8 in. (35.9 x 35.9 cm.)
Painted circa late 1950s
Kumar Gallery, New Delhi
Acquired from the above by Morton Pruner, 1960
Pichon & Noudel-Deniau, Cannes, 3 May 2019, lot 173
Acquired from the above

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Nishad Avari
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Lot Essay

"As a young artist, Ram Kumar was captivated by, or rather obsessed with, the human face because of the ease and intensity with which it registers the drama of life. The sad, desperate, lonely, hopeless or lost faces, which fill the canvases of his early period, render with pathos his view of the human condition" (S. Lal, Ram Kumar, A Journey Within, New Delhi, 1996, p. 15).

Ram Kumar's figurative paintings of the 1950s represent the artist's reaction to the events he witnessed upon his return to India from a short stint in Paris. There is a sense of elegant melancholia and silent suffering in Kumar’s rendering of his subjects in these paintings, which borrows from European influences such as modernist Amadeo Modigliani’s haunting portraits which Kumar saw first-hand during his time in Paris. Modigliani also painted portraits of ordinary men, women and children, who often appeared lonely and despondent, with elongated necks and vacant eyes. In the present lot, Kumar takes this further still, using a palette dominated by deep crimson to portray his subject and background. Creating a striking visual effect, the artist almost abstracts the central protagonist, making it appear as if the figure is dissolving into obscurity. His subject's thin elongated neck supports an impossibly oval androgynous face that cranes ever so gently to the right, as if in quiet resignation, expressing a silent sigh.

Kumar was acutely aware of his urban surroundings in Delhi, and the pervading sense of disillusionment and alienation he sensed in those around him. The present lot was likely painted towards the end of the 1950s, when Kumar began stripping his figures of all extraneous details, conflating street dwellers and the urban middle-class against almost abstract landscapes. Untitled (Head) illustrates this turn to abstraction. Though very much part of the artist’s early figurative phase, Kumar’s innovative use of color and form here anticipate the seismic shift in his style towards abstract landscapes that would come to dominate his oeuvre a few years later.

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