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Untitled (Women Picking Fruit)

Untitled (Women Picking Fruit)
signed and dated in Hindi (lower right)
oil on canvas
34 x 38 in. (86.4 x 96.5 cm.)
Painted in 1973
Commissioned from the artist, circa early 1970s
Thence by descent

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Lot Essay

Born in Indore in 1910, Narayan Shridhar Bendre was a distinguished pioneer of modern Indian art and also an influential teacher and mentor to several well-known Indian artists. Bendre’s initial exposure to art and art education was at the newly founded State Art School in Indore, as part of its first class. As a student there, he was taught that the close observation of nature, rather than theories memorized from books, was the best way to learn how to paint. Students “were taught to observe the behaviour of light at different hours of the day and night and were made to work even in the light of the hurricane lanterns they carried [...] This was their introduction to an impressionistic palette that almost discarded black. They also became conscious of the fact that line did not exist in nature – it was an invention of the artist for the purpose of delineating form” (R. Chatterji, Bendre: The Painter and the Person, Singapore, 1990, p. 8).

After travelling around the country, completing a Government Diploma in Art in Bombay, and winning admiration and prizes for his early work, Bendre embarked on a career as an educator and arts administrator at Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda in 1950. Apart from teaching, he served as Head of the Painting Department there, and then as Dean of Faculty from 1959. It was in Baroda that the artist veered away from the strictures of Academic Realism, championing the modernist idioms of Post-Impressionism, Expressionism and Cubism instead, after encountering these styles in the museums he visited on his travels to the United States and Europe. “He felt convinced representation was not the ultimate goal for an artist. Emphasis had to be laid on ultra-sensorial factors. To achieve this, it was essential to arrive at an integration of all forms, an inter-relation of chosen elements. And for this, distortion was essential – no movement or action was possible without it” (R. Chatterji, Ibid., p. 41).

Bendre left Baroda after retiring from teaching in 1966 and returned to Bombay, where he would live for the rest of his life. This move also marked his return to figurative subject matter after a brief interlude with abstraction. Even while experimenting with styles and techniques like Cubism, however, his choice of subjects remained closely linked to his surroundings and to India as a whole. More specifically, the artist turned to painting the rural Indian women he had encountered on his travels around the country, engaged in various household, work-related and leisurely activities.

This 1973 painting, commissioned directly from Bendre by an expatriate family after discovering his work at an exhibition at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay, features two tribal women gathering fruit. The composition, with its masterful handling of light and color, underscores Bendre’s creative prowess following his successful integration of the various strands of his practice into a confident, unique visual vocabulary. Drawing on his early instruction on line, light and color in nature as well as his encounter with abstraction a little later, the artist pares down the figures and their surroundings to their simplest forms. Eliminating perspective, outline and detail, apart from the fine mesh baskets at the women’s feet, Bendre relies on his subtle palette and expert manipulation of light and shade to express the beauty of this everyday scene. Using pale pastel tones to create an impressionistic, unfocused background, the artist cleverly directs the viewer’s attention exclusively to the two simply dressed yet quietly graceful women.

Summing up the impetus behind his creative practice, Bendre noted, “I belong to this earth. I walk on this earth. I eat on this earth, and I don’t think of anything but this earth. Things here are like a library to me. I’m not interested in anything else. Because of this, I don’t create dream paintings. Whatever I have experienced in this world, I paint. Other things are not important to me” (Artist statement, Drawings and Paintings, New Delhi, 1992, unpaginated).

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