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Untitled (Three Women)

Untitled (Three Women)
signed and dated in Hindi (lower right)
oil on canvas
45 x 42 in. (114.3 x 106.7 cm.)
Painted in 1972
Taj Art Gallery, Mumbai
Acquired from the above, circa early 1970s
Thence by descent
Mumbai, Taj Art Gallery, early 1970s

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Lot Essay

For well over half a century, Bendre has time and again startled artists and art lovers with his innovative use of colour, his sensitivity to the play of subtle hues in nature, and his ability to transfer them to canvas with unmatched dexterity, whatever the medium.
- Ram Chatterji, 1990

Over the course of his celebrated career, Narayan Shridhar Bendre sustained a profound interest in the depiction of the natural world as well as in communicating his visual experiences of the charm and beauty of life in India, which he felt was often overlooked. Frequently, the artist turned to female figures to explore various facets of rural and urban life in the country and to express joy, an impetus that had become increasingly important to him in the latter half of his career.

In the present lot, painted in 1972, the artist portrays three women, likely from one of the tribal communities in Western India he encountered on his many trips around the country. Although they are dressed in simple saris draped around their necks without blouses, it is clear that they have taken a great effort to look their best. Each woman wears silver bangles on her wrists, intricate beaded necklaces around her neck and delicate white flowers in her hair. Leaning against a nondescript wall in front of what may be a panel or window, their casual postures and distracted looks seem to indicate that they have been waiting a while for the person or event they are expecting.

One of the best examples of the version of Pointillism that Bendre developed in the early 1970s, where he built his images from individually defined pixel-like dots and small horizontal brushstrokes, this painting conveys depth and perspective through finely modulated gradations of color and the gradual elimination of detail. Circumventing the use of lines, Bendre relied on this meticulous application of pigment to define his subjects and their environs. The fact that he lost vision in one eye as a child makes this feat even more impressive. Speaking about his work, the artist noted, “For me, the creative process begins with the blank canvas, by the dabbing of paint on it, the aim being to catch the original impact of the total image conceived. Things are nebulous in the beginning, become clearer by manipulating, by the application of more paint, dabbing, scratching, washing off, repainting till I’m nearer to the original impact” (R. Chatterji, Bendre: The Painter and the Person, Singapore, 1990, p. 63).

Although this style may be described as semi-abstract, Bendre’s departures from naturalism were neither jarring nor distasteful. Rather, they gave louder voice to the unassuming beauty of his subjects, whether villagers in Saurashtra heading to the market or workers on a construction site in Bombay. “Not for him the writhing, twisting forms of agony nor the cult of ugliness. He has never accepted them as essentials in his creative expression. Today, even more than before, he concentrates on the depiction of joy, the charm that the world has to offer to anyone who cares to see it [...] He gives importance to his visual experience, but he does not resort to naturalistic representation. He interprets it on his canvas in his own terms and offers what he has seen and enjoyed. He shuns obsession – any scientific or psychological dogma. He has no message. It is not his business to preach. He only wishes to share with you the joys that the world has in store” (R. Chatterji, Ibid., p. 61).

Acquired in the early 1970s from an exhibition at the gallery of the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay, where Bendre frequently showed his work, the present lot has remained with the same family for close to half a century, across continents and generations. Through its three demure subjects, this painting continues to impart the beauty and pleasure that the artist saw in the world, a perspective that is now perhaps even more relevant and inspiring than it was fifty years ago. As Bendre noted, the meaning of his art to him and to his viewers, would always be paramount. He wrote, “The process [of creation] has purpose and meaning. Meaning to the creator first and to others later [...] Irrespective of beliefs, religious faith and nationality, the whole work appeals to everybody. There is already a lot of misery in this world; I don’t want to add to it. I paint because I derive pleasure from painting and I try to give pleasure to others” (Artist statement, 'My Painting', Ibid., pp. 63-64).

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