Untitled (The Visitors)

Untitled (The Visitors)
signed and dated 'Bikash '70' (lower left)
oil on canvas
48 x 48 in. (121.9 x 121.9 cm.)
Painted in 1970
Kunika-Chemould Art Centre, New Delhi
Acquired from the above by Dorothy and Richard Sherwood, 1972

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Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari

Lot Essay

ADVENTURES OF THE HEART AND MIND: The Dorothy and Richard Sherwood Collection

The fine art collection of Dorothy and Richard Sherwood represents a lifetime of travel and discovery, an embrace of global art and artists—and erudition reaching across categories and continents. As pioneering civic leaders in Los Angeles, California, the Sherwoods were visionary thinkers and builders who made an indelible impact on some of the finest arts institutions in the world.

It was Dee Sherwood who first shared her Wellesley art history textbooks with Dick, her high school beau who attended Yale College and then Harvard Law School. Thus began a romantic lifelong exploration of art and culture together.

After serving in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War and marriage to Dee in 1953, Dick won a prestigious Sheldon Traveling Fellowship from Harvard that transported the newlyweds around the world for one year of continuous travel. From Europe to the Middle East to the Indian subcontinent and Asia, they studied new genres and began collecting paintings, drawings, prints and sculpture that stimulated their senses and captured their imaginations.

Following Dick’s Supreme Court clerkship with Justice Felix Frankfurter, the young couple returned to Beverly Hills to build their lives in the community in which they had been raised. Dick joined O’Melveny & Myers, the pedigreed law firm in which he practiced for 38 years, specializing in antitrust, intellectual property and trade. In their exquisite Beverly Hills home, they raised two accomplished children, Elizabeth and Benjamin, both Harvard graduates and Rhodes Scholars.

As pathbreaking patrons of the arts, Dee and Dick were immersed in the dynamic 1960s California art scene and knew many of its leading artists. Their early acquisition of an iconic Berkeley painting by the young Richard Diebenkorn led to a decades-long friendship. David Hockney joined them for festivities in their home and garden, as did the sculptor Robert Graham. Emerging artists, museum curators, art historians and dealers frequented their gatherings. Across decades, the couple devoted their time, prodigious energy and resources to helping build some of the leading cultural institutions in Southern California, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Center Theatre Group.

“Dick Sherwood was an unusually gifted man,” said Franklin D. Murphy, the former chancellor of UCLA who preceded Dick as LACMA president. “To me, with all of his great qualities, the one that stood out the most was his enormous curiosity about a whole range of issues….”

Dee supported LACMA with equal fervor, and served as president of the institution’s Art Museum Council. Today, LACMA’s permanent collection includes numerous works that were brought to the museum through the Sherwoods’ shared leadership and patronage.

As Dick opened his law firm’s practice in Asia, and served as a national leader of the Asia Society, the peripatetic twosome had ample opportunity to learn about art in China, Japan, Korea and further afield. On business trips, Dick was known by partners and younger associates to squeeze in time to visit local artists, collections, galleries and museums—and to take them with him to avant-garde theatrical performances. Dick also served as a member of the Harvard Fogg Art Museum Visiting Committee for many years and built close ties to faculty and curators who inspired further learning and collecting.

The couple’s membership in the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art exposed them to global collectors and new works. They maintained a special focus on the Indian subcontinent and Dick spearheaded the acquisition by LACMA of a major collection of exceptional Indian art that catapulted the museum’s reputation forward.

Over the years, the Sherwoods avidly built their private collection, buying what they loved and living joyously with their art. Pieces often arrived in their home straight from an artist’s easel or directly from a nail in a painter’s studio. Their art ranged across periods and continents including works by Balthus, Picasso, Henry Moore, Stuart Davis, Frank Stella and Wilhelm Hammershoi. And the Sherwoods frequently moved objects around their home so that they could experience them in different settings and have new “conversations” with the works.

On nights and weekends, the couple immersed themselves in art and study. During Dick’s long tenure as President and then Chairman of the LACMA board, they often slipped into the museum after hours through a security entrance and strolled through the galleries, sometimes lying on the floor to train their gazes on art for periods of intense contemplation. This passion for art appreciation was a true joint venture—and their studied eyes grew in sophistication throughout the years.

Many young collectors have described Dee’s and Dick’s influence on their own approach to seeing and collecting fine art. They were admired for studying deeply and buying only what moved them most. The result was a collection of discerning taste and exceptional quality. The masterpieces in their collection reflect their profound connoisseurship, their appreciation of the creators and the creative process, and their great adventures of the heart and mind.

“Bikash Bhattacharjee’s fantasies are the most this-worldly and also other-worldly [...His paintings are of] subjects where the known is seen in an unusual setting; one’s imagination is stimulated or disturbed. Each scene is painted with a loving attention to light, texture and detail. The compositions are very stable, the unreal is cradled in the real, the pictures are the starting point of questions and reveries which linger in the mind.” (J. Appasamy, ‘New Images in Indian Art: Fantasy’, Lalit Kala Contemporary 15, 1973, pp. 6-7)

Following from a series of surrealist mixed media collages and animalistic portraits that the artist executed in the late 1960s, The Visitors, painted in 1970, represents one of Bikash Bhattacharjee’s greatest accomplishments in oil painting, perfectly straddling the realms of reality and fantasy. Scattered throughout the scene are instruments of the artist’s painterly and artistic practice: brushes, palettes, boxes of oil paints and pigments. On closer inspection of this photorealist scene from the artist’s studio, the viewer discovers the apparition of a beautiful woman wearing a sheer blouse and diamond earrings. Superimposed on the woman’s face is a transparent, almost holographic, representation of a bespectacled man rendered in shades of grey. One final element appears behind the phantom figure: the head of a man sporting dark-rimmed glasses. Placed on the shelf above, the head is separated from the female and further detached by the suggestive placement of a pair of scissors dangling dangerously from the shelf. While the two male figures bear a degree of resemblance to the artist, their female companion is not known to the viewer.

Writing about this painting, the artist’s biographer Manasij Majumder notes, “Visit, visitor and visitation recur in the titles of a number of oils of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s [...] For, the creatures conjured up in them can be said to have visited the artist in his most despairing or bitter moments, which were also the most imaginative or visionary moments of his early creative life [...In The Visitors,] the phantom appearance of a woman takes place in the artist’s studio. The studio setting is evoked with minute realistic representation of every object, and so is the woman’s portrait with nothing blurred or amiss in her forceful physical assertion or in the skewed gesture of her bespectacled face. It seems as if two close shots are merged into one frame in a cinematic manner.” (M. Majumder, Close to Events, New Delhi, 2007, p. 123)

This painting represents the zenith of an extraordinarily creative period in the artist’s career, which led to two consecutive Indian National Awards in 1971 and 72. Describing his paintings of the period, the critic Pranabranjan Ray noted Bhattacharjee’s ingenious melding of the real and the surreal. He wrote, “This body of work catapulted Bikash to the front rank of the Indian painters of the time and earned him the sobriquet of surrealist. However, while in some of the works his engagement with the macabre and the mode of visualization can be interpreted as surrealistic, in most of them the turns and twists in the representation of visual reality are too subtle, and the pictorial situation/event too near the phenomenally possible to be called surrealistic. He would never stray very far from where his work would start to lose reference to phenomenal reality. His work remained an objectification of his reflection on experienced reality to which he never failed to refer.” (P. Ray, ‘Re-Visiting Bikash Bhattacharjee’s Painting’, Close to Events, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 92-93)

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