"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, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 1996, p.15)
Ram Kumar returned to India soon after independence and his works from the decade of his return are heavy with Modernist influences. He was influenced by artists Courbet, Rouault, Edward Hopper and Kathe Kollwitz and his works reverberate with a sense of depression and loss.
This work from 1958 belongs to Ram Kumar's early figurative phase, it was painted while the artist was living in France at around the same time as his contemporaries S.H. Raza and Akbar Padamsee. Ram Kumar was witness to strong feelings of disillusionment and alienation in those around him. The figures in his works from this period reflect these concerns that stemmed largely from the trials of urban living in a "city environment circumscribed by the constrictions of urban society and motivated by conflicts which ensue from dense population, unemployment, artificial relationships." (R. Bartholomew, 'Attitudes to the Social Condition: Notes on Ram Kumar', Lalit Kala Contemporary 24-25, New Delhi, 1981, p. 31.)
Although the man in the work appears forlorn and isolated, he is linked to the cityscape around him through a consistently somber palette. The unnatural posture of his body is echoed in the half constructed city in the background that communicate a sense of despair and hopelessness. The man that appears in Ram Kumar's paintings is "desolate and hollow within, despite all his manifest pretensions to identify himself with the petit bourgeoisie. The towering monstrous townscape only intensifies his wretchedness." (S.A. Krishnan, 'Editorial', Lalit Kala Contemporary 24-25, New Delhi, 1978, p. 4.)
The figure is not a specific individual; rather, he symbolizes the state of the human condition, "eloquent of a total aggregate oppressive reality of which they were separate and private manifestations." (R. Bartholomew, 'Attitudes to the Social Condition: Notes on Ram Kumar', Lalit Kala Contemporary 24-25, New Delhi, 1981, p. 32.).
Of immense historical significance, this seminal work of Ram Kumar's figurative phase is short lived, it was a mere two years or so later that Ram Kumar abandoned the human figure in his painting altogether.