Among Pakistan’s most significant figurative painters, Jamil Naqsh remained preoccupied with a few main subjects and themes over the course of his career, most notably female figures, horses and pigeons or doves. While the artist’s female forms were often inspired by his companion and muse of almost 50 years, Najmi Sura, the doves he painted recall the birds that used to fly through the windows of his ancestral home in Kairana, Uttar Pradesh. After leaving India as a child, Naqsh studied at the Mayo School of Arts and Craft (now the National College of Arts) in Lahore, under the guidance of the modern miniaturist, Ustad Mohammad Sharif. Though he chose not to work in the miniature format himself, Naqsh’s training led him to use calligraphy and human and animal figures as leitmotifs in his oeuvre.
In the present lot, one of the artist’s earliest explorations of the female figure paired with a dove, Naqsh draws on his training and diverse later influences including Cubism in his use of a muted, almost monochromatic palette and fresco-like textured surface. Delicately manipulating shades of blue and grey in mottled layers, Naqsh creates a remarkable background on which his reclining nude seems to shimmer in and out of representation like an apparition. This painting is an exemplar of Naqsh’s “distinctive personal style that influenced his contemporaries. Delicately layered particles of paint created infinitely subtle tones. The female form became a leitmotif; a full-figured, classical form. Juxtaposed with pigeons it was an inspiring coupling, the subject became a point of departure, revealing the artist’s fascination with overlapping, weightless, transparent forms” (S. Naqsh and B. Shehzad, eds., Jamil Naqsh, A Retrospective, Karachi, 2003, p. 39).
Adding to that sense of mystery, the artist has inscribed and then partially painted over a verse of poetry above the figure’s feet, engaging his viewers in a guessing game about his subject’s mood and circumstances. The juxtaposition of the nude with a bird adds yet another layer of meaning to this enigmatic composition, simultaneously endowing it with a sense of melancholia and optimism.
Following an artistic career that spanned six decades, Jamil Naqsh passed away in May 2019. During his lifetime, he received several honors and awards in Pakistan, including the Shakir Ali Award in 1980, the President’s Pride of Performance in 1989 and the prestigious Sitara-i-Imtiaz (Star of Excellence) in 2009. His works have been widely exhibited, and form part of important collections all over the world.