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Saffronart celebrates - Indian Modernists

Celebrating India's Modernists, Saffronart's September Sale brings a heady mix of artists with their complementing pieces of aesthetic wonder

Saffronart will celebrate India's Progressives with a heady sale at The Oberoi in Delhi, on September 19. The sale features 69 works of historical significance by India's foremost Modernists. Among them is S H Raza's Village en Provence, a magnificent six-foot-long panoramic view of the south of France, painted in 1957, a year after Raza won the prestigious Prix de la Critique award and a decade after the Progressive Artists' Group was formed. Estimated at INR 4 – 6 crores (USD 571,430 – 857,145), this work is a unique and rare format for the artist and demonstrates the significant shift in his style – which led him to redefine the course of Indian Modernism, becoming one of the most influential artists of the post-Independence era.

Padamsee's Portrait

However, the stunning statement in the brilliance of creation is a rare profile of a woman by the brilliant Sanskrit scholar and Metascape artist Akbar Padamsee. His masterpiece – an Untitled (Head of a Woman) estimated at INR 1 – 1.5 crores (USD 142,860 – 214,290) was painted in 1952, the same year he won the third prize in the Journal D'Arte competition for a similar work, it is an exceptional example of Padamsee's early explorations with the figure. The beauty of this work is the clarity of features, the darkness of the palette and the poignancy of expression.

Gaitonde's Abstract

The wine coloured abstraction 1975 Untitled by the friend of the Progressives, V S Gaitonde, is yet another riveting work. Estimated at INR 15 – 20 crores (USD 2.2 – 2.9 million), this elegant work in deep colour tones merges Gaitonde's interest in Zen Buddhism with the principles of calligraphy. It is an amalgam of meditative moorings and a silent melancholia which was rooted in the principles of gravitas and solitude.

Souza and Raza

Stunning in terms of technique and the effect of humble pastels is Souza's Still Life in Green, with a series of objects and thin pastel lines creating a charismatic choreography. Among the few Raza works, it is the two early Raza works of the 1940s that are charming and deeply insightful in terms of his early techniques and love for spiritual spaces in his idea of landscapes with people. In a Forest and Temple Interior are both works of sheer splendour done in the early Western impressionist style with loose lithe strokes.

Ram Kumar

Among landscapes, none can hold a candle to the gentle quiet soul Ram Kumar. His work of 1961 is a tranquil landscape that venerates the tightly knit houses of Varanasi that had become his signature in the 1960s. Critic Ranjit Hoskote wrote: "Over the late 1950s, Ram Kumar shifted away from these melancholy evocations, and towards landscapes in which he explored the archetypal presence of Varanasi, Hinduism's most sacred city: a site of acute polarities, a place at once of dying and rebirth, grief and celebration. In Varanasi, where religion and corruption flourish interwoven, where the zones of faith and torment intersect, he found a potent symbol by which to denote human suffering under the tyranny of putrefying social customs."

During this phase, Ram Kumar abandoned figuration altogether. By banishing the figure from his kingdom of shadows, the artist was able to emphasise the nullification of humanity and to deploy architecture and landscape as metaphors articulating cultural and psychological fragmentation, the bondage of an imposed destiny that strangled the will to liberation and self-knowledge. "Ram Kumar addressed himself to the formal aberrations of mismatched planes, jamming the horizontal perspective against top views inspired by site-mapping and aerial photography, and locking the muddy, impasto-built riverbank constructions into a Cubist geometrical analysis. Gradually, the architecture drained away from his canvasses: society itself passed from his concerns, until, during the late 1960s, his paintings assumed the character of abstractionist hymns to nature. "

Satish Gujral's Sculpture

Satish Gujral's wooden sculpture is at once a blend of India's mythology and his brilliance at bringing in different mythic metaphors into his sculptural language. Created out of oil on burnt wood, with leather, cowrie shells and ceramic beads on plyboard, this work is an abstract representation of deities – interspersed with vermillion and gold colours. He explores the spatial elements of depth and texture through a unique technique and his multifaceted, contemporary sensibilities.

Rustic Rhythms

Going by the power of rustic rhythms that can draw you into their maw are two early works – Jamini Roy's Untitled Lord Krishna and B Prabha's canvas of two fisherwomen in conversation with fish in their hands. While Jamini Roy's Lord Krishna in dark hues is a delightful composition, Prabha's work is an attractive study of the rural idyll.

Uma Nair

Uma Nair

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