This early canvas is a fine example of the exquisite melancholic paintings loaded with symbolism and executed by Ganesh Pyne in his prime years.
Like several of Pyne’s paintings, this too is a scene of the night. The canvas is divided into three alternate horizontal strips of light and shade. Emerging from the murky background of blues is the figure of a young girl with a crown; a partial moon and a fountain, set alight in a glow of their own. Light emanates from an undefined source not only in the fountain and the moon but also the periphery of the water shining in the foreground. It rests finally on the face of the girl who is rendered in a ghost-like fashion foreshadowing Pyne’s obsession with death and lore.
Pyne’s use of archetypal symbols allows the viewer to read the multi-layered connotations within his works. The symbol of the fountain entered Pyne’s oeuvre via Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini’s cinema. “It came from a film by Fellini, La Dolce Vita. Suddenly when I was watching the film it struck, that possibly a fountain could be a life-cycle symbol, because the source of water is the same; the water gushes out again and again it comes back to the source. So I took it as a very significant symbol of the life-cycle” (G. Pyne in conversation with N. Tuli, The Flamed Mosaic: Indian Contemporary Painting, The Tuli Foundation and Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd., Ahmedabad, 1997, p. 358).
Pyne was an intensely private person and his human figures tend to be solitary, introspective beings. In the current work the girl wears a crown, another motif that Pyne often returned to, mostly to bring forth the vainness of power and responsibility. But her purpose is ambiguous. “He often portrays a young girl, who is an epitome of innocence… There is an ambiguity about the conversation which seems to highlight worldly experience counterpoised with innocence” (E. Datta, Ganesh Pyne: His Life and Times, Centre for International Modern Art, Calcutta, 1998, p. 53).
It was in the 1960s that Pyne began experimenting with tempera to perfect his grasp over chiaroscuro, modeling and texturing of the painted surface. His early experiments with indigenous powder pigments and a variety of binding agents allowed him to develop a range of ethereal and opulent effects. Light serves an emblematic purpose in the work of Ganesh Pyne. Ranjit Hoskote explains, “tempera gave Pyne both crispness of line and a sense of depth, the necessary illusion of volume as well as a sense of idyllic lightness….He is a master of patterning… This is how he controls the emotional chaos and the heart-breaking melancholia of his subject matter…The importance of shadows in Pyne’s art also means that it is attended by a basic ambivalence. We are never sure whether the female figure before us is a goddess or a succubus, a benevolent nymph or a sinister guardian of the waters. Pyne’s images occupy the space of dream, the state of trance; and yet each of these paintings is like a journal entry, partly shared and partly withheld: the artist invites the viewer to play the game of understanding, to participate in the action of the painting and decode its significance without reducing it to explanation" (R. Hoskote, “A Pilgrim in the Dominion of Shadows: Reflections in the Art of Ganesh Pyne,” Ganesh Pyne: A Pilgrim in the Dominion of Shadows, Galerie 88, Kolkata, 2005, p. 13- 16).