Lot 33
  • 33

Bhupen Khakhar

Estimate
100,000 - 150,000 GBP
Sold
236,750 GBP
bidding is closed

Description

  • Bhupen Khakhar
  • Howard Hodgkin's House on Hand Painted Cushion 
  • Signed and dated in Gujarati lower right
  • Oil on canvas

Provenance

Acquired from Anthony Stokes in 1979

Exhibited

London, Anthony Stokes Ltd. and Hester van Royen Gallery, Bhupen Khakhar - Paintings, 20 June - 14 July 1979

Catalogue Note

In Howard Hodgkin's House on Hand Painted Cushion from 1979, Bhupen Khakhar depicts the famous British painter’s Wiltshire home during one of his extended stays in England. In 1976, Khakhar made his very first trip abroad facilitated by a cultural exchange program by the Indian government which took him to USSR, Yugoslavia, Italy and the United Kingdom. In the UK, Khakhar stayed with Hodgkin as his guest. In 1979, he returned to the UK, this time as an artist-in-residence at the Bath Academy of Art in Corsham. This prestigious stint was elicited at the behest of Hodgkin. Khakhar lived with Hodgkin again this time for six months, teaching at Bath once a week.
This is possibly one of the few times; this iconic work is being seen in the public eye, having being hidden in a private English collection ever since its creation. It was exhibited in Khakhar’s first foreign solo exhibition at the Anthony Stokes and Hester van Royen Galleries, London on 20th June, 1979. Anthony Stokes, an Englishman who at the time had a small gallery in Covent Garden, first encountered Khakhar’s work in Howard Hodgkin’s home in 1978. Immediately drawn to this artist, he concocted a trip to India with the help of a friend, Teresa Gleadowe, then an Exhibition Officer at the British Council. In January 1979, along with a fellow art dealer, Hester van Royen, Stokes visited India to survey the contemporary scene there possibly to make an exhibition later in the year.
Reminiscing the trip, Stokes has said, ”Hester van Royen and I visited twenty or so artist’s studious in India and most of the few commercial galleries there. The contemporary art scene was, let’s say, in an early stage of development. But a handful of artists lived well from their work…Many had attended art school abroad and had returned to practice in India. Generally, their aesthetics were too complex for my narrow vision, showing signs of both Indian tradition and western influence. Right or wrong, we felt most work would translate awkwardly in London. We decided to show Bhupen, simultaneously, at both galleries.” (A. Stokes, ‘B. Khakhar,’ Grosvenor Galleries, London, March 2013, p.9) This exhibition was a hallmark in Khakhar’s career as it allowed him to engage with the UK arts scene and in turn steered him towards future exhibitions with the Knoedler Galleries (1983) and Kapil Jariwala galleries (1995). Correspondingly the time in England turned out to be transformative for Khakhar. He found himself in an environment where homosexuality is accepted which gave him a much-needed freedom.  Khakhar became the first Indian artist to freely disclose his sexual orientation through his work.
"The …works made in England were Howard Hodgkin's House on Hand Painted Cushion (1979), Wiltshire House at Night (1979), Joe Hope and Mary Hope at Box (1979) and a glass painting Butcher’s Shop in London (1979).” (ibid., p. 7) This work is special in Khakhar’s oeuvre as it is amongst his first painted outside India.
Since the mainstay of Khakhar’s subject matter are his physical surroundings and the social fabric around them, it makes it even more novel in his legacy to see these works which depict pictorial references from places which were new to him. As the title indicates, this is a view of his host Howard Hodgkin’s home in Chippenham, a small countryside market town in Wiltshire surrounded by woodlands at a prominent crossing of the River Avon. The grasslands, rolling hills and the river share a direct likeness to the actual landscape. Stylistically the landscape reflects his penchant towards Indian miniatures and Nathdwara narrative Pichhwais in its lush depiction of foliage. It can also be attributed to Khakhar’s ardent zeal over Henri Rousseau’s works. In Rousseau’s portrayal of his jungle scenes, each leaf and tree is given utmost care and detail, as in the case of this current painting. The colour combination of the lapis lazuli blue with the luscious emerald green is characteristic of Khakhar and has been seen in many works of this time.
Eminent critic, Geeta Kapur articulates, “The paintings from 1969 begin to be different. There is a greater personalization of his sources and the deliberately borrowed popular idiom begins to be infused with a strange melancholic mood…In these paintings, one of the major concerns of Bhupen is with pictorial space. He moves away from a two-dimensional diagrammatic space towards a ‘landscape space.’ But this is by no means naturalistic – the landscape is schematized and ornamented. This tendency suggests two indigenous references: the actual landscaping of provincial parks (and the way these are represented by naïve artists in pictures and illustrations) and secondly, the treatment of Indian landscape in certain schools of miniature painting (especially Kishangarh and Kangra).... Bhupen’s environments have a melancholic aspect and they can also have a slightly sordid aspect.” (G. Kapur, In Quest of Identity: Art & Indigenism in Post-Colonial Culture with Special Reference to Contemporary Indian Painting, Vrishchik Publication, Baroda, 1971, p. 59)
Khakhar’s first experience in the UK at this time was braving the winter of the region. The subjects he dwelled on were harsh weather, portraits of people who were isolated in their surroundings and consumed by their professions. This current work thus takes its place with other works such as The Weatherman  and Man in Pub , both painted in 1979.  By choosing to not paint any figures in this work, Khakhar heightened and illustrated the solitude of his physical and social surroundings.
Howard Hodgkin's House on Hand Painted Cushion also stands to testify the bond between the two artists, Hodgkin and Khakhar. Hodgkin was in many ways his mentor and in some ways his liberator. Hosting Khakhar in England at various times in the late 1970s, finding him teaching positions and advocating for his works with galleries and museums, Hodgkin helped Khakhar to expand his horizons: his art seemed to become freer, looser, funnier and unflinchingly honest. It was Howard Hodgkin’s friendship and encouragement that may have sparked Khakhar’s recognition as one of India’s greatest 20th century artists. 
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