Lot 9
  • 9

Tyeb Mehta

800,000 - 1,200,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Tyeb Mehta
  • Untitled
  • Signed and dated 'Tyeb '82' and further inscribed 'Herwitz Collection' on reverse
  • Oil on canvas
  • 69 by 47 in. (169.5 by 118.7 cm.)


Contemporary Indian Paintings from the Chester and Davida Herwitz Collection, Sotheby's New York, 5 December 2000, lot 97


New York, The Grey Art Gallery and Study Center, New York University, Contemporary Indian Art from the Chester and Davida Herwitz Family Collection, December 1985 - January 1986

Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, Center Art Gallery, Bucknell University, February - March 1986

Burlington, Vermont, Robert Hull Fleming Museum, University of Vermont, April - May 1986


Sokolowski, T., Contemporary Indian Art from the Chester and Davida Herwitz Family Collection, The Grey Art Gallery, New York, 1985, p. 59 illus.

Hoskote, R., Tyeb Mehta: Ideas, Images, Exchanges, New Delhi, 2005, p.126 illus.


Very good overall condition. Faint buckle in canvas upper left quadrant.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Tyeb Mehta and his contemporaries began their careers at a time of great political change in India. Independence brought with it the development of a nation-state that strove for a new identity and was free from colonial influence. Like his contemporaries Mehta's concern at the time was the growth of an indigenous Modernist movement. During this period Mehta and his peers had very limited exposure to international art, relying on the few reproductions they found in art books. This resulted in a number of young Indian artists leaving for Europe to further their careers. From 1959, Mehta based himself and his family in London for five years where he was exposed to Abstract Expressionism which informed his early canvases. On his return to Bombay in 1964, 'Tyeb found himself re-entering a courageous and optimistic country caught up in the grand Nehruvian drama of intellectual regeneration and industrial modernisation, clearer in its economic and political than in its social and cultural manifestations.' (Ranjit Hoskote, Tyeb Mehta: Ideas Images Exchanges, New Delhi, 2005, p.12). 

Mehta was awarded a Rockefeller scholarship in 1968 that took him to New York where he came into contact with the work of the American abstract painter Barnett Newman. He greatly admired the way Newman, was able to break up the picture plane by using blocks of pure saturated colour. However unlike Newman Mehta did not wish to abandon the figure from his work. Mehta instead looked to combine the intensity of pure colour within figurative composition. There was a departure from the perspective and tonal variation seen in his earlier expressionist works. The heavy impasto was abandoned in favour of large expanses of solid colour and clean lines. "I became interested in using pure color. Normally brush marks suggest areas of directions. I wanted to avoid all this to bring elements down to such a minimal level that the image alone would be sufficient to speak for itself." (Interview by N.T. Seth, Tyeb Mehta: Ideas, Images, Exchanges, New Delhi, 2005, p. 342).

This new phase of painting brought with it the development of a diagonal form that Mehta used to structure and dissect his canvases. The artist came up with this compositional device to maintain order whilst using different planes of colour within one frame. Before Mehta became a painter, he worked as a film editor's assistant and one can identify within his compositions a cinematic quality. 'Each of Tyeb's paintings acts as a silent movie, in which we see mouths screaming, faces distended in terror, flailing limbs, thrashing wings; but the artist leaves it to us to imagine the horror of sound. These complexities of achievement ensure that Tyeb's art is not simply figurative, but rather, is figural: it does not content itself merely with representing the human form, but navigates between abstraction and conceptual play on the one hand, and the illusionism of representation on the other.' (Ranjit Hoskote, New Delhi, 2005, op.cit., p. 20).

"The human figure has become part of my vocabulary, like a certain way of applying colour or breaking up images. It is a sort of vehicle for me. I am not a minimalist or abstract painter... my work is still expressionist. The human figure is my source, what I primarily react to. But in transferring that image to canvas, I begin to think in terms of modulating the canvas, distributing areas of colour and apportioning space. I put a certain distance between myself as the seer and the canvas as the seen to allow the painting to exist as an entity in its own right." (Interview by N.T. Seth, New Delhi, 2005, op. cit., p. 343).

Throughout his career Mehta's approach to the human figure has centred around the themes of suffering and marginalisation. He witnessed the atrocities that took place during Partition and these scenes became etched in his memory. 'There are chiefly two kinds of figures in Tyeb's iconography: one kind is born of terror, and encompasses his victim types; the other kind is born of of kindred hope and awe, and these are his ambiguous divine/ demoniac figures.' (Ranjit Hoskote, New Delhi, 2005, op. cit., p.16). His art is a contemplation of suffering and shows an empathy with human anguish. Growing up in the Muslim area of Bombay as a member of the the Dawoodi Bohra minority Mehta would have empathised with the marginalised. Identifying with the Muslims who had chosen to stay in India after Partition, caught between two worlds, they were regarded as traitors by the new Islamic homeland of Pakistan and 'unreliable resident aliens by Hindu majoritarian forces in India' (ibid., p. 8).  'It is subliminally mapped over contemporary tragedies such as the marginalization of his own Muslim community within what is designated as a national-secular space.' (Geeta Kapur, 'Dismantled Norms', When was Modernism: Essays on Contemporary Cultural Practice in India, New Delhi, 2000, p. 371).

This work was produced during a renaissance in Mehta's career. Painted one year after Sequence and three years before he produced the famous Santiniketan Triptych currently housed in the NGMA New Delhi, this work possesses a number of parallels that indicate its role as a precursor to the triptych masterpiece. In all three canvases, Mehta has used a lighter palette; in each the figures are placed against a distinctive pastel background. The treatment of the monumental figure in the current painting has compositional similarities to the full-frontal stance seen on the standing figure in the central panel and the ochre-clad figure at the extreme left of the Santiniketan Triptych as well as the walking figure in the left frame of Sequence. In each painting the figures are androgynous in form, there is an indication of breasts but as the artist notes "... I'm not really concerned with the image of a male or female, but with an image which provokes associations of a certain kind which draws the viewer into the canvas. If you concern yourself with male or female images, then you're going into the psyche. Immediately people want to read a story into it. I want to discourage this tangible way of looking at at painting." (Interview by N.T.Seth, New Delhi, 2005, op. cit., p. 343).