Lot 129
  • 129

Jehangir Sabavala

250,000 - 300,000 USD
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  • Jehangir Sabavala
  • The City-II
  • Signed and dated 'Sabavala' 99' lower left
  • Oil on canvas 
  • 45 x 59⅞ in. (114.4 x 152.5 cm.)
  • Painted in 1999


Acquired in 2000 


R. Hoskote, The Crucible of Painting: The Art of Jehangir Sabavala, Eminence Designs Pvt. Ltd. Mumbai, 2005, illustration pp. 172- 173 


There are small fly spots present across the surface and very minor discolorations to the pigment are visible under close scrutiny. Minor wear is present along the edges of the painting and a pinhole sized spot of loss is visible in the lower right quadrant. Two small white accretions are also present in the lower right corner on the building. This painting is in very good condition, as viewed.
"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. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The landscape has been a constant feature throughout Jehangir Sabavala's career. Though it has been interwoven with other phases that include academic portraiture, still-lifes, and religious compositions, the landscape remains central. 'I observe an object or a landscape to which I intuitively respond. I analyse it to find the myriad tones that make up its color. I may see ten or more shades in the grey-blue or slate jade of the sea on a particular day. I make notes of these nuances – of the time of day the mood, the season – and they enter my paintings in combinations that are unpredictable.' (R. Hoskote,  Pilgrim, Exile, Sorcerer: The Painterly Evolution of Jehangir Sabavala, Eminence Designs Pvt. Ltd., Bombay, 1998, p. 79)
Although predominantly discussing vistas of the natural landscape, these words also gracefully sum up the essence of the theme of the town or city, which Sabavala painted rarely but still produced under various interpretations. In this version, the artist beautifully echoes the confluence of nature and man. Sabavala is known to ‘use the architect’s devise of the exploded view and the photographic techniques of the close-up and the aerial view, to re-define, not only his subjects, but also his form.’ (Limited Edition Serigraphs: Jehangir Sabavala - The Complete Collection, p. 48)
This work escalates in Sabavala’s archetypal parallel layers: the cumulonimbus cloud plumes becoming gradually infused with the richness of the setting sun, amongst the smoggy backdrop of downtown Bombay. The artist’s obsession with the sky found in many works is also evident here, where its vastness dominates the canvas and shows how the high-rise urban architecture is comparatively dwarfed; a reference to the power of nature over man. The vibrant hues of yellow and ochre are masterfully combined so that the canopy of cloud and sky occupy separate planes and present an ‘exploded view’ of the landscape.
Ranjit Hoskote says, 'Sabavala is very particular about how he views a city; Rome, for instance, is a city of architectural groupings, while Paris grows essentially out of its vistas.' (R. Hoskote, The Crucible of Painting: The Art of Jehangir Sabavala, Eminence Designs Pvt. Ltd., Mumbai, 2005, p. 57) He returned home to India in 1951 after a stint in Europe, a newly post-colonial country, to 'address his country of birth afresh and learn to negotiate with it in language of images that he had yet to learn.' (ibid.) Sabavala in this period had been deeply captivated by how the human presence had reshaped the natural world through settlement and dwelling. In this work he portrays his stylized representations of skyscrapers, which now obstruct the previously unbroken vista of the heavens and sea that he once enjoyed from his studio. Here the Bombay skyline is evocative of the ephemeral human existence when juxtaposed with the boldness of the sun’s perennial cycle.
Commenting on Sabavala’s work of this period, Hoskote notes, 'Sabavala’s art derives its crucial tension from the dialectic between the actual and the idealized... The principal device by which Sabavala transmutes and idealizes the forms of nature in his paintings is a crystalline geometry, which dissolves bodies, objects and topographies, and re-constitutes them as prismatic structures.' (ibid., pp. 176-77) What is fascinating here is the variety of surfaces and textures, he is able to achieve. He crafts luminous effects of light, illusion and movement by way of his dexterous rendition of fractured cubist planes and colors which rouse an impressionist freshness. This work is a fine example of Sabavala’s mastery in creating a painterly manifestation that is not only empathetic to the textures of a local ethos but also in harmony with international idioms of art making.
'In [Sabavala’s] quest for [the] sublime – austere, geometricizing stylization, opulent, sensuous understanding of color – optimal balance between abstraction and representation – summation of different streams poured into his works.' (R. Hoskote, Pilgrim, Exile, Sorcerer: The Painterly Evolution of Jehangir Sabavala, Eminence Designs Pvt. Ltd., Bombay, 1998, p. 99)