Coups de Coeur: The Guy and Helen Barbier Family Collection

Coups de Coeur: The Guy and Helen Barbier Family Collection

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 3. RAM KUMAR | Untitled (Varanasi I) .

RAM KUMAR | Untitled (Varanasi I)

Auction Closed

June 10, 01:39 PM GMT


150,000 - 200,000 GBP

Lot Details



1924 - 2018

Untitled (Varanasi I) 

Oil on canvas

Signed, dated and inscribed 'Ram Kumar 81 / 49 x 65' on reverse 

124.7 x 163.8 cm. (49 ⅛ x 64 ½ in.)

Painted in 1981 

Acquired directly from the artist in New Delhi, 1982

R. Cornu ed., Coups de Coeur, Geneva, 1987, illustration p. 77

“The first contact with Varanasi was very awe inspiring. The humanity was tremendous, vastness. Old women with heads shaved, pilgrims, … We were sketching, but then I thought that the humanity was such an important part in Varanasi, so it is better to eliminate it, because I would never be able to do justice to it. And so I took out the people.” (R. Kumar in interview with N. Tuli, ‘Ram Kumar’, The Flamed Mosaic, Indian Contemporary Painting, Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd., Ahmedabad, p. 365)

Unlike previous depictions of Varanasi by British artists in pre-independence India who present an Orientalist vision of a holy city filled with pilgrims, priests and temples, Ram Kumar presents a more personal internalised vision of the city. ‘It is as if he decides to give up on man and his social fate, and tries to find his own solitary path towards vision. The quest is hard and long. In the city landscapes he paints over these two decades, empty houses, which seem to collide with each other, are scratched out of black restless lines on brown and grey backgrounds. There is no sky to lighten the melancholy and no trees to break the monotony of stone and earth. Even Varanasi, which he paints obsessively, is not a city of pilgrims, priests, temples and lights, but a city which is slowly sinking into primeval mud.' (A. Bhalla, Introductory Essay, The Sea and Other Stories by Ram Kumar, Shimla, 1997, p. xv)

The current lot is a characteristic example of the shift in his style - where he has applied cubism to the architectural forms of the holy city. 'There is a spatial quality in the recent painting (1970s and 80s), a sense of flight, of movement, and there is an aerial perspective (sometimes a series of perspectives), and it seems that the painter is looking at landscape in a number of ways and from different angles and points of view. Everything from the past is there. There is movement and a kind of bird's-eye view of landscape. Wedges of land and expanses of water; demarcations of land as arid and fertile; febrile rock and luxuriant vegetation; sunlight and shade; moisture; mist. The actors have melted into thin air.' (R. Bartholomew, 'The abstract as a pictorial proposition', Ram Kumar A Journey Within, Vadehra Publishing, New Delhi, 1996, p. 30)