RAM KUMAR (1924-2018)
Untitled (The Night So Void)
signed in Hindi (lower right); further signed 'Ram Kumar' and signed in Hindi (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
3034 x 22 in. (78.1 x 55.9 cm.)
Painted circa 1960s
Gallery Chemould, Mumbai
Bose Pacia, New York
Acquired from the above, circa early 2000s
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Lot Essay

It was with fellow artist Maqbool Fida Husain that Ram Kumar first visited Varanasi in 1960 to sketch his impressions and experiences of the famed holy city on the banks of the River Ganges. In 1996, he recalled, “I had gone to Benaras for the first time about 35 years ago [...] Every sight was like a new composition, a still life artistically organised to be interpreted in colours. It was not merely outward appearances which were fascinating but they were vibrant with an inner life of their own, very deep and profound, which left an everlasting impression on my artistic sensibility. I could feel a new visual language emerging from the depths of an experience." (Artist statement, Ram Kumar: A Journey Within, New Delhi, 1996, p. 89)

This philosophical experience heralded a marked change in Kumar’s work in the early 1960s, perhaps the most significant development over the course of his career. Abandoning his figurative idiom, the artist began to concentrate on what the critic Richard Bartholomew termed "the mood and sensation of the landscape’. (R. Bartholomew, ‘Ram Kumar’s hallmark of maturity", The Times of India, 10 December, 1977) In the present painting, titled The Night So Void, the intricate architecture of the city’s riverbanks and famous ghats appears to float in the ethereal river, its abutting forms almost spilling over into the water, revealing the unique and complex urban grid that fascinated the artist. Using an impressionist artistic device, Kumar represents his personal experience of the city rather than a literal vision of it, with only few traces of representational forms remaining to mirror its joy and melancholy. At once fertile and desolate, these dueling forces and the emotive landscape of Varanasi profoundly resonated with Kumar, described by Bartholomew in 1961 as “a quiet man, a quiet painter, and a painter of the remembrance of things past.” (R. Bartholomew, The Art Critic, New Delhi, 2012, p. 135)

Kumar, also a writer and poet, would persist for over forty years in portraying the complexity of Varanasi in his painting through its timeless architecture and its stark contrasts, particularly that between divinity and mortality, the celebration of life and the rituals of death. He recalls “Why Benares and not some place else? It was at that point in my life, I happened to visit Benares and it was all there before me... Benares' uniqueness lies in its age-old associations and the faith of millions. During my several visits to this city, my effort has been to fathom a little of its mysterious depths which I could interpret in my paintings.” (Artist statement, Ram Kumar: A Journey Within, New Delhi, 1996, p. 191)

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