ARTIANA – Highlights – Lot 12 – Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art – Online Auction – No Buyer’s Premium – 12-16 March 2020

M.F. Husain’s vision was deeply entrenched in Indian sensibility from the outset of his career. He incorporated local traditions and juxtaposed diverse folk elements, plying numerous sources to present a wide range of themes in his works. In them, he covered the profound and the mundane, but returned time and again to his cultural roots. 

As a conscious artist, Husain looked closely at Indian literature and represented them in his paintings, reconfiguring and recontextualizing them to suit the needs of his time. He borrowed their classical themes and depicted them into his unique visual vocabulary, evolving his art and making it culturally comprehensive in the process.

Premise on the series on lovers, the current work highlights both traditional and contemporary literature featuring well-known characters and beloved stories juxtaposed with modern elements that seem out of place yet pushed the narrative for the artist.

Here, Cupid – the Roman God of love is shown above lovers amid war. The woman is seen waving the white flag of surrender while the man is riding on to battle. Interestingly, Cupid is depicted in blue – alluding to Lord Krishna – the god of compassion, tenderness, and love in Hinduism. 

In this reinterpretation, the artist used bright jewel-toned colors, even coarse lines, and postures from Indian classical sculptures in depicting the characters. These demotic stylistics, folk elements, and vibrant colors have come to characterize Husain’s signature style. 

Attempting to communicate the essence of these stories in simplistic compositions, Husain transformed his protagonists into archetypal figures and depicted them with featureless faces. He stretched their personas and used the immense narrative of the story to convey deeper meaning more than the explicit imagery. By placing them in an abstracted context, they become ambivalent, their purpose extending from straight-forward representation to a more metaphorical suggestion, and thus allowing for pluralistic readings. Ultimately, however, the correct interpretation is of less importance than the characteristic ambiguity of the works.

Auction Catalogue – South Asian Art – ‘Modern and Contemporary’ – March 12 -16, 2020

ARTIANA – Highlights – Lot 13 – Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art – Online Auction – No Buyer’s Premium – 12-16 March 2020

M.F. Husain’s vision was deeply entrenched in Indian sensibility from the outset of his career. He incorporated local traditions and juxtaposed diverse folk elements, plying numerous sources to present a wide range of themes in his works. In them, he covered the profound and the mundane, but returned time and again to his cultural roots. 

As a conscious artist, Husain looked closely at Indian literature and represented them in his paintings, reconfiguring and recontextualizing them to suit the needs of his time. He borrowed their classical themes and depicted them into his unique visual vocabulary, evolving his art and making it culturally comprehensive in the process.

Premised on the series on lovers, the current lot titled ‘Laila Majnu’ is based on the popular Arabic tale “Majnun Layla” about the 7th-century Bedouin poet Qays ibn al-Mullawah and his love, Layla bint Mahdi. In the story, Qays fell madly in love with Layla; in his obsession, he composed numerous poems of love repeatedly mentioning her name and earning him the moniker ‘Majnun,’ meaning crazy. Due to his social standing and reputation, they were ultimately kept apart, driving Majnu to insanity and death. 

The story dubbed as ‘the Romeo and Juliet of the East’ was passed from Arabic to several other languages and has been represented in varied artistic traditions throughout history. In this reinterpretation, Husain depicted Majnu deep in his madness – unkempt, begging for food, and wandering the deserts pining for his love. He used bright jewel-toned colors, even coarse lines, and postures from Indian classical sculptures in depicting the characters. The demotic stylistics, folk elements, and vibrant colors characterize Husain’s signature style. 

Husain attempted to communicate the essence of the story in simplistic composition, transforming his protagonists into archetypal figures and depicting them with featureless faces. He stretched their personas and used the immense narrative of the story to convey deeper meaning more than the explicit imagery. By placing them in an abstracted context, they become ambivalent, their purpose extending from straight-forward representation to a more metaphorical suggestion, and thus allowing for pluralistic readings. Ultimately, however, the correct interpretation is of less importance than the characteristic ambiguity of the works.

Auction Catalogue – South Asian Art – ‘Modern and Contemporary’ – March 12 -16, 2020

ARTIANA – Highlights – Lot 11 – Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art – Online Auction – No Buyer’s Premium – 12-16 March 2020

M.F. Husain’s vision was deeply entrenched in Indian sensibility from the outset of his career. He incorporated local traditions and juxtaposed diverse folk elements, plying numerous sources to present a wide range of themes in his works. In them, he covered the profound and the mundane, but returned time and again to his cultural roots. 

As a conscious artist, Husain looked closely at Indian literature and represented them in his paintings, reconfiguring and recontextualizing them to suit the needs of his time. He borrowed their classical themes and depicted them into his unique visual vocabulary, evolving his art and making it culturally comprehensive in the process.

Premise on the series on lovers, the current work highlights both traditional and contemporary literature featuring well-known characters and beloved stories juxtaposed with modern elements that seem out of place yet pushed the narrative for the artist. Like a still from a movie, a young lover can be seen driving in a Vespa. The man sporting an Errol Flynn mustache is an ode to old Hollywood films that Husain was deeply fond of, and to young love.

In this reinterpretation, the artist used bright jewel-toned colors, even coarse lines, and postures from Indian classical sculptures in depicting the characters. These demotic stylistics, folk elements, and vibrant colors have come to characterize Husain’s signature style. 

Attempting to communicate the essence of these stories in simplistic compositions, Husain transformed his protagonists into archetypal figures and depicted them with featureless faces. He stretched their personas and used the immense narrative of the story to convey deeper meaning more than the explicit imagery. By placing them in an abstracted context, they become ambivalent, their purpose extending from straight-forward representation to a more metaphorical suggestion, and thus allowing for pluralistic readings. Ultimately, however, the correct interpretation is of less importance than the characteristic ambiguity of the works.

Auction Catalogue – South Asian Art – ‘Modern and Contemporary’ – March 12 -16, 2020

ARTIANA – Highlights – Lot 16 – Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art – Online Auction – No Buyer’s Premium – 12-16 March 2020

Lot 16 – F.N. Souza – Still Life With Lamps – 1993 – 24 x 30 in. (61 x 76.2 cm.) – Oil on canvas

The Roman Catholic Church made a huge impact on the upbringing of F.N. Souza, shaping his personal beliefs and his art. He revisited the theme continuously through the years and incorporated most of its elements in his works, including still-lifes, pseudo-saints, and the palette of his landscapes. 

Painted in 1993, Souza explored the tradition of vanitas, a genre of still-life paintings showing the transitory nature of life and the certainty of death, in the current lot. He depicted a skull alongside a variety of lamps aflame to allude to the shortness and fragility of life, using his signature thick black outlines and somber palette. By placing them as if on an altar awaiting their part in some liturgical practice, he instilled a subtle ecclesiastical theme in the work. This depiction and setting, which he initially explored in the 1950s, represent a compositional cornerstone in the artist’s oeuvre.

Auction Catalogue – South Asian Art – ‘Modern and Contemporary’ – March 12 -16, 2020

ARTIANA – Highlights – Lot 19 – Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art – Online Auction – No Buyer’s Premium – 12-16 March 2020

“Toi, tu prends forme, 
moi, je serais sans cesse:
tous deux à la poursuite de l’union.

Ma joie, ton corps
tes délices, ma presence.

Je te donne visage,
tu me rends l’infinie.

Nous deux, un seul corps
Un nouvel être est né
le toi-moi, le moi-toi.

Entre nous plus de difference
moi toi, toi Tuka.” 

– Santo Tukaram

One of the many subjects Sayed Haider Raza pondered in his canvases was man’s relationship with the divine, borrowing inspiration from ancient teachings and philosophers in this quest. One of whom was Sant Tukaram, a 17th-century Indian poet and sant of the Bhakti Movement, best known for his devotional poetry (abhang). Tukaram made over 4,609 poems in his lifetime; the present work titled Toi-Moi, as written by Raza on the reverse of the canvas alludes to one of them. 

The devotional poem speaks of man’s desire to be close and in union with the divine. Raza employs two bindus side by side to signify the meeting of these forces – being the sacred symbols of the cosmos unmanifested – the beginning of creation and the point of unity. The bindus not only pervades the work but also accentuates and explains it. The dominant color blue, on the other hand, portrays a peaceful and vast nothingness, like the primordial waters of the cosmic ocean. Similar to Tukaram’s poems – which made use of simple verses composed of vernacular language, the artist devoid the canvas of any unnecessary elements to attain simplicity and portray the purest form of nature. 

The easel was not a place for convention for Raza but a space that encompasses a wide range of human experiences, resulting in a body of work that encapsulates an inner experience as much as a visual one. His mandalas and bindus stir as it delights the senses, weaving together the strands of art and spirituality and leading anyone who contemplates it in unity with the divine, like the abhang of Sant Tukaram.

Auction Catalogue – South Asian Art – ‘Modern and Contemporary’ – March 12 -16, 2020

ARTIANA – Highlights – Lot 40 – Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art – Online Auction – No Buyer’s Premium – 12-16 March 2020

Lot 40 – M.F. Husain – ‘A Newborn Child Held Gently by a Falling Leaf’ – 2005 – 72 x 90 in. (182.9 x 228.6 cm.) – Oil on canvas

India has had a long-standing tradition of reverence for motherly figures, and the concept of the mythological mother and child has remained a constant source of fascination throughout the centuries. ‘Yashoda and Lord Krishna’ or ‘Mother Mary with Jesus’ as ideals of motherhood has been an enduring theme in art, both in India and abroad.1 For M.F. Husain who had lost his mother from an early age, the theme was a compulsion. He revisited it through the years and sought this image in every feminine form, as seen here. 

Aptly titled ‘A New Born Child Held Gently By a Fallen Leaf,’ the current lot features an image of baby Krishna atop a golden leaf, separated from the featureless face of a mother, seen in the background. He forgoes depiction of any features of her face, concentrating instead on a blue bindu on her forehead, signifying his lifelong search for a maternal figure. Husain explained, “As I do not recall my mother’s visage, most of my female figures have no face details.” 

In Husain’s female form, there seems to be an invisible veil between the viewer and her presence so that the simplicity of the figure is countered by the inaccessibility. This propensity can be attributed to his childhood in a Muslim household, where the feminine presence alternates between the secretive and the visible, or to his suppressed yearning for a motherly figure that left him permanently bereft. Consequently, he depicted his women vaguely, like apparitions that refuse to disappear or fully appear in his canvases.2

As is typical of Husain’s works, colors were used emotively amid strong outlines and sharp angular lines, casting into motion his pictorial spaces. The brilliant colors with its symbolic and expressive values combined with his distinct human forms transform the narrative on the painting surface into an intimate experience of poetry. 

Text Reference: 
1 Aishwarya Kirit, The ‘Mother and Child’ in Modern Indian Art, Sahapedia.org, July 27, 2019
2 Yashodhara Dalmia, M.F. Husain: A Tribute, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 2012, pg. 15

Auction Catalogue – South Asian Art – ‘Modern and Contemporary’ – March 12 -16, 2020

ARTIANA – Highlights – Lot 20 – Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art – Online Auction – No Buyer’s Premium – 12-16 March 2020

The ‘Battle of Karbala’ has held existential importance in a wide variety of cultural spheres in which Muslims participate. As a single most significant historic event in the lives of millions of Muslims, Karbala has left an indelible symbolic mark on devotional practices, on the transmissions of Islamic history, and subsequent developments in aesthetics, mysticism, and reform movements throughout the Muslim world.1  

Consequently, it made a significant impact on the development of young M.F. Husain and helped mold his consciousness, beliefs, and outlook both in his art and personal life as a Shia Muslim. 

The historic battle was fought between the Ummayad caliph Yazid 1 and Husayn ibn Ali, the youngest of the Prophet’s (PBUH) grandsons, in 680 CE over the crisis of succession in the caliphate. Yazid’s appointment as successor was widely contested and deemed unjust, leading to the battle as depicted by the artist here.

Lot 20 – M.F. Husain – Untitled (Battle of Karbala) – 1990 – 44 x 66 in. (111.8 x 167.6 cm.) – acrylic on canvas

Arrows are seen volleying between two horses engaged in a heated battle – representative of the two combatant forces. The powerful beasts, shown without hooves as part of Husain’s visual language, are poised in a duel across the center of the frame. Husain used coarse lines reflecting movement, energy, and giving the overall composition a dynamic quality. He also used a somber palette of brown and grays – evocative to the grimness of war and the ensuing mayhem and turmoil it brings, a testament to the artist’s virtuosity in skill and vision. Also present in the picture are the mudra and the legendary sword Zulfiqar which Imam Husayn acquired from his father and fought with.

The aftermath of the fateful battle changed the course of Islamic history; Husayn was martyred in the plains of Karbala, along with most of his family and followers. 

Once a year during Muharram, the religious commemorate this martyrdom and would carry tazias or effigies of Husayn’s faithful horse in a procession through the streets. An event the artist witnessed when he was merely fifteen and would give him the biggest inspiration in portraying the equine figure throughout his artistic career. “[…] He was to remain loyal to that icon; it never strayed far from his imagination in his subsequent paintings.”2

Text References: 
1 S. A. Hyder, Reliving Karbala: Martyrdom in South Asian Memory, Oxford University Press, New York, 2006, pg. 3
2 R. Bartholemew & S. Kapur, Husain, Abrams Inc., New York, 1971, pg. 32

Auction Catalogue – South Asian Art – ‘Modern and Contemporary’ – March 12 -16, 2020

ARTIANA – Highlights – Lot 7 – Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art – Online Auction – No Buyer’s Premium – 12-16 March 2020

Lot 7 – Ram Kumar – Untitled (Varanasi) – 2016 – 24 x 36 in. (61 x 91.5 cm.) – oil on canvas

“At the end of the 1980s and the early 1990s, architectural forms insinuate their way into Ram Kumar’s works. His sketches of cities once again record and reveal his spontaneous reactions to their architectural peculiarities. Familiar forms such as domes and pillars are resurrected and cityscapes slowly emerge again. Surprisingly, elements from the landscapes, such as trees, insert themselves into the labyrinth of streets, offering relief with their bright flashes of green.”

Cityscapes and nature reappeared again in his works instead of the desolate and predominantly grey pieces that he made after his visit to Benaras in the 60s and the continuing years after. Bright skies and colors reclaim their spaces once again after being consigned to the outer recesses of Kumar’s frame in his early works. 

Here, showcasing the all too familiar visual language that Ram Kumar had painstakingly developed over the decades and retained in his paintings – the complex, multiple angles and perspectives, and the haphazard, lopsided buildings jostling for space – but without the looming greyness and the feeling of doom. The brightening of the palette and the use of lighter shades of browns and greens on the houses amply demonstrate the power of color in projecting mood and sentiment. 

Text Reference: 
Meera Menezes, Ram Kumar: Traversing the Landscape of the Mind, Saffronart, Mumbai, 2016, pg. 13

Auction Catalogue – South Asian Art – ‘Modern and Contemporary’ – March 12 -16, 2020

ARTIANA – Highlights – Lot 21 – Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art – Online Auction – No Buyer’s Premium – 12-16 March 2020

Sakti Burman’s tableaux came to life only because he has organized personal narratives, chance events, archival borrowings, and iconographical references into a coherent pattern for our delectation. He is a storyteller who invigorates our imagination by reminding us that we are not simply made of muscle, nerve, and bone – but that we are also made up fo the words and images, the poems and stories that we inherit from countless previous generations with our genetic code.”

More than the particularity of the stories they hold, Burman’s paintings excites the imagination and fascinates onlooker by giving us a peep into his personal life. His favorite protagonists are his own family, especially his grandchildren who would often be accompanied by figures culled from the artist’s fecund imagination. 

Here, plumed birds are set amongst playful children in pointed caps and animated gestures. Harlequin sits on a stuffed chair wearing a colorful costume and a checkered hat. He wears a withdrawn look on his face, lost to the merriment around him. 

Embedded in the current narrative are alter egos – Harlequin and Pierrot, the best-known characters from the repertoire of the commedia dell’arte and the pantomime. Presented as opposites, Harlequin and Pierrot can be considered twin aspects of the same personality manifesting against itself. Wearing a somber look on his face that exposes the sadness the colorful costume concealed, Harlequin borrows Pierrot’s melancholic outlook showing a version of Sakti’s multifaceted brand of portraiture – as an artist who participates and witness and as an actor and an observer to his creation.

Text Reference:
Ranjit Hoskote, In the Presence of Another Sky: The Confluential Art of Sakti Burman, Art Musings, Mumbai, 2017, pg. 35

Auction Catalogue – South Asian Art – ‘Modern and Contemporary’ – March 12 -16, 2020

ARTIANA – Highlights – Lot 1 – Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art – Online Auction – No Buyer’s Premium – 12-16 March 2020

Lot 1 – Jamini Roy – Untitled (Sunset over the Hooghly River) – circa 1930’s – 16 x 21.75 in. (40.6 x 55.2 cm.) – tempera on board

Even while Jamini Roy was exploring indigenous themes, he was simultaneously learning from the works of the great European masters. He delved into the studying of the elements of composition and techniques which later allowed him to paint local landscapes and portraits in this style. 

Beyond the imitation of a particular style, the great artist worked out the notion of perspective beyond the conventional limits of naturalism to achieve harmonious balance and delightful dynamism in his landscapes. “He combines the intensity of chromatic brilliance with the free-flowing character of the brush strokes creating vistas that throb with light. The visible is certainly not discarded and is neither so subjected to design that nature submits to the pure pictorial pattern. Rather, the chromatic and the natural often play a complementary tune, one supportive of the other, such that of a patch go yellow against another of blue, need not stand in oppositional contradiction to their simultaneous descriptive identity as fields and distant trees or mountains, picked out by the rays of the sun.”1

But these landscapes are beyond just post-impressionistic color exercises, “viewed in the context of the entire oeuvre of an artist like Jamini Roy, such re-enactments do not restrict themselves merely to the art-school students regular attempts for copying, but tie-up with his efforts to evolve that personal mode of statement, which no matter how conscious or subliminal at the stage of the exercise, is part of a larger vision and intent.” 2

Text References: 
1 Sanjoy Kumar Malik, Jamini Roy (1887-1972), Rajya Charukala Parshad (Charukala Bhavan Museum), Kolkata, March 2014, p. 45
2 Ibid, pg. 47

Auction Catalogue – South Asian Art – ‘Modern and Contemporary’ – March 12 -16, 2020