Nature has enraptured artists for centuries. It offers endless inspiration, both as a primary visual source, and for metaphor and allegory. Indian Modernism drew from a rich history of literary and artistic traditions in which nature was exalted and revered, worshipped and eulogised through mythology. A fundamental belief in harmony between man and nature permeated the Indian ethos. With the influx of Western influence, Indian artists also incorporated ideas of light and colour in painting the landscape. As their paintings go on auction in Saffronart’s Evening Sale, we look at how seven artists turned inward and outward to capture the many moods of nature and man’s place in it.
1. Nicholas Roerich
Nicholas Roerich, the “Master of Mountains,” was a prolific artist, theosophist and noted writer from Russia, who made India his home. In his many expeditions across the Himalayan range during the 1930s and ’40s, Roerich came across wondrous sights that inspired a wealth of paintings and memoirs. Himalaya was painted when Roerich resided in Naggar, a village in the Kullu Valley of Himachal Pradesh. In this painting, he depicts snow-capped mountain peaks at twilight, with their multi-hued lighting. Rocky ridges and snowy dunes invite the viewer to experience this moody landscape as he would have. The painting evokes the spirit of the Himalayas, and is a symbolic reflection of his own spiritual journey and the strength of character he acquired, facing the physical challenges of his arduous expeditions.
2. Bhupen Khakhar
The lot on offer ties the genre of figurative narration that Bhupen Khakhar is best known for, with the tradition of landscape painting. A self-taught artist, Khakhar developed a sophisticated pictorial language and vibrant palette which “was infused with his deep knowledge of art from South Asian and European sources.” (Shanay Jhaveri and Howard Hodgkin, My Memories of An Indian Master). In Untitled (Ratnagiri), Khakhar’s trademark palette is employed to recreate a picturesque representation of a small fishing community. This evocative painting shows what is probably the mosque and inlet in coastal Ratnagiri, but the narrative literally unfolds on its fringes. Khakhar encloses the landscape within a red border populated with scenes of coastal life. Painted in gold, these vignettes bring out the vibrancy of the fishing community.
3. Jehangir Sabavala
Jehangir Sabavala’s art is universal and placeless, drawing deliberately from European traditions. But filmmaker Arun Khopkar points out that “People who only knew him as a ‘Westernised’ person, did not know how deep was his knowledge of the Indian landscape, its trees, rocks, ravines and waterfalls.” (The Hindu Magazine, 10 September 2011) Treeline II presents a sweeping, mountainous landscape with hints of domes and precise tree structures in the foreground, which are quite likely based on the terrain of the Western Ghats. Sabavala incorporated elements of Cubism into this ethereal view of a landscape which is familiar and yet evokes references beyond itself.
4. N S Bendre
Bendre’s artistic career began at the State School of Art in Indore in 1929. Over six decades, he experimented with Cubism, Expressionism and Pointillism to express classically Indian themes such as birds and animals, figures, and landscapes of Indian villages. The present lot was painted at a time of great creativity after he had settled in Mumbai in 1966, after extensive travels through India and Europe. The undulating hills and the sprawling desert punctuated with shrubs and cacti, would have inspired Bendre to recreate the wilderness of Trimbakeshwar on canvas through stippling.
5. S H Raza
In the 1960s, as Raza grew restless in France, he began visiting India frequently, rediscovering childhood memories of the forests of Madhya Pradesh. He also travelled to other parts of India, but it was Rajasthan which inspired some of his most moving works. The colours of his homeland erupted on his canvas in joyous, gestural strokes as seen in the present lot. As critic Geeti Sen notes, “Rajasthan becomes a metaphor for the colours of India.”
6. M F Husain
In the 1960s, Husain embarked on a tour through Rajasthan, painting and drawing his way through the forts and desert towns of Bundi, Udaipur, Jaisalmer and Chittor, among others. Here he absorbed the colours and atmosphere of rural Rajasthani culture and living. The present lot, a sweeping landscape that captures the fluid, golden sand dunes and the structure of built forms, offers a glimpse into Husain’s ability to capture the essence of a place. In a compilation of buildings, he presents what is an unmistakable view of the unique climate and geography of Rajasthan.
7. A A Raiba
A student of the Sir J J School of Art, Abdul Aziz Raiba’s work was often based on the fishing villages found along the coastal landscape of the Konkan region. The present lot depicts two women in reclining and seated poses that are taken from classical art. Set against a moonlit night, Raiba details the fishing boats, sails and oar with finesse. The earth tones add to the subdued atmosphere of the contemplative scene.
Saffronart’s Evening Sale is at The Four Seasons, Mumbai, on 13 March. The auction is preceded by viewings at the Saffronart gallery from 1 – 12 March where these paintings will be on display.