Five sublime works at Sotheby’s Sale

The Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary Sale on 20th March 2023 has a sublime suite of works by the renowned landscape master Ram Kumar, a close friend of the Progressives Artists Group as well as a series of works by the brilliant abstractionists Ghulam Rasool Santosh and Sohan Qadri.

Ram Kumar Untitled 1964 

Ram Kumar the meditative friend of  Tyeb Mehta , Gaitonde, MF Husain and Krishen Khanna was taken to Benares by Husain and thence his journey transformed into an interior meditation on the temple city of  Benares. This magnificent monochrome and oil on canvas reflect an articulation of space and form and his love for architectonics. It represents a cityscape, as a tightly knit design dynamic laced in lyrical quiescence, bathed in subtle shades of sooty grey and black. Kumar had a very fine idea of the nuances of opposites in spatial dimensions and dynamics which lends the work a certain beauty of austerity and authority.

His words of his Benares visit still echo through the pages of time. ”Every sight was like a new composition… 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.”

(G. Gill ed., Ram Kumar: A Journey Within, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 1996, p. 89)

Reddappa Naidu’s Untitled Cathedral 

As a young graduate Reddappa Naidu won the National Award from Lalit Kala Akademi for his dalliance with lifelike architectural studies as well as his odyssey of deities.

When I curated Moderns at the Lalit Kala Akademi I included his Cathedral in a show that travelled to Berlin and Jordan. This work of the cathedral was a masterpiece in symbolism and spirit. Reddappa’s understanding of fluid notes and nuances in abstraction made him a rare master to study. I have always felt India has not woken up to Reddappa Naidu.

Reddappa was creating a subtle statement of social charisma in the love for the cathedral as a place of human devotion through his deeper rhythms of metaphoric moorings. He also gave us a class structure that was neither patriarchal nor matriarchal — it was balanced. The contours of the cathedral flow in the grace of quietude, dignity and finesse. The colours that he used are ones of a deeper tenor and tone but it is the effect of stained glass windows created in impressionist fervour that delight our senses and echo the beauty of bhava (emotion) and Bhakti ( devotion).

B Prabha’s Guava Seller

March belongs to Women in the arts -it celebrates artistic insights and talents to all women artists. B Prabha’s Guava Seller is an alluring image of feminine fervour. Prabha painted mostly women figures. Figures who belonged to coastal shores, to everyday living and humble chores. She said: “It is my aim to paint the trauma and tragedy of women.”

Think portraits of rural Indian women who stand amidst a landscape of light and expanses, caught in the throes of poverty, drought and hunger. Paint her with a single dominant colour sometimes against the waves of the sea, sometimes on a beach, and sometimes in a desert amidst the sands. This is the rural idyll of B Prabha. One collector gallerist in Delhi who collected B.Prabha was Virendra Kumar of Kumar gallery.

Sotheby’s Guava Seller is gorgeous in tone and tenor. It celebrates the beauty of simplicity and the hues of humility. The tall slim figure sitting in silent solitude exudes grace and aura rarely seen.

The feminine form for Prabha was an eternal delight, created in an elegant, formal style that remains her trademark. In this work, we see a social statement of labour, the artist’s self-conscious attempt to immortalise the plight of women in India a subtle statement of oppression against women and indifference to their woes.

Ghulam Rasool Santosh’s Untitled Fire

Abstract master Ghulam Rasool Santosh’s Fire is a study in the principle of Purusha aur Prakriti. Santosh’s words come back into my vision. “ Indian tradition is based on the universal concept of the ultimate reality manifesting itself in myriad shapes and forms in time and space. My own self is preoccupied with the same universal concept. My paintings are based on the male-and-female concept of Siva and Sakti and, therefore, construed as Tantra. It is not just the man and woman concept.”


This painting of Santosh is a prime example of Neo-Tantrism, an artistic movement originated by the artist, K.C.S. Panicker in the 1960s. The artists were inspired by Hindu, Buddhist and Jain concepts of dualities between male and female and between macro and microcosm. Santosh’s painting is neither abstract nor representational but highly reminiscent of Indian religious imagery involving yantras, mandalas, chakras, and the lokapurusha (cosmic man).

Sohan Qadri’s Inner Journey 

Yet another abstract master ,sage and Guru and poet was Sohan Qadri, His Inner Journey ink and dye on paper is a mesmerising abstract study that reminds us of a silent sonata. Inner Journey has two spatial divisions that meld into each other. Qadri says in a conversation: “ I was perpetually seeking a medium where effort is superfluous. Deep states of being are not brought out by effort.”

Qadri’s works were a distillation of  Tantric symbolism into his own abstract, modernist language using broad areas of open colour, as well as capturing the northern landscape and sky of his Scandinavian surroundings.

Although he began his career in the 1950s painting in oil on canvas, he worked on paper from the 1970s onward. He covered the surface of the paper with structural effects by soaking it in liquid and carving it in several stages while applying inks and dyes. In the process, the paper was transformed from a flat, two-dimensional surface into a three-dimensional medium. The repetition of careful incisions on the paper was an integral part of his meditation—and, in fact, his process evolved out of his desire for an effortless method of creation in tune with his yogic practice.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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