Untitled (Bird, Tree and Mountain Series)

Untitled (Bird, Tree and Mountain Series)
signed and dated in Hindi (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
43 x 29 in. (109.2 x 73.7 cm.)
Painted in 1983
Private Collection, Mumbai
Christie's South Kensington, 10 June 2009, lot 60
Acquired from the above
Please note that the correct dimensions for this lot are 43 x 29 in. (109.2 x 73.7 cm.) and not as stated in the printed catalogue.


Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari Specialist, Head of Department


"To understand colour as harmony was to limit oneself to look at it as representation, be it in terms of nature association or representation [...] Here all the rules of tonalities, of harmonies, of warm and cool colour broke down. Thus primary colours could be used to achieve an inward growing, meditative space [...] The introduction of representational forms in the context of colour geometry gave birth to psycho-symbolic connotations. Thus a mountain, a tree, a flower, a bird, a stone were not just objects or parts of a landscape but were manifestations of the universal" (Artist statement, 'Modern Indian Art: The Visible and The Possible', Lalit Kala Contemporary 40, New Delhi, 1995, p. 49).

Untitled (Bird, Tree and Mountain Series) epitomises Jagdish Swaminathan's perennial search for developing a pure and true representation through art. He argued that traditional Indian paintings were never meant to represent reality in the naturalistic objective sense. In 1962, Swaminathan joined with fellow artists to form Group 1890. They rejected ideals of Western Modernism and the "vulgar naturalism and pastoral idealism of the Bengal School," instead seeking to "see phenomena in its virginal state" (Y. Kumar, Indian Contemporary Art Post Independence, New Delhi, 1997, p. 298).

By the late 1960s, Swaminathan developed a philosophy which sought to renew tribal and folk art in a contemporary context. He proposed a paradigm of primitive purity, revealing an alternate reality that is primal, spiritual and mystical. Using his iconic, stylised signifiers of bird, tree and mountain, Swaminathan conjures a two-dimensional cosmos that is both meditative and metaphorical. The bird and boulder forms appear to hover in the stillness above the mountain peaks defying gravity. This world transcends time and space, inducing the meditative tranquility that became the artist's obsession. Alongside embracing the metaphorical qualities of surrealism, the artist also drew inspiration from Indian visual culture. The flat planes of bright color, reminiscent of seventeenth century Pahari painting, imbue the composition with a sublime quality.

This painting also typifies the duality between reality and illusion which Swaminathan strived to unveil to the world, questioning whether it is the physical world or Swaminathan's painted enchantment which is an illusion or maya. "Swaminathan treats images like the numen in nature - that is metaphorically, but in a sense where the metaphor is now detached from the material-mythical world, and lifted into the ethereal spheres of lyric art and poetry" (G. Kapur, Contemporary Indian Art, London, 1982, p. 7). The artist borrowed the term "numinous image" from Philip Rawson to speak about his "para-natural", magical and mysterious space that is not obvious, but is inherent everywhere. In this composition, Swaminathan mediates a reverential representativeness that seeks to reveal the undiscovered forces of nature through art.

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