AKBAR PADAMSEE (1928-2020)
AKBAR PADAMSEE (1928-2020)
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AKBAR PADAMSEE (1928-2020)


AKBAR PADAMSEE (1928-2020)
signed and dated 'PADAMSEE 61' (upper right)
oil on board
45 5/8 x 35 in. (115.9 x 88.9 cm.)
Painted in 1961
Acquired by Jack and Estelle Peisach, circa early 1960s
Shamlal, Akbar Padamsee, Bombay, 1964, p. 34 (illustrated)
Akbar Padamsee, exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 1980, p. 14 (illustrated)
B. Padamsee and A. Garimella eds., Akbar Padamsee, Work in Language, Mumbai, 2010, p. 196 (illustrated)


Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari Specialist, Head of Department


Through the 1950s and early 1960s, Akbar Padamsee traveled back and forth between India, France, and the United States, absorbing as many aesthetic and philosophical stimuli as he could, and developing his early work in unique, thought-provoking directions. Although his first solo exhibition was held in Bombay in 1954 after an initial stay in France, the artist returned to Paris on several occasions after this. For him, the French capital offered a crucible for his creativity with opportunities to view great works of art in person and directly interact with artists like Man Ray, Constantin Brancusi and Alberto Giacometti. In 1960, following a second acclaimed solo exhibition of monumental monochromatic paintings in Bombay, Padamsee once again returned to Paris, where he would depart from his gray palette to portray rural and urban French landscapes.

Describing this period of Padamsee’s work, Beth Citron notes, “At this time, he began an earnest investigation of light, colour, and form through village landscape studies, following a classically French tradition that included Lorrain and Corot to Cézanne. Works of 1961-62 including Rouen [...] depict flattened rows of houses tucked quietly into town settings. In these works, realistic representations of specific places and individual architectural elements give way to layered, expressive renderings of the countryside. Through these studies, Padamsee began to develop his own distinct idiom [...] with individual houses and churches reduced to opaque squares and triangles, even as the composite images would remain referential and legible as a landscape. This is as true of the works that seem to be skeletons of bustling crowded settlements (like Rouen) as of those sites hollowed of houses where large swathes of colour imitate a densely thick atmosphere” (B. Citron, ‘Akbar Padamsee's Artistic “Landscape” of the 1960s’, Akbar Padamsee, Work in Language, Mumbai, 2010 pp. 196-197).

In the present lot, Padamsee draws inspiration from the French city of Rouen, located on the bank of the River Seine in Normandy, northwest of Paris. Rouen is a historic breeding ground for artistic inspiration, and is the subject of a series of well-known paintings by Impressionists including Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro. Monet painted over thirty views of Rouen’s famous Cathedral between 1892-93, each named according to the weather and the quality of the sunlight on the day he painted it. Like Monet, Padamsee focused on the quality of light, mood, and architecture in the city in this seminal painting. In particular, the timber-framed houses of the city with their unique exposed geometric fretwork, seem to have impressed Padamsee, and are reflected in this landscape as well as in the formation of his artistic values it represents, where the artmaking process is privileged over the finished piece.

With its palette dominated by brown, ochre and sepia tones, the present lot is reminiscent of Pissarro’s moody and overcast Rouen landscapes. Unlike the Impressionists work, however, here blocks and shapes are placed one atop one another in a kind of patchwork, giving rise to the city. Its half-timbered buildings, with lofty masonry chimneys and sloping roofs are barely recognizable, flattened against the surface. With careful attention to color theory, Padamsee creates the illusion of depth between his structures using carefully graded tones of paint. Notes of blue establish shadows within the sepia, while yellow acts as a highlight. Every mark in this work reacts to the next, and the negative space around the structures both contributes to its atmosphere and propels the cityscape forward.

A foundational masterpiece in Padamsee’s oeuvre, Rouen transcends genres in its experimental expressionism. In this painting, we see both Padamsee’s nod to past masters, and the germination of the profound consideration of light, color theory and perception that came to mark the bodies of work he would go on to produce.

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