Red Nude

Red Nude
signed and dated 'Padamsee 53' (upper left)
oil on canvas
28 ¾ x 21 ¼ in. (73 x 54 cm.)
Painted in 1953
Private Collection, Mumbai
Acquired from the above by the present owner
B. Padamsee and A. Garimella eds., Akbar Padamsee, Work in Language, Mumbai, 2010, p. 124 (illustrated)
Mumbai, Jehangir Art Gallery, Exhibition of Paintings, 29 April - 4 May, 1954


After graduating from the J.J. School of Art, Akbar Padamsee left Bombay for Paris in 1950 on the urging of fellow artist S.H. Raza. Before he left, however, on the advise of his teacher Shankar Palsikar the artist spent a few months travelling in India, visiting sites like Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, the Madras Museum and the Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram.

Living in a small hotel room on the outskirts of the city, the artist’s first years in Paris were a period of deep study and discovery. Apart from interacting with artists like Man Ray and Alberto Giacometti, he encountered various currents of Western Modern art and philosophy in the city’s museums, libraries and cafés, and became particularly interested in the ideals of cubism and surrealism.

Padamsee’s paintings from this period connect these stimuli with the influences he absorbed in India and also with the international avant-garde art of the time. It is not surprising that the works from the artist’s early practice in Paris take their stylistic cues equally from ancient Indian temple sculpture, traditional African art and the work of Georges Rouault, Pablo Picasso and Fauvist painters like Henri Matisse.

The artist’s fascination with the human form, more specifically the female nude, crystallized in this formative period and the rich Parisian environment. In paintings like the present lot from 1953 titled Red Nude, form and color govern the composition, as evidenced by the bold dark outlines that encase the robust, sculptural figure which dominates the pictorial space. Portrayed alone, this statuesque nude betrays no hint of emotion apart from the slight upward turn of her lips. Rather than eroticism or sentimentality then, the subject evokes a sense of loneliness and detachment. Writing in 1953, Padamsee emphatically stated “All great work is characterised by it aloneness.” (Artist statement, Akbar Padamsee, Work in Language, Mumbai, 2010, p. 125)

Speaking about Padamsee’s works from the same year, his friend and first biographer Shamlal observes, “What marks these canvases which he painted in 1953 is a simple order in which everything that smacks of the romantic is cut out [...they have] rather a starkness which without being drab makes one think of the essential loneliness of man.” (Shamlal, Padamsee, Mumbai, 1964, pp. 6-7)

Upon his return to India in 1954, Padamsee attracted much controversy through his depiction of the nude (a theme that the artist has since frequently re-visited) when his painting, Lovers, based on Uma-Maheshvara renditions in classical painting and sculpture, was attacked on grounds of obscenity. The artist eventually won the case lodged against him in a landmark ruling that allowed artistic license to take precedence within the confines of a gallery space.

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