Jeune femme aux cheveux noirs, la tête inclinée

Jeune femme aux cheveux noirs, la tête inclinée
signed and dated 'PADAMSEE 62' (upper left)
oil on canvas
35 7/8 x 28 5/8 in. (91.3 x 72.8 cm.)
Painted in 1962
André Pacitti, Galerie Pacitti, Paris
Libert, 26 October 2006, lot 135
Christie's, New York, 23 March 2010, lot 54
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Akbar Padamsee: Work in Language, Mumbai, 2010, p. 146 (illustrated)


In 1951, Akbar Padamsee followed his close contemporaries, S.H. Raza and F.N. Souza to Europe in a pilgrimage to the heartland of Modernism. Padamsee chose Paris as his base, where Raza had been living for a year, and it was here that he encountered firsthand the masterpieces of the European Modernists. Padamsee’s paintings from this early period display the stylistic influences of the Fauve works of Henri Matisse and Georges Rouault and Cubist analytical elements drawn from those of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. As Ella Datta noted, "Dual pulls of matter and spirit are always patent in [Padamsee's] work [...] He sees his paintings as a bed of tensions created by 'the linear, the formal, the tonal, the chromatic' on which the form describes itself or 'remains in a fluid potential state'." (E. Datta, 'Akbar Padamsee,' Art Heritage 8, New Delhi, 1988-89, p. 40)

Padamsee's self-confessed obsession with the human form, more specifically the female nude, can be traced back to the mid-1950s following a controversial trip back to India. In Bombay in 1954, his depiction of a nude couple in the painting, Lovers, based on the classical Indian figures of Uma-Maheshvara, was removed from his first solo exhibition and he was arrested on charges of obscenity. Following a court case that he won in a benchmark ruling for the freedom of expression, Padamsee returned to Paris to delve further into his artistic exploration of the female form.

Jeune Femme Aux Cheveux Noirs, La Tête Inclinée (Young Woman with Black Hair and Inclined Head) was painted the year Padamsee returned to Paris for the third time, when he was experimenting with light, texture and technique, contrasting dark and luminescent colors with expressive and violent brushstrokes. Works from this period are constructed with thick impasto applied by palette knife, creating an almost sculptural effect which accentuates the play of light and shade. Far from erotic or sexualized, the female figures Padamsee painted at this time evoke a deep sense of isolation and detachment. These almost tragic subjects sit against monochromatic expressionistic backgrounds, outside of conventional notions of space and time.

"Most of the figures evoke a sense of vulnerability and anguish, yet none of them are simple victim figures. They are not merely alone, but essentially separate from the viewer. This separateness is so persistent a feature of the paintings that one is forced to ask whether it arises out of a sense of the privacy of the self, or an uncompromising existential search in which each man or woman is irrevocably alone." (E. de Souza, ‘Akbar Padamsee’, Art Heritage, New Delhi 1980-81, unpaginated) In these portraits, Padamsee creates a juxtaposition between the energetic gestural brushstroke and the sensitivity and quietness of his subjects, who although alone are far from lonely. There is a sense of intimacy in Jeune Femme Aux Cheveux Noirs, La Tête Inclinée, as if the artist is affording us a fleeting glimpse of a profoundly private and personal moment in the life of this unknown woman.

Originally from the collection of the registrar of Galerie Pacitti, this painting also throws light on Padamsee's years in Paris and the strong relationship he built with several artists and gallerists there, leading to an international appreciation for modern Indian art and artists. Specializing in Ecole de Paris artists, the owner of the gallery, André Pacitti had a strong relationship with Padamsee and bought several of his works including Village aux Quatres Maisons Rouges (sold at Christies, London 10 June 2009, lot 39). Padamsee's years in Paris represent a critical formative period for the artist. Immersed in the international avant-garde, it was his chance, along with colleagues like Raza and Souza, to integrate his influences from India and the West, but more importantly to determine the direction of his practice in the context of modern Indian art. However, this period was not without its challenges. Souza recollects, "Indian artists Ram Kumar, Raza, Akbar Padamsee and Laxman Pai were also in Paris at that time. All of us hoped for a cookie from the 'School of Paris' and a slice of the cake of 'Modern Art,' but the cookie had crumbled and the cake was devoured by then. We did not think we were uninvited guests because those who partook of the 'School of Paris' and baked the 'Modern Art' cake came from different nationalities [...] And 'Modern Art' itself was an amalgam of Japanese, African, Persian and other influences. So what the hell, we said, we'll tuck in as well. But when Raza, Padamsee and I had our first group show, the art dealer put Trois Hindou peintres on the invitation card. Raza, who was the only one between us who understood French, told the dealer that none of us was really Hindu. So the word was changed to Indien (Indian). But when the cards were mailed, the American Embassy telephoned the gallery and angrily asked "How the hell did these Indians get out of the Reservations?" It is a fact upon my word. Raza and Padamsee are witnesses. So much for our hopes of getting into the 'Modern Art' scene." (Artist statement, 'What is Modern or Contemporary or Tribal or Provincial about our Art?', The Times of India, 31 October 1982)

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