Free Press Journal

Ram Kumar passes away at 94; Why you need to know about the noted Indian modernist painter



Noted Indian modernist painter Ram Kumar passed away on April 14 in Delhi. He was 94. His final rites were conducted at Nigambodh Ghat on Saturday. He will always be remembered for his contribution to contemporary Indian art for over seven decades. His death was confirmed by Vadehra Art Gallery, which forayed into publication with a solo show of Ram Kumar in 1996 with the name ‘Ram Kumar: A Journey Within’. Over the years, the gallery hosted 22 solo shows of the artist. Kumar was among the pioneers of the post-1947 art movement in India and would often exhibit with the members of Progressive Artists’ Group that included legendary artists like MF Hussain, FN Souza and SH Raza, among others. He was honoured with Padma Shri in 1972, Padma Bhushan in 2010 and Kalidas Samman by the Madhya Pradesh government in 1986.

Here’s all you need to know about the noted Indian modernist painter Ram Kumar.

  • Born in Shimla, Ram Kumar was one of the eight siblings. His elder brother is well-known Hindi writer Nirmal Verma. Kumar was an Economics major from St Stephen’s College. A career in banking beckoned but a chance visit to an art exhibition in 1945 led him to enroll for art classes at the Sarada Ukil School of Art in New Delhi. This is when the struggles of common man started occupying his canvases. He also travelled to the United States and Mexico on a Rockfeller Scholarship.

  • In 1950, he left for Paris and studied art under the likes of French painter Andre Lhote and artist-filmmaker Fernand Leger. After his return from Paris, he moved towards abstraction of forms, colours and contours. His early works included the partition of Indian sub continent and the post war European despair and aspiration that Paris exuded.

  • Kumar experimented with abstract art by painting landscapes that was not exact reflection of the visible object but an amalgam of thick and deliberated brush strokes that represented his views.

  • Ram Kumar’s visit to the city of Varanasi in the 1960s with MF Hussain was a turning point. Known for his abstract landscape paintings, most of his works were inspired by the city of Varanasi. He was inspired by the city’s architecture and spirit. Dark colours in his paintings were replaced by the greys and tawny yellows. And soon Varanasi became an obsession for him. He painted empty ghats, temples and houses. This phase included two bodies of his work – Benaras series and Sad Town.

  • One of his celebrated works include ‘The Boats’ (1968-69). The painting comprised of a few boats and the silence of water, and had a jade green and turquoise blend and metaphysical imagery with an air of romanticism.

  • In 1957, Artist Vasudeo S Gaitonde and Kumar collaborated with MF Hussain and Mehta to establish the short-lived artists’ collective, ‘Shilalekh’. In 2016, Gaitonde’s work ‘Untitled’ (1975) belonging to Ram Kumar was sold at the South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art Auction for about Rs 13 crore.

  • From 1950s to his exhibition in December 2016, he made a deep impact with his work. At a recent international art show, one of his work crossed the one million dollar mark.

  • The artist was recently in the news when four of his paintings worth Rs 12 crore were stolen from his East Delhi residence.

  • Kumar was an introvert and was seldom seen at art openings or at interactive sessions. He was India’s one of the most respected and celebrated artists, who with his works enacted the innermost angst-filled dramas of his culture.

  • Although Ram Kumar was living in Delhi, he frequently visited Mumbai to exhibit his work at The Alliance Francaise.