A Blue Lake, A Leafless Tree oil on canvas, signed lower right, title and artist name inscribed Jehangir Sabavla/ "A Blue Lake, A Leafless Tree" on reverse, framed, 60 x 85.5cm (23 5/8 x 33 11/16in).
Provenance: Private Collection, Australia; acquired in private auction, previously in the collection of Sir Kenneth Willis.
Published: A preliminary sketch of the lot is illustrated in Ranjit Hoskote's The Crucible of Painting: The Art of Jehangir Sabavala, Mumbai and New Delhi, 2005, p. 77.
Sabavala was one of India's most distinguished modernists. Educated in London and Paris, he returned to India in the early 1950s, where he set himself the task of developing a pictorial language that would correspond to his own analytical temperament while being responsive to the subcontinent's distinctive rhythms of life and sense of place. In Sabavala's paintings of the mid-1950s, we find him modifying the austere Cubism that he imbibed from Andre Lhote in Paris, evolving an idiom that could articulate India's natural and cultural environment, its sharp light, crisply contoured shadows, brilliant colours, and the diversity of its social experience. In 'A Blue Lake, A Leafless Tree' (1956), we may gauge the success that Sabavala achieved in this experiment. The painting is animated by a vividly memorable yet subtly differentiated palette; its geometry expands and contracts to absorb both the unruly, many-antlered tree and the serene surface of the lake; while its active, energetic brushwork gathers a variety of human, natural and architectural forms into a symphony.
This painting is an outcome of the artist's extensive travels across India during the 1950s. Sabavala familiarised himself with the country of his birth through this process of cultural and artistic research; he devoted his attention, especially, to the cities of Rajasthan. He observed the people of each region he visited, carefully recording their customary poses and gestures, clothing, habits and rituals; he noted the layout of the local places of assembly such as the bazaar, the water pump and the lakeside. In paintings like 'A Blue Lake, A Leafless Tree', as well as others executed during this periodamong them 'The Golden Pool' (1955), 'Rajasthan Shop' (1956) and 'Women in White' (1958)Sabavala extended his formal interests while also probing the symbolic realities that sustain the protocols of society.
Ranjit Hoskote Independent Curator and Author of The Crucible of Painting: The Art of Jehangir Sabavala, Mumbai and New Delhi, 2005.