Jagdish Swaminathan, ‘Untitled (Bird and Tree)’, Christie's South Asian + Chinese

Untitled (Bird and Tree), epitomizes Swaminathan's perennial search for a means of pure, true representation through art. He argued that traditional Indian paintings were never meant to represent reality in the naturalistic objective sense. In 1962, Swaminathan joined with fellow artists to form the Delhi based artist Group 1890. They rejected ideals of Western Modernism and the "vulgar naturalism and pastoral idealism of the Bengal School," instead seeking to "see phenomena in its virginal state." (Y. Kumar, ed., Indian Contemporary Art Post Independence, New Delhi, 1997, p. 298) By the late 1960s, Swaminathan developed a philosophy which sought to renew tribal and folk art in a contemporary context. Swaminathan proposed a paradigm of primitive purity, revealing an alternate reality that is primal, spiritual and mystical.

Through delicate dual signifiers of bird and tree, Swaminathan conjures a two dimensional cosmos that is simultaneously meditative and metaphorical. As if bewitched, the bird hovers above the tree neither soaring nor coming in to land. Swaminathan constructs a world that transcends time and space and induces this meditative stillness that became the artist's obsession.

Untitled (Bird and Tree), typifies the duality between reality and illusion which Swaminathan strived to unveil to the world. This work questions whether, in this duality, it is the physical world or Swaminathan's painted enchantment which is the illusory reality or Maya. "Swaminathan treats images like the numen in nature - that is metaphorically, but in a sense where the metaphor is now detached from the material-mythical world, and lifted into the ethereal spheres of lyric art and poetry." (G. Kapur, Contemporary Indian Art, London, 1982, p. 7) The artist borrowed the term 'numinous image' from Philip Rawson to speak about his 'para-natural', magical and mysterious space that is not obvious but is inherent everywhere. Swaminathan in Untitled (Bird and Tree), mediates a reverential representativeness that seeks to reveal undiscovered forces of nature through his art.


Formerly in the Collection of Mr. Subhash Chakravarti

For almost four decades, Subhash Chakravarti was the diplomatic editor of the Times of India. He also wrote for the Sunday Times, London and was a correspondent for the BBC stationed in New Delhi. In the 1970s and 80s he shared a close friendship with the artist and acquired this work directly from him in 1976.

Thence by descent

About Jagdish Swaminathan

Indian, 1928-1994, Shimla, India

Group Shows

Dag Modern, 
India Modern - Narratives from 20th Century Indian Art

Fair History on Artsy

AkaraArt at India Art Fair 2017