Tyeb Mehta's Untitled figure preserves and anticipates a transition in his oeuvre. Painted a year before Tyeb travelled to New York on the Rockefeller Foundation grant in 1968, this work is the culmination of his earlier period. "Through the 1950s and 1960s, Tyeb practiced a harsh, brushy textured, impasto-laden expressionism aligned with the School of Paris models cherished by his generation of Indian artists [...] Later during the mid-1960s, he passed on to a freer handling from a painterly viewpoint; he seemed to conjure his figures from flame and cloud". (R. Hoskote, Tyeb Mehta, Images and Exchanges, Delhi, 2005, p. 5). The increasingly stylized sitting figure retains Tyeb's typically gestural treatment of form whilst the textural roughness, ever-present in earlier work, recedes. Tyeb's abstracted figure appears monumental, rendered substantial and sculptural against the flat background of subtle tonalities.

The single figure fractured and tormented is a rhetorical reiteration of the artists career long concern for the human condition. The writings of French Existentialists, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Andr Gide and Andr Malraux fuelled Tyeb's obsession with fate and the decrepitude of human existence. "These gurus of the age informed Tyeb and his contemporaries in their understanding of human vulnerability, the scope of choice available within the limitations imposed by social convention, [and] the degrees of freedom that the individual could wrest from the realm of necessity." (R. Hoskote, Tyeb Mehta, Images and Exchanges, Delhi, 2005, p. 6) Tyeb Mehta's Untitled figure is one of his last works in this gestural figuration but reaffirms the existential iteration of the human condition that he would dominate his paintings for years to come.

Signature: signed and dated 'Tyeb 67' (upper left)


Acquired directly from the artist in 1970

Thence by descent

The previous owners were introduced to Krishen Khanna and subsequently Tyeb Mehta while visiting New Delhi in 1970. From the previous owner's memoirs: "The next day Krishen Khanna brought many of his canvases, all very large, out onto the sun-lit terrace, and after recording some of them on slides, we settled on the portrait of Ali Akbar Khan, the great sitarist and teacher of Ravi Shankar. The painting was to be delivered in New York by Krishen after a show that he had scheduled in London. Krishen also urged us to visit the studio of another artist, named Tyeb Mehta, who lived nearby. Tyeb was a struggling young artist [...] we offered to buy one of [his paintings of] an anguished female figure we called the "Green Lady". Tyeb was coming to the States on a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship and promised to deliver the painting when he came, which happened about a year later. These two paintings are important to us not only because we love art, but also because of the precious memories that they elicit."

About Tyeb Mehta

Indian, 1925-2009, Kapadvanj, Gujarat, India

Group Shows on Artsy

Mysteries of the Organism, AkaraArt, Mumbai
South Asian Contemporary + Modern, Christie's South Asian + Chinese