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Jehangir Sabavala

Indian Modern Artist
Born 1922, Mumbai, India
Died 2011, Mumbai, India
Lived and worked in Mumbai

Jehangir Sabavala's modernist style of painting is deeply engrained with classical influence. His art is a mixture of academic, impressionist, and cubist textures, forms and colours. He preferred to work most often in oils, creating landscapes that had/ have remarkable depth and sentiment. Covered in middle tones and veiled light, his paintings evoke a feeling of solitude, tranquility and contemplation.

Education

1957

The Academie de la Grande Chaumiere, Paris

1954

The Academie Julian, Paris

1951

The Academie Julian & Academie Andre Lhote, Paris

1947

The Heatherly School of Art, London.

1944

Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai

1941

Elphinstone College, University of Mumbai

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LIFE AND WORK

UNDERSTANDING Jehangir Sabavala

He preferred using a soft and quiet palette

Sabavala worked most often with oils. He did not believe in using pure colours and loud imagery. Those belonged to an earlier era, an era which he did not identify with. He wanted to work with soft, luminous, gentle colours, something which would bring out the essence of subjectivity which was his second name.

Covered in middle tones and veiled light, his paintings evoke a feeling of solitude, tranquility, and contemplation. He believed that “the content should determine the colour instead of the other way round. One should never sacrifice art for effect. You must marry the palette to the subject.” That is perhaps the reason light, form, texture and colour came together with such an alluring force for him.

For six decades, he beguiled art lovers across the world with the sublime wonders of his palette even as he charmed us with his quintessential suaveness and sophistication, from his trademark red cravat to the tips of his impeccably polished shoes.

Jehangir Sabavala, Untitled, 2010, oil on canvas, 60 x 44”

Immense success brought to the fore his personal style

Cobweb Cloud is a painting which was sold at a price of 1.7 million dollars, is one of Sabavala’s most significant works that was painted in the Cubist style. This work is considered as a pivotal point in his oeuvre, as this was the beginning for Sabavala’s personal style.

The artist has created a delicate web of clouds across the canvas giving it a mysterious look as they seem both trapped and released at the same time. The landscape of clouds has the peculiar geometric forms of cubism rendered in a very subtle manner.

Jehangir Sabawala, Cobweb Cloud, 1973

His career went through a transition phase, marked by a bestselling work of art.

Sabavala's piece of art Vespers I had been estimated to sell for £100,000-150,000 but after a saleroom tussle between two buyers, it was knocked down for a massive £253,650 - a world record for an Indian at Bonhams.

After 1965, Sabavala’s focus had shifted to the philosophical inquisition of humankind’s relationship to this sublimely indifferent cosmos and its purpose and destiny in this world of beauty and terror. Figures of a refugee, a pilgrim, a monk or a nun started to re-enter his work. Vespers I is one such painting that represents an important period of transition in his works.

‘Verspers’ is the traditional evening prayer in the liturgical systems of the Roman Catholic, Anglican and the Lutheran Churches. In this painting, a group of nuns are pictured in a ruined chapel, seemingly treading an otherworldly space between doubt, faith, twilight and illumination. They are gathered up in a moment of prayer, allegorically representing the life of seclusion and renunciation undertaken by the nuns.

Jehangir Sabavala, Vespers

He took specific stances about the role of art in social transformation

Sabavala, over the six decades of his painterly career, chose to develop and deepen a body of images that had close linkages with the thrum of the subcontinent yet opened up vistas of reverie and meditative silence.

Looking at his work is often like seeing the world through a kaleidoscope. Shards of colour would make up scenes in which every line and every geometric plane was in perfect balance. His paintings were marked by quietude and stillness-a pristine landscape, a flock of birds, a group of women. Figures and forms angled their way out of wedges of colour that was used with expert precision.

Jehangir Sabavala, The Tree, 1965

Sabavala represents a bygone civilization

Jehangir Sabavala, who died at the ripe old age of 89, represented the last face of post-colonial elegance. Sabavala, one of India's most beloved painters represented the quiet and understated civility that has become as rare as the pastel-coloured Fiat he drove for many years.

For six decades, he beguiled art lovers across the world with the sublime wonders of his palette even as he charmed one and all with his trademark suaveness and sophistication.

Born into an affluent Parsi family in Bombay in 1922, he studied in the best-known art institutions in the world. He began with the J.J. School of Art and received his diploma in 1944. He then traveled abroad and studied at the Heatherly School of Art in London from 1945 to 1947. All these resulted in an understated charm, elegance, erudition which made him stand out in a sea of also-rans.

His art was embodied with illusions of Cubism and Impressionism

Jehangir Sabavala is well known for his paintings of nature and Cubist - influenced works. His landscapes, seascapes and cityscapes have a mystique, which is typical of Impressionism or Modernism, and reflect remarkable depth and sentiment. The paintings are synonymous with interiority or a kind of inner self-reflexivity, instead of prioritizing outer form.

Most of his works comprised of geometric wedges out of paint, that he would put together to form infinite, tranquil scenes. His canvases provide an elusive sense of depth that exemplified his mastery over light, colour, and texture.

In his earlier works, the human form appeared as only a diminutive element depicting the notion of solitude. his figures, over the many years that Sabavala has painted, have begun to reveal more and more of themselves, even though they are still distanced from the viewer. Perhaps, the artist’s feeling of alienation lessened as time moved on, and fragmentation was replaced by something akin to identification.

Jehangir Sabavala, The Casuarina Line, 2002, acrylic on canvas, 29 x 49”

Bibliography