Born: 1923

Ram Kumar - Artwork


One of India’s great artists, Ram Kumar with his deep rooted foundation of culture, is an artist of vast wisdom that bursts into an ebullient life with cascading colors and forms. His mind overflows with artistic abundance, with power and energy that moves people. Born in 1923 in Simla, Kumar was surrounded with by her picturesque hills and mountains, an attraction which continued when he encountered Kumaon, Ladakh and Andretta — havens he frequently retreated to, to paint. He seems to enjoy a certain peace and inner security every time he recalls his childhood memories of the mountains confirming that artworks are about space, childhood and love. At the same time, his quest for spirituality surfaced. Kumar’s spiritual journey began with Varanasi followed by Machu Picchu with its ancient ruins and finally ended in Ladakh with its mountains and monasteries. He says, “It was a lifelong effort to find some harmony between a rich, throbbing ‘spiritually-visited nature and the secret, fleeting thoughts of an artist.” His father’s job with the Indian Government enabled the family to spend half the year in Shimla and the other half in Delhi. Kumar’s creativity first took the form of short stories. He wanted to be a writer but soon became interested in painting and when he had to choose, painting prevailed. While he was studying for his Masters in Economic at St. Stephen’s College in Delhi, Kumar joined the evening class of known artist Sailoz Mukherjee, had a modern approach to art and encouraged still life portrait painting with models. Raza spotted Kumar’s work a group exhibition in Delhi and soon struck a deep friendship. Inspired by Raza, Kumar convinced his father to pay for a one way ticket to Paris, the Mecca for all artists. He stayed there from 1949 - 1952 and studied under Andre Lhote in his first year and joined Ferdinand Leger’s classes the next. Kumar’s Paris experience was for him, most inspiring. Picasso in Matisse were living in France and he actually got to see their exhibitions. He imbibed the rich French culture and feels he was fortunate to see the paintings of world masters in the museums from Renaissance artists like Da Vinci and Modigliani. In his words, “It seems there is lifetime in front of me. I can go whichever way I want to go.” Kumar started as a figurative painter but later found it too mechanical. The rooftops and landscapes that were backgrounds in his earlier figurative paintings soon became the main focus as he banished the people and formally began abstract in 1959. It captured the imagination of Kumar as he shed the company of figures and settled principally on the message of abstract form. It was clear that his abstract art was not to be just a simple application of brushwork, technique, texture or colours.

Ram Kumar has no desire to shock or seduce the eye which makes so much of abstract art slide into the sensational or the decorative. The sense of quiet that pervades in his work invites contemplation, not a gaze.

Ram Kumar - Artist

As a young artist, Ram Kumar was captivated by, or rather obsessed with, the human face because of the ease and intensity with which it registers the drama of life. The sad, desperate, lonely, hopeless or lost faces, which fill the canvases of his early period, render with pathos his view of human condition. The human condition is no overblown phrase in this context. It is pertinent because what Ram Kumar tries to do in his early work is something more profound than merely pointing to what can be cured by acts of social engineering. At the onset of what is known as “phase of alienation” in Ram Kumar’s paintings, something was happening very quietly, almost imperceptibly. The figure, which played so important a role in the entire drama of his odyssey, was already being a retreat, slowly, hesitantly, receding into the margins, almost merging with the dark greys and browns of the horizons. And what till then only vaguely lurked in the background, occupy the central stage. It is significant that at this stage when Ram Kumar takes a decisive step into what is known as the non-figurative world of abstraction, he also bids farewell to the literary moorings and its expressionistic entourage. Without negating the writer in him, he begins to travel light as a painter. Poetry is still there, with all its lyrical ardour and dramatic intensity but now it acquires a kind of austere brilliance, a certain ascetic purity which can be vividly seen in his Varanasi paintings. But more than its technical innovations, the so-called abstract phase was an attempt to resolve a deeper problem which seemed to trouble Ram Kumar at his fateful juncture. At the later stage, nature came both as a release from his past and a return to it. Simla with all its mountains have called Ram Kumar many time which led to his return. It was in his stories that they made a strong presence, not merely as a setting for background but as an integral part of the fictional landscape. Also a nostalgic longing for a past gone for ever. They also symbolized peace and inner security, as if by returning to them, one can salvage a spark of happiness from the ruins of one’s adulthood.

Some of his solo shows include those in New York, Mumbai, New Delhi & London. In 2002, a show of his work was organized in Mumbai, New Delhi, San Francisco and New York. Other retrospectives of his work have been held at the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi in 1994 and 1993; Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai in 1993; and the Birla Museum, Kolkata in 1980. Ram Kumar lives and works in New Delhi.

Text References:
Excerpt from the book Ram Kumar, Selected Works 1950-2010, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 2010;
Excerpt from Ram Kumar’s Retrospective Catalogue, National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, 1993.


  • John D. Rockefeller III Fellowship, New York, 1970
  • Padma Shri, Government of India, 1972
  • Premchand Puraskar, Government of Uttar Pradesh, 1972
  • Kalidas Samman, Government of Madhya Pradesh, 1986
  • Officers Arts et Letters, Government of France, 2003
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, Government of Delhi, 2010
  • Padma Bhushan, Government of India, 2010
  • Fellowship of the Lalit Kala Academy, 2011


  • Ram Kumar Lines and Colours
  • Ram Kumar Selected Works 1950-2010
  • Ram Kumar “A Journey Within”

Top 10 Auction Records

Title Price Realized
Vagabond USD 1,161,000
Untitled (Orphans) INR 48,225,000
Untitled (Family) INR 35,025,000
Untitled (Boy and Goat) USD 350,500
Jeune Etudiant USD 337,000
Untitled (Benares) GBP 133,250
Untitled (Street Urchins) USD 197,000
Untitled USD 193,000
Untitled (Varanasi) USD 194,500
Yellow Summer USD 181,000
Houses (Benares) USD 181,000