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    Akbar Padamsee (b. 1928; d. 2020)

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    A prominent Modernist artist and filmmaker, Akbar Padamsee is known for his landscape paintings and drawings, and for his distinct exploration of colour and form. His work spans mediums such oil painting, watercolours, sculpture, photography and cinema. He was associated with the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group

    Born in an affluent Khoja family from Gujarat, Padamsee received a diploma in painting from the Sir JJ School of Art, Mumbai in 1951, following which he travelled extensively within India. He then moved to France where, in 1952, his first solo exhibition was held at the Galerie Saint Placide, Paris. He returned to Mumbai and exhibited at the Jehangir Art Gallery in 1954, which attracted controversy as two of his paintings depicted nude couples and were ordered to be removed by the police. More recently, an exhibition at the Priyasi Art Gallery, Mumbai titled Judgement in the Trial of Akbar Padamsee (2020) revisited the trial and recontextualised it with archival material as well as theatre performance. 

    From the late 1950s onwards, Padamsee shifted focus from the human form towards landscapes and after returning to Mumbai in 1959, he temporarily experimented with eliminating colour from his work, resulting in his “Grey Period”, where Padamsee painted only in shades of grey. One of the key works from this period, Rooftops (1959) received critical acclaim when it was exhibited at the Jehangir Art Gallery in 1960 and later registered an impressive sale at Christie’s, New York in 2018. In the mid-1960s, Padamsee travelled to the US on a Rockefeller fellowship. Metascapes, which he began in the 1970s, is a crucial series from this period, when his landscapes began to feature bold colours. Padamsee’s landscapes, with their architectonic form, metaphysicality and duality also reflect his engagement with the writings of the Sanskrit dramatist, Kalidasa. Between 1960–71, he created two experimental films that dealt with abstraction, Syzygy which animated a set of geometric drawings and Events in a Cloud Chamber a meditation on painting. While Syzygy is available through Films Division, India, Events in a Cloud Chamber has since been lost. 

    Padamsee is one of the highest selling modernist Indian artists and his paintings have consistently registered some of the most high-profile sales. In 2012, one of his Metascapes from 1973 fetched 180,092.43 USD and his Greek Landscape (1960) set a world record for him when it was sold by Saffronart in 2016 for 2.9 million USD, twice the estimated selling price.

    Padamsee was awarded the Nehru Fellowship in 1960 and in 1962 he was awarded a gold medal from the Lalit Kala Akademi. His other awards include the Kalidas Samman by the Government of Madhya Pradesh in 1997, Lalit Kala Ratna Puraskar in 2004, the Dayawati Modi Award in 2007, Roopdhar Award by Bombay Art Society in 2008 and Kailash Lalit Kala award in 2010. 

    His work has been shown globally and he has participated in prestigious biennales and exhibitions which include Venice Biennale in 1953 and 1955, Sao Paulo and Tokyo Biennales in 1959, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford in 1981, Royal Academy of Arts, London in 1982 and Centre National des Arts Plastiques, Paris in 1985. In 1980, the Art Heritage Gallery in Mumbai organised his retrospective exhibition. 

    Padamsee lived and worked in Mumbai until his death in January 2020, at the age of 91.


    “About: Biography.” Akbar Padamsee. Accessed, June 17, 2021.

    “Akbar Padamsee.” Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation. Accessed, June 16, 2021.

    “Akbar Padamsee: Art for me is to express the invisible.” Christies. March 03, 2020.

    “Akbar Padamsee.” Saffronart. Accessed, June 17, 2021.

    Nair, Uma. “Akbar Padamsee: The Sanskrit scholar among the Progressives.” The Hindu, January 9, 2020.

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