ARTY-FACT | RAM KUMAR: With a little help from a friend
During veteran artist's early days, when no one was buying his art, his close friends stepped in
Artist Ram Kumar, who died on 14 April, was a significant modernist and an associate of the Progressive Artists’ Group. Born in Shimla in a middle-class family in 1924, art had been an interest and passion for him since childhood. While Kumar took classes with the legendary Sailoz Mukherjea, one of the nine masters on the list of the Archaeological Survey of India, his formal education was in economics at Delhi’s St Stephen’s College. Kumar’s art dealt with the pain of the less privileged members of society. He witnessed the freedom struggle and the angst of the common man of newly independent India. These would form the subject matter of much of his art.
Krishen Khanna, who had worked with Grindlays Bank before becoming a full-time artist, was associated with the Progressive Artists’ Group and a close friend of Kumar’s. In the mid-1950s, Kumar was not selling a lot of his work. But the friendship amongst artists was deep and they would never hesitate to help. By way of support, Khanna and his wife, Renu, invited Kumar to hold a home show at their residence, on Lloyd’s Road, in Chennai.
Kumar was excited to take his works to a new city. They were displayed in the living room of the Khanna residence for a weekend exhibit. While the show was well attended, nothing sold. Distressed, Kumar stepped out of the house for fresh air. On his return, Renu Khanna gave him Rs350, telling him someone had come and bought a work while he was out. Kumar was ecstatic.
Many years later, Kumar got to know that it was, in fact, Renu Khanna herself who had bought the work. The painting still remains in the private collection of the Khannas.