Born: 23 August 1922
Died: 2 September 2011

Jehangir Sabavala - Paintings


One of India’s most distinguished artist, Sabavala belongs to the first generation of post-colonial Indian painters. He was born in Mumbai to an affluent Parsi and Zoroastrian family and is the scion of the Readymoneys, whose history of commercial enterprise, cultural patronage and civic concern is closely intertwined with the history of Bombay. He belonged to a family who gave Bombay the only truly public art exhibition space it has, the Jehangir Art Gallery as well as the Cowasji Jehangir Hall where the Bombay branch of the National Gallery of Modern Art is housed. He grew up in the Readymoney House — a neoclassical mansion that served his grandfather which presented the dreamy and intelligent child with a marvelous scope for exploration; so that the young Jehangir could penetrate the labyrinthine infinities of the mansion. Like all lonely children, he created an elaborate reality for himself: a world of private fantasy with heroes and monsters, into which he could escape at will. By the early 1930’s, Jehangir had travelled across the Indian subcontinent with his mother and sibling before setting off on a grand tour across Europe. It was a richly variegated itinerary along which Bapsy shepherded her gifted children; the younger to become a distinguished painter. Their senses opened out in the museums and the galleries, theatre and the ballet at concerts. Since then, Sabavala has not lost his excitement and wonder of those early encounters.

He studied at Cathedral and John Connon School, Elphinstone College and earned a Fine Arts diploma from Mumbai’s Sir J.J. School of Art in 1944. Thereafter, he went to Europe and studied in the Heatherley School of Art, London from 1945 to 1947, in Academia Andre Lhote, Paris in 1948 to 51, the Academie Julian from 1953 to 54 and finally at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere in 1957. His career spanned for more than sixty years since his first solo exhibition at the Taj Art Gallery, Mumbai in 1951, after returning to his homeland from Europe.

As one of the post-colonial Indian painters, Sabavala staked his claim to a modernity of his own while maintaining a close relationship with the currents of international art practice. He has had no patience with the fluctuations of fashion; nor has he permitted such oppressive factors as ideology or political necessity to determine the tenor and direction of his work. Sabavala has rejected group affiliations, not from arrogance, but from the simple desire to explore the terrain of experience alone, neither imposing his beliefs on others nor permitting others to impose their doctrines on him. He has always worked at a tangent to main currents of contemporary Indian art, standing apart from schools and movements, guided by an inner logic of transformation. He believes that expression can be perfected through the tireless questioning of experience; through the divination of the motives and currents that purl beneath the still-flowing surfaces of our lives.

Evolving as he has done, Sabavala has remained true to certain lodestars of the imagination. And yet, over the decades, his handling of light and colour, his treatment of surface and structure have changed, at first almost imperceptibly and then to the more visible effect. The hard, aggressively definite and form-enclosing line of the early paintings gave way gradually to suffusions of radiance, hinting at the marbled openness, the limitless expanse of the infinite. Later on, he was attracted, not to the residual ideological content of Cubism, but to its formal discipline. Cubism ingrained in him a firm appreciation of light and structure; but it constrained him as he forged ahead and grew into an acceptance of a deep-seated, classicising tendency within himself. From the early 1960’s onwards, he was led to the expression of the contemplative energies that have fructified in his semi-abstractionist canvasses.

Jehangir Sabavala - Artworks

After the mid 1960’s, Sabavala calls into being a procession of exiles and pilgrims in his paintings; and as they traverse the unbounded distances towards a once and future homeland, he traces the stations of their quest. Over the 1970’s Sabavala came to see his art as a tightrope walk between the abstractionist and the representational. There is, in the crisply structured form, an echo of the old Cubism; but the content springs from the treasured memory and the stunning observation that has imprinted itself on the mind’s eye.

Since 1951, Sabavala has exhibited at prestigious national and international venues and held solo exhibitions of his Paintings in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, New Delhi, Edinburgh, London, and New York. A retrospective exhibition of his works was organized at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai and New Delhi in 2005-06. He also contributed his writings to many publications since 1951. Sabavala passed away in 2011.

Text Reference:
Excerpt from the book, The Crucible of Painting: The Art of Jehangir Sabavala by Ranjit Hoskote published in 2005


  • Padma Shri, Government of India, 1977
  • Lalit Kala Ratna, the Fellowship of Lalit Kala Akademi, India’s National Academy of Arts, by the President of India, 2007


  • Pilgrim, Exile, Sorcerer: The Painterly Evolution of Jehangir Sabavala
  • The Crucible of Painting: The Art of Jehangir Sabavala
  • Jehangir Sabavala
  • Unpacking the Studio: Celebrating the Jehangir Sabavala Bequest
  • The Reasoning Vision: Jehangir Sabavala’s Painterly Universe
  • Ricorso

Top 10 Auction Records

Title Price Realized
The Casuarina Line 2 INR 48,225,000
Under the Shadow of IV INR 36,325,000
The Casuarina Line 1 USD 374,900
The White Veni USD 365,000
The Green Cape INR 22,425,000
The City II USD 324,500
Sentinel Trees GBP 218,750
The Bridge GBP 206,500
Stag-Antlered Tree II USD 275,000
Whispered Imitations GBP 145,250