Born: 26 July 1925
Died: 2 July 2009

Tyeb Mehta - Paintings


Tyeb Mehta was born on July 26, 1925 in Kapadwanj, Gujarat who lived to be one of India’s most wellknown Indian artist of his generation. He was associated with the Progressive Artist’s Group and studied painting at the Sir J.J. School of Art. His summer holidays were spent with his maternal grandmother in Calcutta, a circumstance that provided him with at least one of his arresting leitmotifs. Having finished school, he considered a career in the movies since his family had strong business connections with the popular Hindi cinema; he joined the Fazalbhoy Institute at St. Xavier’s College to study cinematography but World War II had just come to an end and, in that era of chronic shortages, film stock was not available. The prospect of theory lessons without practical experience bored Tyeb who joined the Famous Cine Laboratories instead; he worked there from 1945 to 1947 as assistant to a film editor engaged in making documentaries for the Information Films of India series. During a troubled time between 1946-47 when riots erupted between Hindus and Muslims, stoked by politicians and spread by criminals, Tyeb happened to meet an acquaintance on a tram: AA Majid, already famous as an art director for the Bombay film industry. An alumnus of the Sir JJ School of Art, he encouraged Tyeb to join the art school and offered to recommend him for admission. Setting aside film, which he still describes as his “first obsession”, Tyeb joined in 1947 and graduated in 1952. His years in the art school was mapped across one of the most joyously exhilarating yet heartbreakingly tragic periods in modern Indian history with India finally getting independence from the British Empire in 1947, an independence which was shadowed by the Partition.

As a muslim, Tyeb would have felt a cataclysmic violence, epic upheaval and bewilderment of Partition in the most intimate sense possible. Equally, he participated in the anxieties and turbulences of Independence, the unprecedented euphoria of liberation. While still a student, he became associated with the vibrant Progressive Artist’s Group of Bombay. Feeling the need to nourish himself at the fountainheads of the Western art world, Tyeb left for London in 1954; in the meanwhile, he had married Sakina Kagalwala in 1951. On his return from London, where he briefly stayed, he painted his first notable work, ‘Rickshaw Pullers’ and followed it up with the canonical ‘Trussed Bull’.

Tyeb Mehta - Artworks

Over the years, Tyeb have been extremely reluctant to talk about his work. In his own words, “there is always a tendency in discussing an artist’s work to concentrate on his use of the medium and its technicalities . Or on subject matter…which can be a very trivial experience, not merely allow him to identify familiar objects. When you begin to understand the language of painting, subject matter becomes secondary and content assumes priority. Subject is something you can talk about, but content is emotive. It is you… like putting yourself bare in words. It is my life… my reaction to something I see or experience and is very private.” Tyeb’s works reflect an undercurrent of violence which were elements of his childhood. The generation before him according to him has developed a certain aggressiveness as they gradually moved out of the community to make their fortunes and he vividly remembers the violent street fights that were easily triggered off in the neighborhood. One left a deep impression on him. At the time of partition, he was living on Mohamed Ali Road which was virtually a Muslim ghetto. He remembered watching a young man being slaughtered in the street below his window. The crowd has beat him to death, smashed his head with stones. Seeing this made him sick with fever for days afterwards and the image haunted him to his last days. “I was paralyzed by the sight of blood. Violence of any kind, even shouting…”. The smashed figure had found its way into Tyeb’s work, the dreadfully mutilated, disfigured, flayed flesh. Another subject Tyeb has incorporated in his works for almost thirty years was the trussed bull. For him, it was important on several levels. It was a statement of a great energy blocked or tied up. The way they tie up the animal’s legs and fling it on the floor of the slaughterhouse before butchering it, you feel something very vital has been lost. It also appeared to him as a representative of the national condition, the mass of humanity unable to channel or direct its tremendous energies. It was at the same time representative of his own feeling about his early life in a tightly knit, almost oppressive Bohra

Tyeb Mehta - Artworks

community. Around 1968, a radical transformation happened in Tyeb’s works, the harshly textured expressionist imagery was abruptly replaced by large areas of colour, minimal two-dimensional figures and a conscious apportioning of space. His contact with American minimalists marked this major turn in his works. 1970’s was when a diagonal element started to appear in his works and dominated this period in his career as a painter in conjunction with the ‘falling figure’ which was another subject of his paintings. “I was trying to work out a way to define space… to activate a canvas. If I divided it horizontally and vertically, I merely created a preponderance of smaller squares or rectangles. But if I cut the canvas with a diagonal , I immediately created a certain dislocation. I was able to distribute and divide a figure within the two created triangles and automatically disjoint and fragment it. Yet the diagonal maintained an almost centrifugal unity… in fact it became a pictorial element in itself.” In many of his works, multiple limbs and breasts appear, a preponderance of human figures which Tyeb has used to modulate the canvas. It has been a part of his vocabulary like a certain way of applying colour or breaking up images, the human figure was a vehicle for him. It was his source as an expressionist painter.

Text Reference:
Excerpt from an article by Ranjit Hoskote titled Images of Transcendence from the book “Tyeb Mehta: Ideas Images Exchanges” published by Vadehra Art Gallery in 2005
Excerpt from the book “Tyeb Mehta: Ideas Images Exchanges” published by Vadehra Art Gallery in 2005,g pg. 340-344.


  • Bombay Society Award, India, 1950
  • National Exhibition Award, Lalit Kala Academy, 1965
  • John D. Rockefeller 3rd Fund Fellowship, 1968
  • Gold Medal, First New Delhi Triennial, New Delhi, India, 1968
  • Filmfare Critics Award for the film ‘Koodal’, 1970
  • Gold Medal, Prix Nationale at the International Festival of Painting, Cagnes-sur-Mer, France, 1974
  • Kalidas Samman, Government of Madhya Pradesh, 1988
  • ‘Manpatra’, Government of Maharashtra, Bombay, 2004
  • Gold Medal, President on the occasion of Lalit Kala Akademi Golden Jubilee Celebration, New Delhi, 2004
  • Dayawati Modi Foundation Award for Art, Culture, and Education, 2005
  • Padma Bhushan, Government of India, 2007


  • Tyeb Mehta: Ideas Images Exchanges
  • Tyeb Mehta, Triumph of Vision
  • Svaraj: A Journey with Tyeb Mehta’s “Shantiniketan Triptych”
  • Celebration: Tyeb Mehta

Top 10 Auction Records

Title Price Realized
Kali USD 3,998,000
Bull USD 3,222,759
Untitled USD 2,958,375
Untitled (Woman on Rickshaw) GBP 2,741,000
Bulls USD 2,826,500
Untitled (Figure on Rickshaw) GBP 1,973,250
Mahishasura INR 197,825,000
Untitled (Falling Bull) INR 175,425,000
Untitled (Bull) USD 2,285,000
Falling Figure with Bird USD 1,817,000