Raghav Babbar - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle Hong Kong Thursday, December 1, 2022 | Phillips

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  • “The attachments I have to my daily sights gives life to my work.”
    Raghav Babbar

    A true citizen of the world, Raghav Babbar is a young artist born in India, raised in Singapore and now living and working in London, completing his MFA at the prestigious Royal College of Art. Channelling emotion through figuration, Babbar exploded onto the ultra-contemporary scene this year with the spectacular sale of his 2020 work, Surinder.



    Raghav Babbar, Surinder, 2020
    Sold for GBP403,200 at Phillips London, 13 October 2022


    The present lot is a product of the artist’s wanderings though his native India as an art student. Travelling through the country’s Northern regions of Uttarakhand and Sikkim, Babbar would have come to an intuitive interaction between his heritage and the area’s profound spirituality (they are both sites of Hindu pilgrimages, the former being the home of yoga); one which he suffuses into the characters that he came across along this journey.


    We are introduced to a man stood against a whitewashed wall, his figure intersected by shadow and the afternoon sun. Isolated in the composition, his guard is raised – despite what the work’s title might suggest. With brows furrowed and eyes hawking to the right, raising the question: what exactly is he looking at? The scene is not quite of a quotidian numbness, but rather a bewitching snapshot into an otherly ambiguity. Babbar explains this as such, ‘Amongst my paintings, I realised people truly liked those that I had done the creative process spontaneously instead of subjects I sought out. This led me to pick figurative studies to better express my emotions on the canvas, allowing me to better observe moods and personalities. Their momentary actions usually give me the purest display of emotion possible, especially when they are alone. Capturing them in these moments and relaying it to the canvas later establishes a connection between the individual and myself. I feel figures are an area where it is easy for me to express myself.’ i


    Babbar’s brushwork is impressive, and accomplished for such a young artist. Thick impasto renders the creaminess of the edifice on which the man rests/guards, while the deft parallels on his shirt break up these descending foundations. ‘[The] strokes I make change the narrative of the moment’i, he explains, and rings true in this painting, as this layered vocabulary ultimately succeeds in augmenting its intrigue.


    This balance between figuration and cognitive fantasy bears remarkable correspondence to the work of Johannes Vermeer, whose delicate portraits hold boundless reserves of intimacy. Such intimacy is reflected in Off-Duty, despite the frosty atmosphere that we could derive from the work, and is achieved by Babbar leaving half of the composition empty for the viewer to engage and introduce their presence, becoming unitary with the work. Standing alone with the painting we feel we stand alone with the man, sun stroking our faces as we bear witness on the nameless pavement; though not in anonymity, but amity.



    Johannes Vermeer, The Wine Glass, c. 1660
    Collection of the Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
    Image: Scala, Florence/bpk, Bildagentur fuer Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte, Berlin


    While Vermeer became the pioneer of the genre interior, where his leisurely figures occupied sumptuous interiors, Babbar has begun to carve out his own style, that of genre exterior. The majority of his subjects are indeed caught en-plein-air, waxing and waning between states of industry, relaxation, and introspection. Similarly, while the Dutch master is best known for his opulence, command of light and elegance of structure, what cannot be ignored are the simmering undercurrents of corruption that lie within his works. We can take The Wine Glass (c. 1660), as a matte example of this: here we seem to have stumbled upon a simple scene of domestic interaction; a couple enjoying a glass of wine, nothing more. Yet upon closer inspection we begin to doubt the man’s intentions. More cavalier than gentleman, he seems impatient to pour another glass. In contrast, the woman’s body language is hermetic, her arm folded in defence of wanton advances. The scene is compounded by the stained-glass window which holds a female figure of Temperance - providing a suggestion towards moderation, and a warning against indulgence. 


    Likewise, in Off-Duty, there is a palpable sense of trepidation – a feeling that something is not quite right here - ­as we are unsure of what is to come; searching a realm of possibilities we ultimately beg the artist for answers, a sequel to this flash of vitality. Unfulfilled, we are left to the devices of our imagination, both hopeful and cynical.




    i Raghav Babbar, quoted on the artist’s website, online


    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner



Off Duty

signed ‘BABBAR BABBAR RAGHAV BABBAR’ on the reverse
oil on canvas
152.5 x 101.7 cm. (60 x 40 in.)
Painted in 2020.

Full Cataloguing

HK$150,000 - 250,000 

Sold for HK$5,040,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle

Hong Kong Auction 1 December 2022