Salman Toor - New Now New York Tuesday, September 28, 2021 | Phillips

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  • "I think of the pictures as short stories where the emphasis falls on unexpected places, seemingly mundane situations become illuminating or interesting ones. It’s a way of dealing in clichés and daring to do them well." —Salman Toor

    Girl with Beggar is an outstanding example of the virtuosic narrative ability that has catapulted Salman Toor to a status as one of the leading figurative painters of the 21st century. Showcasing Toor’s signature fusion of Old Master technique with scenarios borrowed from South Asian popular culture, Girl with Beggar presents the complicated dynamics of social stratification with strikingly fresh eyes. Painted in 2013, the present work belongs to an acclaimed early series of eleven paintings that the artist exhibited that year at his solo show The Happy Servant at Aicon Gallery in New York.


    Detail of the present work




    Born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan, Salman Toor creates scenes, executed with loving attentiveness, that borrow from both lived reality and whimsical fantasy. His compositions often draw from his experiences and South Asian mass media alike. The series The Happy Servant, to which the present work belongs, explores both ends of the socioeconomic class spectrum and is informed by South Asian fiction and literature. Toor elucidates that by casting fictional source material as lifelike representations of contemporary life, he considers “the resulting paintings to be fantasies, ideas, not related to the real objective world.”1


    The invented origins of Toor’s narratives, however, belie uncomfortable truths of the real world. The Happy Servant explores the complex and often discomfiting relationships between masters and servants. Toor appropriates the visual idiom of commercial advertising and transforms figures of poverty and prosperity into epitomized archetypes as he highlights the unhappy relationship between those with and without. In the present work, Toor situates a female driver—pretty, starry-eyed, and attenuated—in the driver’s seat of a modest but comfortable sedan. In the background, immediately behind her but visually distanced by the frame of the window, is a beggar who, hands extended and eyes entreating, asks the driver for alms as she contentedly—and unaffectedly—continues on her way. By reducing each figure to an imagined, elemental version of itself, Toor heightens the socioeconomic disparity at play and highlights the driver’s carefree disregard of the beggar.




    Toor’s infusion of art historical references into scenes of everyday contemporary life is defined by its engagement with the formal vocabulary of the Old Masters. His works are marked by their academic compositions, allegorical import, and frequent references to painterly predecessors like Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Édouard Manet, Parmigianino. On embracing the Old Master technique, Toor explained, “I think that was the result of me, as someone from the Third World, arriving in a museum of the First World, which was filled with an unfathomable number of gorgeous pictures. I was overwhelmed by this experience and felt something akin to rapture, totally inspired by the largely Christian pictures, which made me want to compete with the hundreds of dead aesthetes.”2 Resulting from this competition are works like Girl with Beggar, genre paintings for the present day.


    Toor’s engagement with history and his laconic ability to render moralizing scenarios also situate him within a lineage of contemporary figurative painters. The drawn-out decadence of the present work draws comparison to that of John Currin, whose leering and sickly scenes of an imagined Rockwellian America are distinguished for their dismaying depictions of the excesses and iniquities of contemporary life. In the present work, Toor, like Currin, pursues a strategy of exaggeration as he offers the viewer a vignette of everyday immorality: the driver’s blithe Mannerist glamour is juxtaposed with the cartoonish stereotype of the beggar as each figure is reduced to a grotesque cliché of itself. By rendering the driver and the beggar as simple archetypal figures, Toor heightens the narrative punch of the work and implores the viewer to directly confront the quotidian wickedness depicted in the scene. A quietly moralizing example of the artist’s celebrated early work, Girl with Beggar masterfully demonstrates the incisive immediacy and keen narrative ability that have cemented Toor’s status as a leading figurative painter today.


    1 Violet Shuraka, “Studio Visit with Salman Toor,” Cheap & Plastique Magazine, July 10, 2015, online

    2 Violet Shuraka, “Studio Visit with Salman Toor,” Cheap & Plastique Magazine, July 10, 2015, online

    • Provenance

      Aicon Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2013

    • Exhibited

      New York, Aicon Gallery, The Happy Servant: Recent Works by Salman Toor, May 10–June 29, 2013

    • Literature

      Violet Shuraka, "Studio Visit with Salman Toor," Cheap & Plastique Magazine, July 10, 2015, online (illustrated)


Girl with Beggar

oil on canvas
18 x 24 in. (45.7 x 61 cm)
Painted in 2013.

Full Cataloguing

$70,000 - 100,000 

Sold for $302,400

Contact Specialist

Patrizia Koenig

Head of New Now Sale

212 940 1279

New Now

New York Auction 28 September 2021