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Christie’s now gets an Indian classic twist

Published Dec 14, 2015, 6:21 am IST
Updated Mar 26, 2019, 6:17 pm IST
For the first time, the art auction house has dedicated a section to classical Indian art.

World’s largest art auction house Christie’s is ready with its third India sale that’s slated to take place on December 15. One of the prime enhancements of the sale this year is a section dedicated to classical Indian art for the first time.

This year a total of a 100 works will be going under the hammer, which include an extensive lot from the ancestral collection of the Maharajas of Bikaner. Also, a 10th century sandstone figure of a dancing Ganesha that has been sourced from Mumbai itself and a granite figure of a Dvarapala, circa 10th century are among the top draws in the freshly introduced section.


Besides that, the collector favourites are intact, such as the works of masters like S.H. Raza, Francis Newton Souza, V.S. Gaitonde, Tyeb Mehta, M.F. Husain, besides artists of the Tagore family  — Abanindranath and Gaganendranath Tagore — all of whom are designated as “national treasure” artists.

An increased interest in the category of classical Indian art prompted the auction house to introduce it in the sales this year. Collector behaviour in India has undergone a change since Christie’s held their first auction here in 2013. Sonal Singh, head of sales, Mumbai says, “There are more collectors now. When we held a preview, we had over 2,000 people coming in to see the artworks. The interest has grown substantially over the past few years.” They have made provisions for aspiring collectors. “Our minimum price is `1.5 lakh, which is a good entry point for aspiring collectors. The prices go up to Rs 12 crores but we have varied price points for everyone,” she adds.

So far, 2015 has been a good year for art collectors as well as the art house. After a successful run in London in May, where they handled a completely undiscovered portrait by Amrita SherGil, in September they sold Francis Newton Souza’s Birth for $4 million — the highest record for any modern and contemporary Indian art. Understandably, the bar is set very high for the sale next week.

Speaking about the story of sourcing the Ganesha, Sandhya Jain Patel, vice president, Indian and South East Asian Art, says, “It comes from a private collection in a family in Mumbai. They are selling anonymously. It has been with them for over 30 years and it was one of the first pieces consigned to the classical section of the sale. It also becomes auspicious to have a Ganesha starting our sale of antiquities in India.” Ask her to give a guesstimate sales figure, and she says, “I never do that. Usually I am right, but since we are new to this market, it would be reckless to quote figures. We know for a fact that there has been a rich tradition of collectors here. And we want to introduce collectors this category slowly and gently.”

The art market in India is becoming less conservative, according to Sandhya. “Collectors are becoming smarter and more daring. With time everybody learns more. They are more confident of their taste and they are trusting their instincts.” And how can the government help in boosting the art market here? Sonal says, “What is needed is education about art and that can be achieved through building more museums that will automatically generate awareness and interest.”

Among the modern and contemporary masterpieces, they have a Gaitonde once again. The untitled work is a painting from 1995, the last year he spent in his barsaati in Nizamuddin, Delhi. And shortly after that, he stopped painting altogether. Speaking about the painting, Nishad Avari, specialist in cotemporary Indian art, Christie’s says, “We had Gaitonde’s partner at the time come in and she actually saw him create it. It is also featured in the only film that has been made on Gaitonde’s life called Art on Art. She told us that at that time, the artist had a subscription to National Geographic and was looking through it, when he chanced upon a story about King Tut. Perhaps the hieroglyphics forms seen on this painting are a reflection of that.”

S.H. Raza’s Bindu (1983) is another monumental masterpiece that is going under the hammer. Nishad adds, “The 80s were a seminal period in his works. This painting shows the transition from the gestural to the geometric. It has origins in his childhood, when his teacher, to quieten him in class, drew a dot on the wall and asked him to concentrate on it.” Ram Kumar’s double sided canvas is another work that has the auction house excited. It was painted in 1960 and 1961, where the artist first painted the figures and then painted a landscape over it, inspired by the sights and sounds of Benaras, which he visited in 1960-61 with M.F. Husain. The auction also includes important works by artists such as Jehangir Sabavala, Manjit Bawa, Nasreen Mohamedi, Jagdish Swaminathan to name a few.

Christie’s has also donated six works of contemporary art to the Chennai relief fund. “We hope that the sale of these works can make a small contribution and support the excellent work of the charities,” Sonal said.