Modern Indian Art continues to hold sway for Indian Art collectors
Some rare works of modern Indian masters fetched high prices at the recent edition of AstaGuru’s Collector’s Choice auction, proving that modernists still hold sway in Indian art. Here’s a roundup of the gems that drew the highest bidders.
Every collector has his day. Those who collect Indian art, consider it a successful one only when they score a rare work by an Indian master of the modern era. This fact was amply proved at the recent edition of AstaGuru’s Collector’s Choice auction in its second edition held this year. A whopping success with a total sale value of INR 26,24,64,816 (USD 3,499,447), with the majority of the works selling above their estimated value; this auction certainly made waves in the art fraternity.
For any popular auction, the same basic rules apply. The auction goes live on the website for two days. Bidders who have previously registered and completed the verification process log in to their accounts and bid on the lots they are interested in purchasing. Once placed, a bid cannot be cancelled. If a collector is outbid, they can continue to bid until the closing schedules of their preferred lot. The closing for different sets of lots varies in time, for the convenience of those who are bidding on multiple lots at the same time. This ensures a nail-biting finish to the last.
The Collector’s Choice auction format is a popular one organised by AstaGuru, owing to its ‘No Reserve’ policy, which enables seasoned buyers to acquire artworks by eminent modern artists, while at the same time, serving as an ideal entry point for new buyers to begin their journey in collecting art. With bids starting at the low sum of INR 20,000, and a large offering of 164 lots, this particular auction had something to appeal to everyone.
There were no surprises in terms of individual sales, with mostly all predictions ringing true. Modernist Tyeb Mehta’s painting called ‘Figure’ was the highest-selling work and went for INR 2,92,52,927 (USD 390,039). Executed with a heavy impasto technique and a restricted colour palette, its canvas features a lonely figure. The artist created this work in 1962 while residing in London when he was heavily influenced by the work of British figurative painter Francis Bacon. It was a period of his life where he was still finding his artistic feet. The work in question seems to be a precursor to his ‘Falling Figure’ series which he created in later years, being more sure of his lines and compositions. However refined the technique may be, the melancholy of Tyeb’s figure in this work is clearly evident, making it an evocative work of art.
Arpita Singh’s work titled ‘Counting Flowers: My Benares Saree’ also raked in the money, selling for INR 1,89,81,479 (USD 253,086). Painted in 1997, it is an archetypal example of the artist’s oeuvre and her peculiar colour composition. In her characteristic style, Singh showcases a range of emotions through her three vividly-coloured figures. Influenced by her work at the Weaver’s Service Centres in Kolkata and New Delhi, her love for flowers, textiles and design, is evident in this work. Though not considered one of her finest by experts, it is still a significant painting for those who follow her practice.
Next in line was an untitled work by artist Krishen Khanna, which was acquired at INR 1,20,09,586 (USD 160,127). For this, Khanna used a limited colour palette to great effect, focussing on the lines of the two female figures looking out from a structured balcony. Both the human and architectural forms were given prominence showing Khanna’s mastery over the technicalities of painting. The work was created in the year 1982, and is a nod to his modernist affiliation. Khanna’s forte lies in his ability to create a story from minimal material. As the last remaining member of the Progressive Artist’s group, the value of his work is only set to rise further, imbued as it is with his peculiar charm and charisma. This is most evident from the fact that in recent years, Khanna’s works have done very well at auctions. His solo show spanning works over decades, held at Saffronart to coincide with the India Art Fair 2022, has been described as a study for art historians and students of art history.
Three works by modernist master and another member of the Progressive Artist’s Group, M.F. Husain were also favoured by the hammer. The first of these, titled ‘Shankara’ was acquired at INR 77,03,209 (USD 102,709). Depicting a figure with a serpent, the work was originally in the collection of artist Bal Chhabda, a close friend of Husain’s. This oil on canvas work painted in 1961 is a wonderful example of the artist’s dexterity. Another untitled work of his - a diptych from his famed ‘Mother Teresa’ series which shows her iconic white saree with its blue border, to dramatic effect - sold for INR 55,56,260 (USD 74,083). Its powerful imagery sends out a strong message. The last of Husain’s works that counted in the top 10 auctioned pieces this time, was an untitled artwork executed with acrylic on canvas, showing a variety of flying birds in a scene that evoked a sense of joyous release. It sold for INR 59,55,167 (USD 79,402).
A painting from S.H. Raza’s ‘Bindu’ series called ‘Germination Red’ went for INR 71,30,534 (USD 95,073). One of the founding members of the Progressive Artist’s Group, Raza’s is a leading voice that helped define the language of modern Indian art as we know it. This work of his appeared in an auction for the first time, as it had been acquired by its last owner directly from the artist. Raza’s geometric shapes rendered in vivid colours always make a strong statement. They are believed to depict the passionate colours emblematic of India’s rich diversity.
An exquisite creation of Jogen Chowdhury’s from the year 1990 sold at INR 65,50,684 (USD 87,341). Typical to his practice, this watercolour, pen, and colour pencils on paper was executed in his signature cross-hatching technique. It shows a couple in what seems to be the poignant silence between a conversation. This show of intimacy between a man and a woman in unusual ways is a recurring theme in Chowdhury’s practice, and is also why he is called a modernist master. The drama of his work lies in his strong lines and contours, and his masterful mixing of colour and varied mediums.
Other noteworthy pieces included an untitled one by Russian artist Nicholas Roerich, featuring his favourite subject – the Himalayas shown in hues of divine light. It too appeared in an auction for the first time and was acquired at INR 49,30,254 (USD 65,736). This work was created in 1940 and is an apt example of his incredible ability to merge the essence of the physical world with that of a spiritual one. The auction also presented several sculptures by renowned modern artists. A sculpture of Lord Krishna by P.V. Janakiram was acquired at INR 38,68,307 (USD 51,576). Three sculptures by Amar Nath Sehgal, a noted modernist sculptor from India who also enjoyed considerable success on international platforms, sold at INR 31,96,948.
The sway of the hammer always evokes excitement in art connoisseurs and collectors alike. Now that its resounding din has ended, the works it guarded dispersed to their various owners, and the auction deemed a great success, it is time to look ahead… To the next auction!
Noor Anand Chawla pens lifestyle articles for various publications and her blog www.nooranandchawla.com.
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