Some rare works by modern Indian masters fetched high prices at the recent edition of AstaGuru’s Collector’s Choice auction, proving that modernists still dominate Indian art. Here’s a roundup of the gems that attracted the highest bidders.
Every collector has his day. Those who collect Indian art only consider it a success when they mark a rare work by an Indian master of the modern era. This fact was amply proven during the recent edition of AstaGuru’s Collector’s Choice auction in its second edition held this year. A huge 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 has certainly made waves in the artistic fraternity.
For any popular auction, the same basic rules apply. The auction is live on the website for two days. Bidders who have already registered and completed the verification process log into their account and bid on the lots they wish to purchase. Once placed, a bid cannot be cancelled. If a collector outbids, he can continue to bid until the closing times of his favorite lot. The closing of different sets of lots varies over time, for the convenience of those bidding on multiple lots at the same time. This guarantees a biting finish all the way.
The Collector’s Choice auction format is a popular format held by AstaGuru, due to its “no reserve” policy, which allows seasoned buyers to acquire works of art by prominent modern artists, while at the same time serving ideal entry point for new buyers. begin their journey through art collecting. With bids starting at a whopping INR 20,000 and a wide offer of 164 lots, this particular auction had something to please everyone.
There were no surprises in terms of individual sales, with most predictions holding true. Modernist Tyeb Mehta’s painting called ‘Figure‘ was the best-selling work and sold for INR 2,92,52,927 (USD 390,039). Executed with a heavy impasto technique and restrained color palette, his canvas features a solitary 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 when he was still finding his artistic bearings. The work in question appears to be a precursor to his ‘falling figure‘ series he created in the following years, being more sure of his lines and his compositions. As refined as the technique is, 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 the flowers: my Benares sari‘ also made money, selling for INR 1,89,81,479 (USD 253,086). Painted in 1997, it is an archetypal example of the artist’s work and its distinctive color composition. In his signature style, Singh showcases a range of emotions through his three brightly colored characters. Influenced by her work at Weaver Service Centers in Kolkata and New Delhi, her love for flowers, textiles and design is evident in this work. Although not considered one of his finest by experts, it is still an important painting for those who follow his practice.
Next is 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 color palette to great effect, focusing on the lines of the two female figures looking out from a structured balcony. Human and architectural forms were highlighted, showing Khanna’s mastery over the technical aspects of painting. The work was created in 1982 and is a nod to his modernist affiliation. Khanna’s strength lies in her ability to create a story from minimal material. As the last remaining member of the progressive artist’s band, the value of his work will only grow, imbued with his special charm and charisma. This is particularly evident from the fact that in recent years Khanna’s works have performed very well at auction. His solo exhibition spanning decades of works, held at Saffronart to coincide with India Art Fair 2022, has been described as a study for art historians and students of art history.
Three works by the modernist master and another member of the Progressive Artist’s Group, MF Husain were also favored by the hammer. The first of these, titled ‘Shankara‘ was acquired for INR 77,03,209 (USD 102,709). Depicting a figure with a snake, the work was originally in the collection of artist Bal Chhabda, a close friend of Husain. This oil on canvas painted in 1961 is a magnificent example of the artist’s dexterity. Another of her untitled works – a diptych from her famous ‘Mother Teresa’ series which shows her iconic white sari with its blue trim, to dramatic effect – sold for INR 55,56,260 (USD 74,083). Its powerful imagery sends a strong message. The last of Husain’s works to be among the top 10 pieces at auction this time was an untitled work executed in acrylic on canvas, showing a variety of flying birds in a scene that evoked a sense of joyful liberation. It sold for INR 59,55,167 (USD 79,402).
A painting of SH Raza’s’Bindu‘series called’Red sprouting‘ went for INR 71,30,534 (USD 95,073). One of the founding members of the Progressive Artist’s Group, Raza is a leading voice who helped define the language of modern Indian art as we know it. This work appeared for the first time in an auction, as it had been acquired by its last owner directly from the artist. Raza’s geometric shapes rendered in vibrant colors always make a strong statement. They are believed to represent the passionate colors emblematic of India’s rich diversity.
An exquisite creation by Jogen Chowdhury from the year 1990 sold at INR 65,50,684 (USD 87,341). Typical of his practice, this watercolour, pen and colored pencils on paper has been executed in his cross-hatching technique. It shows a couple in what appears to be poignant silence between conversation. This spectacle of intimacy between a man and a woman in an unusual way is a recurring theme in Chowdhury’s practice, and it is also why he is called a modernist master. The drama of her work lies in her strong lines and contours, and her masterful blending of colors and varying mediums.
Other notable pieces included an untitled piece by Russian artist Nicholas Roerich, featuring his favorite subject – the Himalayas shown in hues of divine light. It also appeared in an auction for the first time and was acquired at 49,30,254 INR (65,736 USD). This work was created in 1940 and is a good example of his incredible ability to merge the essence of the physical world with that of a spiritual world. The auction also featured several sculptures by renowned modern artists. A sculpture of Lord Krishna by PV Janakiram was acquired for INR 38,68,307 (USD 51,576). Three sculptures by Amar Nath Sehgal, a famous Indian modernist sculptor who has also enjoyed considerable success on international platforms, sold for INR 31,96,948.
The swinging of the hammer always evokes excitement among art connoisseurs and collectors. Now that his resounding uproar is over, that the works he kept have dispersed among their different owners and that the auction has been deemed a great success, it is time to look forward… Until the next sale auction!
Noor Anand Chawla writes lifestyle articles for various publications and his blog www.nooranandchawla.com.
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