By Michele Leight
The wonderful toys illustrated above designed by Maqbool Fida Husain (1915-2011) are two highlights from The Abe and Jan Weisblat Collection at Sotheby's New York Asia Week this Fall. The painting in the center from the same collection is also by Husain, (Lot 8), entitled "Mother and Child," a sumptuous oil on canvas painted in 1960 with an estimate of $120,000 to $180,000. The winsome toys are (right), Lot 3, "Tonga," painted in tempera on wood, with an estimate of $15,000 to $20,000, and (left), Lot 9, "Bullock Cart," with an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000. Both subjects - the tonga and the bullock cart - are images etched on the Indian landscape - timeless. The Weisblatt's fell in love with India - and Indian art - the moment they arrived in the country when Abe was awarded a Ford Foundation Fellowship. When Abe Weisblatt returned to the United States. Sotheby's catalogue for this sale notes "Abe's insightful reports from Bombay led the Ford Foundation to hire him to administer its fellowship program upon his return from Bombay. In 1958 he moved on to the Council on Economic and Cultural Affairs, a small organization funded by John D. Rockefeller III," whose main goal was to promote agricultural development in Asia. By all accounts a fascinating and gregarious couple, "they fell in love with the country - its people, its rhythms, its complexity, its color, and its food. (Jan never met a samosa she didn't like.) Abe threw himself into analyzing the potential for non-agricultural employment in rutal India, and Jan learned that cooking on a single charcoal brazier was no small task for a girl from Maplewood, New Jersey." (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale).
Lot 8 sold for $134,500 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.
Lot 3 sold for $35,000 and Lot 9 sold for $35,000, extremely strong prices for the toys.
Beautiful Lot 47, "Untitled
the Full Moon)," by Husain, is from The Collection of
The Late June and John Lewis, and has an estimate of $90,000 to
$150,000 (it sold for $290,500). Sotheby's
this sale notes that they "moved to Delhi in 1959 under the
auspices of the Brookings Institution" and that "Mr.
Lewis was a development economist renowned for his civic contributions,
mostly notably as a member of the Council of Economic Advisors
under Presidents Truman, Kennedy; minister-director of the United
States Agency for International Development in during President
Lyndon B. Johnson's term and chairman of the development assistance
committe of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
under President Jimmy Carter." Mr. Lewis authored several
books on economic history, and the Lewises became friends with
the legendary collectors Thomas and Martha Keehn, and Lakshmi
Jain, co-founder of the Indian Cooperative Union, who were instrumental
in the development of Indian Art globally at that time. During
their second stay in India, they began collecting Indian art.
Dramatic and embracing the colors of Indian miniatures, "Noel,"by Styed Haider Raza (b. 1922) is described as "lyrical abstraction" by the artist. As the title implies, this painting - executed in 1959 - celebrates his time in France, after he won the prestigious Prix de la Critique in 1956. Raza was the first foreign born artist to receive this award, which enabled him to travel throughout the French countryside, replete with churches and chapels made famous by so many other great artists, a time he cherished:
"Throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s, he turned for inspiration to Provence and the Maritime Alps, creating an explosive, expressionist body of work of which the present is a fine example. As French art critic Rene Barotte once wrote: "From an Indian miniature, (Raza) draws out a French landscape!" (von Leyden, Metamorphosis, Bombay, 1979).
Lot 37 has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $194,500.
Another Raza, Lot 59, "Village A L'Hombre," an oil on canvas that measures 25 3/4 by 18 1/8 inches and was painted in 1963, has an estimate of $40,000 to S60,000. It sold for $76,900.
Lot 5, "Souvenir," by Syed Haider Raza, oil on canvas, 12 1/2 by 30 1/2 inches, 1964
Lot 5 is a luscious and very strong Raza entitled "Souvenir." An oil on canvas, it measures 12 1/2 by 30 1/2 and was painted in 1964. It has an estimate of $50,000 to $60,000. It sold for $57,500.
Benares is one of the most famous ancient cities in the world, and the subject of Lot 13, "Untitled (Benares)," by Ram Kumar, illustrated above. The use of green is both unusual - it is not a color one would associate with Benares - and compelling. Its geometry reflects the labyrinthine drama of The Holy City's narrow lanes, burning ghats and the famous River Ganga that features so prominently in Hindu religion and ancient mythology:
"Wandering along the ghats in a vast sea of humanity I saw faces like masks bearing marks of suffering and pain, similar to the blocks, doors and windown jutting outof dilapidated old houses, palaces, temples, the labyrinths of the lanes and by-lanes of the old city, hundreds of boats - I almost saw a new world, very strange, yet very familiar, very much my own." (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale)
Lot 13 has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It sold for $146,500.
One of the most unusual paintings on offer this season is Lot 56, "The Unruffled Calm," by Jehangir Sabvala (1922-2011), illustrated above, that was exhibited at Kunika Chemould Art Centre, Delhi in 1972, and Gallery Chemould, Hehangir art Gallery in Bombay in 1973. Its luminosity must be experienced in person. The artist explains:
"No longer am I satisfied with the juxtaposition of planes, the search for rate color, the almost total denigration of the unpremidated. it is the intangible which is now my goal, Space and light, and an element of mystery begin to permeate my canvases. Emothions seek a new release in what I hope will become a permanent synthesis of heart and mind." (Hoskote, 'The Crucible of Painting: The Art of Hehangir Sabvala, Bombay, 2005)
Lot 56 has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It sold for $158,500.
The superb monochromatic work by Vasudeo S. Gaitonde, illustrated above, transposes the artist's sublime brushwork to the medium of oil wash on paper, a technique that is quite awesome. Meditative, and influenced by Zen Buddhist philosophy, Gaitonde was the most reclusive member of the Progressive Artist's Group. The artist's exposure to the work of Abstract Expressionists on his visit to New York in 1964 is especially evident in this powerful, luminious work of art, achieved through the use of a roller. Lot 35, "Untitled (Black)" has an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $98,500, a strong price for a work on paper. It is also from The Abe and Jan Weisblatt Collection.
Continuing in the monochromatic pallette are Lot 78, "Woman at The Window," by Krishen Khanna (b. 1925), and Lot 31, "Three Drawings," by Akbar Padamsee (b. 1928), both illustrated above. Lot 31 is a trio of atmospheric drawings in charcoal on canvas each signed by the artist in 1965. It has an estimate of $8,000 to $12,000. It sold for $23,000, a strong price for a drawing by the artist.
Lot 78 has an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $25,000.
Illustrated above is Lot 94, "Jihad Pop," by Seher Shah, twelve framed prints on paper. Sotheby's catalogue for this sale notes that the artist is captivated by the fleeting nature of public and private expanses. Figures with indecipherable countenances move in clusters throughout these prints, mamifesting a sense of detachment and anonymity. They occupy ephemeral spaces ranging from vast piazzas to abstract geometries. She manipulates spatial perspectives within the compositions: the picture plane is tense and dynamic as Shah uproots the viewers from the anticipated homogeniety of perspective suggesting a parallet universe."
Lot 94 has an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $25,000.
Not illustrated is a wonderful
of color etchings on paper by Shazia Sikander, Lot 93, "Nine
Works," with an estimate of $15,000 to $20,000. It sold
Enveloped in a moonlit blue glow, Lot 29, "Untitled (Blue Abstract)", by Ram Kumar (b. 1924), was painted in the 1960s and exhibited at "Ram Kumar: A Retrospective," at the Aicon Gallery, London, from March 31to April 30, 2010:
"The background in works from Ram Kumar's post-figurative abstract period, starting in the 1960s, begins to take on as much significance as his now infamous early works of the 'teeming masses' from the 1950s. The dramatic shift in Ram Kumar's palette and preferred style during this period has a strong correlation to the natural world - conceptualized through something as basic as the negative spaces between buildings, transitioning from the painterly concerns of close, urban life to the spaciousness of the earth and sky."
Lot 29, an oil on canvas that measures 25 1/2 by 36 1/4 inches, has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $74,500.
The painting illustrated to the left of Prianka Matthew (above) is Lot 1, "Untitled (Woman at Work)," by Husain, from The Abe and Jan Weisblat Collection, formerly in the colleciton of Thomas and Martha Keehn. The Weisblat's visited art galleries with the Keehns, and viewing grew into collecting, and this work was acquired in the early 60s. It is a depiction of a timeless, traditional village scene, and of women, a favourite subject of the artist, whose mother died when he was very young.
After the sale, Mrs. Mathew, the head of sale for Christie's, said "we are pleased with the results of today's sale which totaled $2.6 million and saw works from private collections perform particularly well." "Overall 33 percent of sol dlots achieved prices in excess of their high estimates," she said. Of the 93 offered lots, 54 sold, or 58.1 percent.
Lot 1 has an estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. It sold for $170,500.
It is natural that a wordly couple like the Weisblat's should have an affinity for a work of art as spectacular, playful and winsome as Lot 3, "Tonga" illustrated above, made by the artist when his first son was born, and he needed a regular job. He abandoned painting cinema billboards - that still impact on the rural and urban Indian landscape today - and went to work at the Fantasy Furniture Shop as a furniture and toy designer, where his toys certainly did not fetch the hefty pricetags this beautiful piece achieved at auction ($35,000). When his daughter was born, Husain began designing wooden toys, which began to appear in his paintings. Sotheby's catalogue for this sale sheds light on the deeper implications of Husain's playful toys however:
"'Husain's toys should not be called toys,' wrote R. Chatterjee in a book upon the subject, 'they are not playthings for the amusement of children. They are neither ephemeral nor piquant in appeal. Their formal beauty and decorative charm are enduring, which gives these toys almost monumental quality.'" (Berlia, Continuum: Progressive Artists' Group, Delhi, 2011, p.71).
Husain's "toys" were a welcome surprise this auction season. Those who won them at auction are very fortunate.
Lot 51, "Untitled (Landscape Drenched in Moonlight)," by B. Prabha, oil on canvas, 25 1/4 by 36 1/4 nches
One of the loveliest works in the auction is Lot 51, "Untitled (Landscape Drenchedin Moonlight)," by B. Prabha (193-2001). An oil on canvas, it measures 25 1/4 by 36 1/4 inches. It has a modest estimate of $15,000 to $25,000. It sold for $30,000.
Lot 16, "Untitled," by Somnath Hore, oil on canvas 20 by 15 inches
The most beautiful painting in the auction is Lot 16, "Untitled," by Somnath Hore (1920-2006), an oil on canvas that measures 20 by 15 inches. A great composition with fabulous luminosity, it has a modest estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $36,500.