By Michele Leight
In a gallery filled with beautiful art works of superb quality,
Hugo Weihe, Christie's International Specialist Head of Asian
Art spoke with regret and emotion of the recent passing of Tyeb
Mehta in July, 2009, and of two important works by him included
in this sale, the cover lot 543, "Two Figures," painted
in 1994 (estimate $600,000 to $800,000), and Lot 533, "Mahishasura,"
also with an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000.
Christie's catalogue for the sale notes:
"Following a series of illnesses, Tyeb
Mehta spent 1984-85 as an artist in residence at Visva-Bharati
University founded by Rabindranath Tagore in Shantiniketan. His
time there with its idyllic surroundings rejuvenated him and re-ignited
an optimism that he had lost over the years. Bengal reminded him
of childhood visits to his maternal grandparents who lived in
Calcutta and his stay in Shantiniketan culminated in one of his
largest and most significant works to date, "Shantiniketan
Triptych. It depicts tribal priestesses enacting an ancient purification
ritual and introduces the tropes of celebration in Tyeb's work."
"Two Figures" is inspired by mother
goddesses and the spring festival of the Santhals, and marks a
transition between his more tortured, or "hacked" diagonal
style - derived from painful memories of sectarian and religious
violence during partition - and his more playful mother goddesses.
The acrylic on canvas measures 59 1/8 by 35
1/2 inches and was painted in 1994. It has an estimte of
$600,000 to $800,000. It sold for $926,500 including the buyer's
"Mahishasura" was also painted in
1994, and is a dramatic Mehta diagonal composition of twisted
human and animal forms, part god, part buffalo entwined with the
Devi, or mother goddess, in combat.
Christie's has a significant history with Mehta,
first selling "Celebration Triptych" in their September
2002 sale in New York for $317,000 - making it the first Indian
painting to sell for over $100,000 - and again at Christie's New
York in September 2005, when Mehta's "Mahishasura,"
(1997) sold for $1.58 million, the first Indian artwork to surpass
the million dollar mark. This version has an estimate of
$600,000 to $800,000. It sold for $1,298,900.
Lot 526, "Le Maquis," is an
exquisite work by Syed Hyder Raza (b. 1922), one of the founding
members of the Progressive Artist's Group created in 1947, the
year of India's Independence. This acrylic on board, which measuress
49 1/2 by 59 1/2 inches, harks back to his roots and childhood
memories of the densely forested village in Kakaya, Madhya Pradesh
where he grew up. It has an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000.
It failed to sell.
The catalogue contains this observation from
A. Vajpej's "A Life in Art, Art Alive Gallery, New Delhi,
2007: "Raza was appreciative of the art of Mark Rothko. He
remarked 'I had more affinity with and regard for Mark Rothko
and Hans Hoffman's research, which were, in my opinion, not only
important for American painting but for the future development
of painting all over the world.'"
Painted earlier in 1963, Lot 539, "Untitled,"
(estimate $70,000-90,000), by Raza is an expressionistic, luscious
work that for-shadows his vibrantly hued later works encompassing
strong geometric shapes in primary colors, like Lot 540, "Surya,"
painted in 1997, with an estimate of $150,000-200,000, not illustrated
here. Lot 552, the Goan artist Francis Newton Souza's (1924-2002)
"Nude with Mirror," (estimate $300,000-500,000) is a
dehumanized Odalisque, whose distorted face recalls the worst
atrocities, and as the catalog notes, Picasso's Guernica and Francis
Bacon's disquieting heads and torsos. Bacon and Souza were contemporaries
and socialized together in London's Soho, and while Souza disavowed
being influenced by him but by his own background, at least one
of their models overlapped - Henrietta Moraes, who was born in
India. Another member of this charmed circle was Sonia Orwell,
wife of Eric Blair, better known as George Orwell, author of "1984"
and "Animal Farm," also born in India. Lot 539 sold
for $86,500. Lot 540 sold for $176,500.
Lot 552 is a "Nude with Mirror" by
Francis Newton Souza (1924-2002). It is an oil on canvas
that measures 33 1/2 by 70 inches and has an estimate of $300,000
to $500,000. Lot 552 failed to sell. The catalogue
entry notes that ""The visceral form of the reclining
nude, as if nailed onto the bed does not nestle in its firm cushions
but writhes with sexual energy and agression" adding that
"Souza has dehumanized the figure, brining out an inner beast,
the turbulence and violence in the face harkens at once images
of Picasso and Francis Bacon."
Two very different works painted three decades
apart by Maqbool Fida Husain (b. 1915) are illustrated below:
Lot 582, "Untitled,"
a sophisticated blue and earth-toned modernist composition painted
in 1964, acquired from Chemould in Park Street, Calcutta, in 1966,
and the more graphic "Untitled (Mother Teresa Series),"
of 1994, a depiction of a faceless Mother Teresa with a figure
resembling Christ, or one of the many dying destitutes she picked
up off the streets of Calcutta and cared for in her home "Nirmal
Hriday" in Kalighat, and a child with arms outstretched toward
her. Lot 582 has an estimate of $120,000 to $180,000. It
sold for $182,500.
The catalog notes: "Husain's
Mother Teresa references the imagery of Mother India (Bharat Mata),
the Virgin Mary, Pieta, and Husain's own mother who died when
he was very young." Closely associated with Calcutta, Husain
began a series of paintings of one of the city's most famous citizens
- Mother Teresa - in the 1980s. The distinctive white cotton sari
with a thin blue border worn by Mother Teresa and the nuns of
her order, The Missionaries of Charity, were always visible in
Calcutta's worst slums, as they still are, after she passed away.
A fine group of paintings by the Bengali artist
Jamini Roy (1887-1972) ranging in price from $30,00 to $50,000,
include an unusual gouache on card composition "Untitled
(Yashoda and Krishna)" (Lot 503, estimate $30,000 to $50,000),
acquired pre-1950s directly from the artist, and Lot 505, "Untitled
(Lava and Kusha with Valmiki and Sita)," (estimate $25,000
to $35,000), a sophisticated gouache on fabric mounted on board,
formerly in the collection of Marion Keller, who was with the
American Embassy in Delhi from 1957-59, not illustrated here.
Lot 503 sold for $62,500. Lot 505 sold for $27,500.
Jamini Roy's work derives from traditional Bengali folk painting
- pata - and Kalighat paintings, and their clean modernist lines
and natural pigments appeal to Indians and foreigners alike. Jamini
Roy is considered the father of the folk renaissance in India,
and his graphic compositions are strangely comforting and instantly
recognizable, as in the stylized depiction of a traditional Indian
mother and child, Lot 501, "Untitled (Mother and Child),"
illustrated below, in gorgeous royal blue with earth tones. It
has an estimate of $8,000 to $10,000. It sold for $16,500.
Jagdish Swaminathan's Lot 538, "Untitled,"
(estimate $300,000 to $500,000), painted in 1991, marks a departure
from his childlike "Bird, Mountain, and Tree" series.
This amazing, heavily textured painting is rich with symbolism
drawn from tribal motifs. The mountains of his earlier works have
now morphed into abstract triangles, symbolizing the abode of
the Hindu god Shiva. The rich pigments drawn over wax recall India's
red and ochre earth - Mother Earth - from which sustenance and
life are renewed each year. It sold for $538,500.
Many vibrant works by contemporary
Indian and Pakistani artists lit up the walls of Christie's galleries:
sadly it is not possible to include them all. A particular favorite
is "Dawn Chorus - 7," (2007) by Jitish Kallat, from
his Dawn Chorus Series, which captures the beauty and pathos of
Indian street children, who work long hours selling trinkets and
magazines and as domestics, and walk the razor's edge of India's
socio-conomic divide. In this winsome painting, the children's
carefree, joyful faces are crowned with "hair" encompassing
Mumbai's dense, frenetic cityscape, implying the burdens such
a life imposes on them, and their helplessness in the face of
it. Lot 557 sold for $386,500.
Rashid Rana lives and works
in Lahore, a city steeped in history, with some of the most beautiful
architecture in all of Asia. His art reflects the realities of
modern geopolitics and serve as a commentary on them. Violence
has haunted beautiful Lahore since partition, where horrific religious
and sectarian killings made headlines, as Indians and Pakistanis
moved across a newly created border to live with the majority
of their own people. Such heart-rending situations come about
through the machinery of politics, and the innocent and helpless
get caught in the middle. Rana's superb digitized vocabulary reveal
multiple world views, packaged in precise geometric miniature
- another traditional Islamic art form. His digital photographs
are cropped and re-organized, so we do not at first realize what
the subject is.
"Duality" is a constant
theme in Rana's work, portrayed here (Lot 569, estimate $120,000
to $180,000) in what appears at first glance to be a traditional
Persian Rug - "Red Carpet - 2" - but which on close
inspection is slaughtered goats, following halal laws.
The blood-stained floor and cut up flesh forms the beautiful "red"
of the carpet. The artist reduces the scale, releasing us from
the unpleasantness of having to ingest such disturbing imagery
whole. A "Red Carpet - 1" by Rana is included in the
exhibition "Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan"
at The Asia Society in New York, on view from September 10 2009-January
3, 2010. (www.asiasociety.org) Lot 569 sold for $170,500.
The determined yet fragile
face of a woman looking sideways is the subject of the Kerala
born artist Riya Komu's enigmatic "Untitled," (Lot 604,
estimate $20,000-25,000). Lot 604 sold for $32,500. Nilima
Sheik's "AfterAmnesia" (Lot 590, estimate $20,000 to
$30,000) is beautifully rendered in tempera, and was exhibited
at "Conversations with Traditions: Nilima Sheikh - Shazia
Sikander" at The Asia Society in New York in November 2001-2002.
Lot 560, "Phone Now + 91 114174 0215," by the wonderful
duo Thukral & Tagra, is a component of an installation called
"Everyday Bosedk" exhibited at Nature Morte in May 2007,
and typically for these artists it is a tragi-comic indictment
of decadence, over-sonsumption, over-spending and addiciton in
21st century culture. Lot 590 sold for $25,000.
Bengal has always been a major cultural center
steeped in the arts, and it is striking to note how many leading
Indian artists have strong connections to Bengal, and to Visva
Bharati, the college founded in 1901 by Rabrindranath Tagore at
Shantiniketan at a critical time in India's history, when it sought
independence from Great Britain. Many of these artists also spent
time in New York - as students, visiting lecturers and fellows
- an experience that greatly influenced their work.It is an ongoing
project and this work has an estimate of $25,000 to $35,000.
560, "Phone Now + 91 114174 0215, by Thukral & Tagra
(Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra), 2006, acrylic and oil on canvas,71
7/8 by 72 inches
Several works from The Bengal School are included
in this sale, and some have a historic as well aesthetic value,
given the turbulent political times in which they were created
and that Bengal was the home of many of India's freedom fighters.
The Indian Society of Oriental Art was founded in 1907 "in
service of the new generaiton of Bengali, nationalist artists,"
notes Christie's catalogue for the sale. The Society published
"Rupam" from 1920 onwards, and its activities were promoted
by an illustrious and distinguished trio - Gagendranath Tagore
as organizer, Abindranath as teacher and Rabindranath Tagore as
the visionary. It is recorded in the Bauhaus archives in Weimar
that the Tagores initiated the first exhibition of Bauhaus works
on paper outside Germany in Calcutta in 1922. It was also the
first exhibition of its kind in India and included works by legendary
artists - Lionel Feininger, Wassily Kandinsky, Johannes Itten,
Paul Klee and many others. Lot 313, "Untitled," (not
illustrated here), by Gagendranath Tagore, demonstrates shows
the influence of Feininger. It has an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000.
It is sad when a great artist dies, but
their art lives on. Tyeb Mehta drew inspiration from New York
City, and returned here in 2005 for the first time since 1968
for the launch of his monograph "Tyeb Mehta: Ideas, Images,
Exchanges," at Christie's Rockefeller Center. Memories of
the artist and of that groundbreaking auction are transcribed
in the catalogue for this sale:
"Watching the auction of 'Mahishasura,'
(1997), sitting on the aisle in these very rooms with his characteristic
humility, Tyeb took in the applause, which lasted for many minutes,
and in a sense was a valediction on a long, and at times, arduous
career. His avowed hope was that the legacy of such a spectacular
price would allow his work to some day grace the walls of New
York's Museum of Modern Art and other equally hallowed spaces,
alongside his artistic forbearers and inspirations. To him, this
moment was now a step closer for Indian art."
This sale features many fine works from the
Collection of Mr and Mrs. Paul Manheim, an outstanding Tibetan
Gilt Bronze from the Robert Ellsworth Collection and an important
set of seven thangkas of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama and His Lineage.
Lot 744, The Gray Schist Figure of a Seated Buddha" from
Gandhara (estimate $120,000 to $180,000), illustrated above and
below is, according to Mr. Weihe, "one of the finest examples
one can find," and a stand-out for its serenity and beauty
among the other superb works of art surrounding it. The carving
shows humanistic Greek and Roman influences, because, as Mr. Weihe
pointed out, Gandhara was occupied by both. The fluidity of the
drapery, and sensitively modeled face is the work of a superb
sculptor. Lot 744 sold for $218,500.
Paul Manheim (1906-1999)
was a partner at Lehman Brothers - "a long time ago"
said Mr. Weihe with a smile - and spent his riches wisely on superb
Asian art from India and Nepal. A rare and sophisticated collector,
Paul Manheim gave generously to The Brooklyn Museum, where he
served on The Board of Trustees, and was instrumental in expanding
its reknowned collection of Asian art. Simultaneously an acute
businessman, collector and an intellectual, Mr. Manheim favored
surprising juxtapositions of his beloved Asian treasures with
traditional Western paintings and furniture, an avant garde concept
at the time.
Also from The Manheim Collection
is the graceful "Rare Silver Inlaid Bronze Figure of Avalokiteshvara"
illustrated above (Lot 764, estimate $150,000 to $250,000) his
eyes inlaid with silver, with skin of luscious chocolate brown
patina because it is cast from rich copper alloy typical of Kashmir.
This figure is superbly and sinuously modeled. Lot 764 sold
for $182,500. Illustrated below is Lot 804, "A Large
and Important Gilt Bronze Figure of Atisha," (estimate $250,000
to $350,000), an outstanding figure from the Collection of Robert
H. Ellsworth that once contained relics of the sitting mat of
Atisha himself, which makes this an important historical document.
Lot 804 sold for $242,500.
According to Christie's catalog
the Indian master Atisha came to Tibet in 1042 at the invitation
of the Western Tibetan Kings Yese and Jangchup, to renew the practice
and teaching of Buddhism. In 1045 he bacame the spiritual founder
of the Kadam Order in central Tibet , and his twelve years there
left a profound impact on all orders of Buddhism. While the sitting
mat and relics "of so many who were taught directly by that
Lord himelf (Atisha)" are gone......"here is the sacred
statue, blazing with the light and energy of blessings of many
wise sages and adepts of India and Tibet!" (Courtesy Christie's
Catalog for this sale).
Five of the "Highly Important Set of Seven
Thangkas of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama and His Lineage,"
(Lot 811, estimate $250,000 to $350,000), from the collection
of Veena and Peter Schnell, are shown behind above, with Lot 804
in the foreground. Beautifully painted and in wonderful condition,
the central thangka depicts the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, flanked
by three thangkas on either side that display his lineage, each
identified with gold inscriptions. Lot 811 sold for $566,500.
The reverse of the central thangka was shown to
us by Christie's Specialist, Indian and Southeast Asian Art, Sandhya
Jain-Patel, revealing seals and hand prints that are also imprinted
on the others. A close-up of the central thangka, with Ms. Jain
Patel, is illustrated below, and gives some idea of the stunning
quality of the painting, and the exquisite detail of the natural
motifs and animals.
Positioned beneath a tree laden
with mangoes is "A Red Sandstone Figure of a Yakshi,"
(Lot 828, estimate $150,000 to $200,000), from the 12th century,
Madhya Pradesh, in the form of a "mother and child"
Yakshi, and mum is applying kohl to her infant's eyes. According
to the 11th century Orissan text, "The Shilpa Prakasha,"
or "Light on Art," temple walls had to be decorated
with yakshis to ensure the fruitfullness of the temple.
Sixteen types of women fit the requirements of a yakshi, including
the timeless duo of mother and child. This winsome, ancient work
of art resonates with the spirit of the land in which it was created.
Lot 828 sold for $182,500.
"A Painting of Krishna
Dancing On the Snake King," from India, Kangra Period, circa
1790-1800 is an unusual Indian Miniature rendered in gray, black
and yellow. While the snakes are a little unnerving, this exquisitely
painted composition is strikingly modern, a real connoisseur's
piece (Lot 857, estimate $12,000 to $15,000). Lot 857 sold
for $16,250. Strong drawing shows through in another Indian
Miniature, Lot 879, "A Painting of an Elephant," from
Rajasthan, with an estimate of $20,000 to $25,000. It
failed to sell.
Not illustrated here are ten
impressive 18th century Indian line drawings from the collection
of Paul F. Walter, notably Lot 838, "A Portrait of Two Archers,"
from Rajasthan (estimate $1500-2000) and Lot 844, "An Architectural
Plan and Elevation," India, Bikaner, depiciting a plan for
an exotic octagonal pavilion (estimate $800-1,200). Lot
838 sold for $2,000. Lot 844 sold for $938.
A serene tea ceremony utilizing
tea bowls and equipment included in Christie's sale of Japanese
Art is both relaxing - certaintly after negotiating the crowds
in Rockefeller Center - and an eye-opener of just how precise
each step in this important ritual is, before even a sip of tea
is consumed. Christies gallery setting was peaceful, sound proofed,
and time took on a different dimension despite large TV cameras
and energetic photographers. This sale includes a large number
of reasonably priced lacquered earthenware tea bowls, and utensils
in various materials, including Lot 1023, "An O-Meibutsu
Stoneware Tea-Leaf Storage Jar Named Chingusa (Myriad of Flowers),"
made in China, (estimate $100,000 to $150,000). A beautiful hanging
scroll, illustrated above, (Lot 1025, estimate $3,000 to $4,000),
helps set the scene. It was painted by Gyokushu Soban, who was
the 185th abbot of Daitokuji Temple in Kyoto. (1600-1668).
Lot 1023 sold for $662,500. Lot 1025 sold for $17,500.
Katsura Yamaguchi, Christies
Senior Director, Japanese and Korean Art, showed an inscription
on the reverse of Lot 1052, "A Bronze Figure of Mahavairocana
(Dainichi Nyorai)," stating it was commissioned by Nitta
Yoshisada in 1301-1338. This bronze was once owned by Prince Higashikuni
Naruhiko (1887-1990), Prime Minister of Japan (17 August-9 October
1945). It has an estimate of $120,000 to $180,000. It
failed to sell.
In contrast, "A Porcelain
Figure of a Dandy (Wakashu)," exudes humor and playfulness,
and is exquisitely crafted and painted. It is hard to imagine
men attired in full length kimono's embroidered with clusters
of flowers, but dandies marched to their own drummer. This marvellous
figure, illustrated below, is from the Edo Period (1670-90), and
has an estimate of $120,000 to $150,000.
Lot 1015 is a very colorful arita ware figure
of a dandy (wakashu) in the Kakiemon Style from the Edo Period,
failed to sell.
Fudo Mido, illustrated above,
is one of the Five Widsom Kings (Myoo), of Esoteric Japanese Buddhism,
depicted here in his manifestation as a wrathful deity. His fierceness
is intended to protect believers against evil, so he holds a sword,
and bares his fangs. Lot 1051 has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000.
It failed to sell.
The cover illustration of this
acution is 1056, a fine wood figure of the Divine General Anila
Taisho. It dates to the Muromachi Period (14th/15th Century)
and is 15 3.8 inches high. It has an estimate of $40,000
to $50,000. It sold for $43,750.
Illustrated below is Lot 1004,
"A Lacquer Picnic Set (Sage-Jubako)," a picnic lover's
dream. Aside from its superb aesthetic qualities, this picnic
set has four food containers, an upper rectangular drawer container,
a square movable tray and a lower container cut with two circles
to support the base of two pewter sake flasks - forget the plastic
cup holder. All this is packed into a streamlined 11 7/8 by 12
1/4 inches, and priced at $1,000 $1,500. It sold for $6,875.
Not illustrated here is Lot
1118, "Landscapes," a pair of delicately painted (ink
on silk) Korean hanging scrolls of outstanding beauty, with an
estimate of $150,000-200,000. It failed to sell.
A favorite is Lot 1158, minutely
scaled "Three Women," by Park Sookeun (1916-1964), whose
entire body of similarly small scaled work totaled around 400
paintings. Their simplicity and humility is disarming and imbued
with poetry. Christie's Specialist Heakyum Kim said his work was
appreciated and purchased by Americans stationed in Seoul during
the 60s, and sold for as little as $6. Not any longer, as the
estimate of this painting shows ($350,000 $400,000). Sookeun is
now the most sought-after Korean modern master, and Christie's
has sold 19 of his paintings since 1993. It sold for $410,500.
The water droplets in Kim Tschangyeul's
"ENS 809," painted in 1980, are literally jaw dropping,
especially as they are painted in oil. Tschangyeul has exhibited
widely at important museums and galleries, including a one-man
show at The Jeu de Paume in Paris in 2004. Lot 1148 has an estimate
of $25,000 to $30,000. It sold for $40,000.
Kim Tshangeul (b. 1929) discovered his favored
motif of water droplets in 1970. He was born in Seaoul and
studied at the College of Fine Arts at the Seoul National University
and also at the Art Students League in New York and he moved to
Paris in 1969. "ENS 809" is an oil on canvas that
measures 28 3/4 by 23 3/4 inches and was executed in 1980.