By Michele Leight
Sotheby's sale of Indian and
South East Asian art includes works from the collection of Emanuel
Schlesinger, an important patron of Indian art, including Tyeb
Mehta's "Untitled," (Lot 135, estimate $100,000 to $120,000).
Illustrated above, (detail below), is Lot 145, "Untitled,"
by Maqbool Fida Husain (b. 1915), a rare and exceptionally fine
early work, executed in 1955, depicting village life in the sumptuous
colors of India. The estimate for Lot 145 is $150,000 to $200,000.
It sold for a staggering $1,058,500, far exceeding its estimate,
and worth it.
Lot 143, "Couples at Sea
Shore," also by Husain, is an oil on canvas that is 24 inches
square. It has an estimate of $25,000 to 35,000. It sold for
Lot 135 is a beautiful untitled
work by Tyeb Mehta (1925-2009) that was acquired by Emanuel Schlesinger
when he left Austria after the Nazi takeover and moved to Bombay.
His intended destination was a small Jewish community in Shanghai,
but he settled in Bombay instead when his boat made a scheduled
stop there. Forced to leave his art behind when he fled Nazi-occupied
Europe, Schlesinger, together with other Europeans, was extremely
active in the cities art scene, which at the time included many
artist's experimenting with new forms of painting, known now as
the Progressive Artists Group. He began rebuilding his collection
with gems like Mehta's "Untitled," which sold for
$566,500, far exceeding its pre-sale estimate.
The auction has early works
of staggering beauty by Syed Haider Raza (b. 1922), Lots 144 and
146. The former is entitled "L'Inconnu" and is an acrylic
on canvas that measures 78 1/4 by 39 1/4 inches and was executed
in 1972. It has an estimate of $120,000 to $180,000. It sold
for $485,000. The latter is entitled "La Mer." It
has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $386,500.
"La Mer" (Lot 146)
has a pre-sale estimate of $100,000 to 150,000. It sold for
$386,500. The catalogue describes the artist's work as "characterized
by the crossbreeding of the modernity of Europe and America and
the spirituality of India. His evolution can be observed in the
successive stages that structured his life: at every moment of
his thought process life, nature and their mysteries have been
Nature dominates most of the
paintings illustrated here, and Lot 151, an untitled acrylic on
canvas by Ram Kumar (b. 1924) is no exception, rendered in soft
earth tones and washes of blue. It measures 22 by 23 inches and
has an estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. It sold for $62,500.
Lot 152 is an untitled oil
on canvas by Jagdish Swaminathan (1928-1994) that measures 31
1/2 by 45 1/4 inches and depicts a bird, a mountain and tree in
his signature style that fuses the simple forms and compositions
of Indian minature painting and an expanse of bold colors. In
the catalogue, Isana Murty remarks that "I cannot recall
anyone before swami using the vivid Indian yellow in the matter
he did." The lot has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000.
It sold for $290,500.
The Bengali artist Bikash Bhattacharjee
(b. 1940) captures the strength and humanity of one of Bengal's
- and India's - most famous citizens, Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Lot 167, "Untitled (Mother Teresa)," has a pre-sale
estimate of $7,000 to $10,000. It sold for $20,000.
Works from the Bengal School
include the Poet Laureate Rabindranath Tagore's poetic - no pun
intended - "Dumb Efforts and a Desperate Appeal to Emptiness,"
(Lot 116, estimate $20,000 to 30,000/Sold for $43,750), beautifully
executed in Chinese ink, which he generously gifted to Indophile
Alice Boner (not illustrated.)
Sotheby's South East Asian
Art sale features an eclectic selection of highly collectible
treasures from the Himalayas, Khmer, Inner Mongolia, India and
other exotic regions spanning several centuries, at prices ranging
from reasonable for the graceful "Head of a Jina," (Lot
10, estimate $10,000 to $15,000, (illustrated below), to high
for outstanding works like Lot 59, "Shakyamuni Buddha,"
carved from stone, from Nepal, illustrated above (estimate $100,000
to $150,000). Lot 10 sold for $3,750. Lot 59 sold for $182,500.
Two stunning works from Tibet
are illustrated below: Lot 60, "Shakyamuni Buddha,"
glows in gilt, inset with turquoise and beautifully painted. Lot
67, "Buddha," masterfully fashioned from gilt copper
alloy a century earlier (14th Century) is seated serenely on a
lotus pedestal, his face and hair painted in the Tibetan style.
Lot 67 has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000, and is from the
Francisco Capelo Collection. Lot 67 sold $314,500.
Lot 60 is a 15th Century gilt
copper with turquoise Buddha from Tibet. It is 14 3/8 inches high
and has an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It sold for $242,500.
Triumph over demons is a common
theme in Tibetan sculptures. The exquisitely modeled Buddha in
Lot 67 is depicted when the demon Mara is unable to distract him
from his meditation. Mara questioned Shakyamuni's entitlement
to seek spiritual enlightenment. He responded by reaching out,
touching the ground, and stating: "The earth is my witness,"
which reputedly sent the demon packing.
Oozing mystery is the "Boddisatva
Maitreya," from Inner Mongolia, (Lot 72, estimate $100,000
to $150,000), inset with semi-precious stones that holds her own
in this line up of gorgeous masculinity. It failed to sell.
"Couples" are represented
by a personal favorite, "Divine Couple," carved sinuously
from sandstone, from Khmer. Also from Khmer, from approximately
the same period and in the Angkor Vat style is a fabulous "Garuda
Finial," (Lot 46, estimate $20,000 to 30,000), from the 12th
to 13th century, depicting the bird-headed deity Garuda, whose
forward-thrusting hands are framed by delicately wrought feathers.
It failed to sell.
The Khmer Empire (Cambodia)
emerged when the young rebel prince Jayavarman II sought independence
from the kingdom of Shrivajaya, and became consecrated as a god-king.
"Ang" means prince or princess - an unusually inclusive
and unisex title - in the Khmer language. Angkor was the capital
of the Cambodian Empire from the 9th to the 15th century, and
Angkor Wat was the site of a Hindu Temple of extraordinary beauty,
including gigantic sculptures, now sadly damaged by warfare.
The gentle "Head of a
Deity," (Lot 33, estimate $60,000 to 90,000), also from the
9th century, and "Standing Buddha," (Lot 39, estimate
$20,000 to 40,000), shown below, was sculpted in the 9th century,
and epitomize peace and tranquility. Lot 33 sold for $74,500.
Lot 39 failed to sell.
Two Picchavai's illustrated,
offer extraordinary value and great beauty: Lot 77, "Annakuta
Picchavai," (estimate $12,000 to 18,000), rendered in brightly
colored pigments on cloth, has the intricacy of a miniature -
super-sized - and features Lord Krishna being worshipped at his
shrine in Nathdwara, Rajasthan, India. It sold for $10,000.
Bolder in composition and sprouting
foliage - banana leaves - "Lot 79, "Rasalila Picchavai,"
has an estimate of $ 10,000 to 15,000. It sold for $6,250.
Lot 85, the extraordinarily
beautiful "Shah Abbas Receiving the Mughal Mission at Isfahan,"
illustrated above, was once in the collection of John Lord Northwick
(1770-1859), and reputed to have been acquired by the first Governor
General of India, Warren Hastings (1732-1818). In the early 20th
century this miniature joined the prestigious collection of Boies
Penrose II (1902-1976), of Philadelphia. Among other works from
this collection, it will be offered for sale at Sotheby's after
almost a century. Lot 85 has an estimate of $20,000 to 30,000.
It sold for $43,750.
Lot 104, "Maharaja Shatrusal
II Presides Over a Celebration," 19th Century, is an opaque
watercolor heightened with gold. It measures 14 1/4 by 18 7/8
inches and has an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000. It sold for
Lot 107, "A Sikh Prince
Hawking," is an opaque watercolor heightened with gold, circa
1840. It measures 11 1/4 by 8 7/8 inches and has an estimate of
$6,000 to $8,000. It sold for $10,000.
Lot 101, "Krishna and
the Gopis," is a watercolor on paper from the early 18th
Century that measures 11 7/8 by 8 1/2 inches. It has an estimate
of $8,000 to $12,000. It failed to sell.
The exquisite miniatures illustrated
above represent "pleasures," in human and divine form,
from hawking and attending celebrations to cavorting with gopis.
Miniatures have exerted an enormous influence on modern and contemporary
Indian art, inspiring each new generation of artists in different
ways. It is easy to see why.