Art/Auctions log

South Asian Art


September 16, 2010

Sale 8660


Zara Porter-Hill of Sotheby's with contemporary Indian art 

Zara Porter-Hill, Sotheby’s International Head of Department, South Indian Art, with (Front), Lot 75, “Untitled (Head),” by Ravinder Reddy, 2003, Resin and fiberglass, 44 by 24 by 42 inches; (Rear), Lot 76, “Ok MILI,” by Subodh Gupta, 2005, Stainless steel tiffin boxes, armature, CD; dimensions as displayed

By Michele Leight

With a pre-sale estimate in the range of $6 million to $8.8 million, Sotheby’s will offer 112 Modern and Contemporary artworks in its sale of South Asian Art during Asia Week in New York on September 16, which is lead by a magnificent painting by Maqbool Fida Husain “Cinq Sens,” with a great story attached to it. Contemporary Artists whose superb work will be offered in this sale include Subodh Gupta, Ravinder Reddy, Arpita Singh, Jitish Kailat, Thukral & Tagra, and Bharti Kher, among others.

 "Cinq Sens" by Maqbool Fida Husain

Lot 20, “Cinq Sens,” by Maqbool Fida Husain, 1958, oil on canvas, 60 inches square, formerly in the Collection of Roberto Rossellini and Sonali Dasgupta.

The Asia week series of auctions at Sotheby’s New York achieved $7,547,250 to bring the overall total for the week to $27,649,251 well within the $ 21.9/31.2 million estimate. Commenting on today’s South Asian Art result Zara Porter Hill, International Head of Indian Art at Sotheby’s said: “The vibrancy of the Indian art market returned to Sotheby’s in this sale. Paintings from the 18th century to the latest contemporary art achieved exceptional prices with a number of artist records being set. The result far exceeded the low estimate and was a validation of our strategy. This focuses on carefully curated and strategically estimated high quality sales, and these have produced this year’s consistently strong sell through rates. Competitive international bidding resulted in more than half the sold lots achieving prices in excess of the high estimate. The highlight of the sale was undoubtedly the group of works by Maqbool Fida Husain (b. 1915) which was led by "Cinq Sens." which sold for $782,500 exceeding the $500,00 to $700,000 estimate. The four records set in this auction come on top of the three achieved earlier in the year to round off an exceptional year for the department.”  "Cinq Sens" is an oil on canvas that is 60 inches square.

Lot 20, “Cinq Sens”  was previously in the Collection of Roberto Rossellini, the legendary Italian film director whose first wife was Ingrid Bergman, (parents of Isabella Rossellini), and at the center of the intrigue surrounding Rossellini’s second marriage to Sonali Dasgupta. Half his age, she was in the process of divorcing her husband at the time of their romance, so it was difficult for them to meet surrounded by gossip and suggestions of scandal. Husain acted as a go-between and friend to the lovers, until they finally were able to marry. He was a frequent guest at the home of the Rossellinis, where he painted “Cinq Sens” in 1958, which he gave to them as a gift. Maqbool Fida Husain will be 95 years old on September 17, 2010, and he is still painting. A record 16 works by the artist are offered in this sale.

The central composition in “Cinq Sens” is reminiscent of Pablo Picasso’s “Boy Leading a Horse” (at the Museum of Modern Art in New York), but the figures in the background are a fusion of Indian temple friezes and Picasso’s “Demoiselles d”Avignon,” (also at MoMA). It is a synthesis of East and West, complementing the cultural exchange – and friendship - between Husain, the artist, from India and Roberto Rossellini, the film director, from Italy.

 "Untitled (Woman with Pitcher)" by "Untitled (Horse)" by Husain 

Lot 16, “Untitled,(Woman With Pitcher), 1960s, watercolor on paper, 24 by 16 1/2 inches, left; Lot 23, Untitled (Horse), by Husain, 1960s, oil on canvas, 70 by 35 inches

Another stunning painting by Husain features a horse, a recurring subject, influenced by his childhood memories of them.  Lot 23, “Untitled (Horse),” has an estimate of $120,000-180,000. It sold for $158,500.

Lot 16 is a untitled watercolor by Husain of a woman with a pitcher that was also executed in the1960s.  It has an estimate of $15,000 to $20,000.  It sold for $37,500.

 "Peeli Doop" by Husain

Lot 18, “Peeli Doop,” by Maqbool Fida Husain, 1964, Oil on canvas, 25 by 35 inches

Lot 18, “Peeli Doop,” by Husain (estimate $80,000-120,000/It sold for $158,500), was painted in 1964, after he began traveling throughout India to learn more about its different cultures. It has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000.  It sold for $158,500.  

Sotheby’s catalogue notes that in his introductory essay to "M. F. Husain, Early Masterpieces 1950s-70s, Asia House, London, 2006, Yashodhara Dalmia wrote that that Husain “drew from the classical, the miniature and folk, and attempted to meld it into a language which formulated the present. It allowed him to express a perceived reality, while being seamless, mythical and vast, was at the same time hurtling towards industrialization and modernization.” 

 Untitled by Husain

Lot 21,”Untitled,” by Maqbool Fida Husain,1960s, oil on canvas, 37 by 20 inches. 

Lot 21 is an untitled oil on canvas by Husain from the 1960s that measures 37 1/2 by 20 inches.  It has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000.  It passed.

 "That Obscue Object of Desire" by Husain, left, triptych by Raza, right

Lot 46, “That Obscure Object of Desire,” by Maqbool Fida Husain, is a diptych inspired by the film by the same name by Luis Bunuel that depicts the final scene in which the lovers are killed by a bomb blast. It has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000 and sold for $482,500.

It is illustrated above with the triptych of another Modern Master, Syed Hyder Raza, Lot 50, “Rajasthan,” 
a blaze of color incorporating his signature “bindu” and “lingham,” signifying the feminine and the masculine.  It has an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000.  It passed.

"Untitled" by Swaminathan 

Lot 28, “Untitled,” by Jagdish Swaminathan, (1928-1994), 1971, oil on canvas, 50 inches square

Lot 28 is an untitled oil on canvas by Jagdish Swaminathan (1928-1994) that was created in 1971  It is 50 inches square and has an estimate of $120,000 to $180,000.  It sold for $134,500. 

"Untitled (Barbara) by Souza, left; "The Prophet," by Souza, right 

Left: Lot 43, “Untitled (Barbara),” by Francis Newton Souza, 1971, oil on board, 21 by 16 inches; Right: Lot 32, “The Prophet,” by Francis Newton Souza, 1961, oil on canvas, 36 by 23 inches,

 Lot 43 is an untitled oil on board by Francis Newtown Souza.  It measures 21 1/2 by 16 1/2 inches and was executed in 1971.  It has an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000.  It sold for $35,000.

Another Souza is Lot 32, "The Prophet," an oil an canvas that measures 36 by 23 1/4 inches.  It was excuted in 1961 and has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000.  It sold for $158,500.

Other Modern Masters represented at this sale are Syed Haider Raza, Jagdish Swimanathan, Akbar Padamsee, (Lot 29, “Untitled Metascape,” estimate $300,000-400,000/Sold for $458,500), Tyeb Mehta, Manjit Bawa, Francis Newton Souza, Ram Kumar and Sadequain from Pakistan. In June 2010, a painting from the 80s by Syed Haider Raza, “Saurashtra,” made history in London when it fetched $3,486,965, a world auction record for the artist, and a new world auction record for any Modern Indian work of art.

"That Obscure Object of Desire" by Husain, left' "Rajasthan" by Raza, right 

Left: Lot 46, “That Obscure Object of Desire,” by Maqbool Fida Husain, 1980s, oil on canvas, Overall 67 by 136 inches; Right: Lot 50, “Rajasthan,” by Syed Haider Raza, 2004, overall size 39 by 78 inches 

This motif appears once again in dazzling Lot 52, “Bindu,” which literally explodes with color. It was painted in 1986 when Raza was teaching in California, missing his home country, India.   It has an estimate of $25,000 to $35,000.  It sold for $72,500.

A very different painting executed in 1962 by Raza,  Lot 51, “Route De Chomerac,” is almost Abstract Expressionist, perhaps influenced by his visit to America that same year; but as the title suggests, it was inspired by the countryside of France that he had recently left behind. Ultimately its specific properties have dissolved, and it becomes a universal “countryside.” Lot 51 has an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $56,250.

 "Route De Chomerac" by Raza, left; "Bindu" by Raza, right

Left: Lot 51, “Route De Chomerac,” by Syed Haider Raza, 1962, Oil on canvas, 26 by 32 inches; Right: Lot 52, “Bindu,” by Syed Haider Raza, 1986, Oil on canvas, 19 by 19 inches

 "Remains" by Suleman, left; "untitled' by Souza, center; "Munna Apa's Garden" by Singh, right

Left: Lot 84, “Remains,” by Adeela Suleman; Center: Lot 33, “Untitled,” by Francis Newton Souza; Right: Lot 64, “Munna Apa’s Garden,” by Arpita Singh

Above, Francis Newton Souza’s “Untitled,” Lot 33, is flanked by two contemporary art works in Sotheby’s galleries: on the left is Lot 84, “”Remains,” by Adeela Suleman, center; on the right is Lot 64, “Munna Apa’s Garden,” by Arpita Singh.  Lot 33 has an estimate of $60,000 to  $80,000. It sold for $68,500.  Lot 84 has an estimate of $8,000 to $12,000.  It  passed.  Lot 64 has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000.  It sold for $506,500.


 "Untitled" by Kumar, left; "Untitled (Pink Figure)" by Mehta, right

Left: Lot 58, “Untitled,” by Ram Kumar, 1997, Oil on canvas, 33 by 22 inches; right: Lot 30, “Untitled (Pink Figure),” by Tyeb Mehta, 1962, Oil on board, 40 by 30 inches

Lot 58 has an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000.  It sold for $50,000.  Lot 30 has an estimate  of $200,000 to  $300,000.  It sold for $218,500.

In a blue/green color palette, (not illustrated), is Bhupen Khakar’s “Muslims Around a Mosque,” that was included in his first European Retrospective at The Lowy Center in Manchester. It is influenced by the photo-collage technique of David Hockney, and depicts themes from modern, urban India.  It has an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000.  It sold for $650,000.

Born in 1934, Khakar died in 2003. The artist said:

“My interest is something which is part of my life, the things that I see. Most artists don’t do (similar) subjects as they are taboo, and I think, let me do it.” (Sotheby’s catalogue: “India’s Sexual Taboos,” BBC News World Edition, October 29, 2002)

 "Untitled" by Roy

Lot 3, “Untitled,” by Jamini Roy, (1887-1972), Tempera on woven paper, 15 by 25 inches

Jamini Roy's distinctive, traditional-yet-innovative style is becoming widely appreciated, which is manifesting in higher prices for his work. His paintings are considered national treasures, and have not been allowed out of India since 1972. Lot 3, “Untitled,” by Jamini Roy, depicts three goddesses, and is painted on woven paper. Enlarged, the “weave” becomes strangely contemporary, almost like a painting by Chuck Close. It has an estimate of $4,000 to $6,000. It sold for $11,675.

 Detail of Lot 3 by Jamini Roy

Detail of Lot 3,”Untitled,” by Jamini Roy, painted on woven paper

South Asian Contemporary Art gets more exciting each season; some lots pass because their audience has not yet formed, or because that one special collector was not present at the auction. It is not a reflection of the art. Van Gogh sold almost nothing during his lifetime.

 "Untitled (Bandwalla)" by Khanna

Lot 59, “Untitled (Bandwalla),” by Krishen Khanna, 1990s, Oil on canvas, 63 by 43 inches. Estimate $50,000 to $70,000. It sold for $122,500.

 "Imposter" by Kher, front; "Sat Samunder Par, by Subodh Gupta, rear

Front: Lot 80, “Imposter,” by Bharti Kher, 2004, Fiberglass, skin, gold plated necklace, 24 by 41 by 26 inches; Rear: Lot 79, “Sat Samunder Par,” by Subodh Gupta, 2003, Oil on canvas, 44 by 90 inches

Lot 80, “Imposter,” by Bharti Kher, who set a new auction record in London in June 2010 for an Indian female artist for “The Skin Speaks a Language Not It’s Own.” Lot 79, “Sat Samunder Par,” by Subodh Gupta is a personal favorite because I have witnessed countless passengers with similar luggage during my travels in India since childhood – and the more garish examples of “baggage” in this wonderful painting are similar to my own when I was a young art student. In Lot 79, Gupta references the global migration of Indians.  Lot 80 has an estimate of $120,000 to $180,000.  It passed.  Lot 79 has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000.  It sold for $290,500.

Lot 76, “OK Mili (EDITION 2 of 2),” by Subodh Gupta, illustrated at the top of this story was created in 2005, and is an imposing installation of stainless steel tiffin boxes.  It has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000.  It sold for $266,500. Of the stainless steel utensils that have become signatures of his work, Subodh Gupta says:

“The objects I pick already have their own significance. I put them together to create new meanings...All these things are part of the way I grew up. The (utensils) are used in the rituals and ceremonies that were part of my childhood.”

Sotheby’s catalog notes: “Born in the village of Khagaul in the northern Indian state of Bihar, Gupta’s early life was shaped by a humble, rural upbringing which revolved around the family hearth, fueled by cow dung and filled with squat stools and ubiquitous steel cookware – all of which feature strongly in his installation work. The pop kitsch elements of Gupta’s work are a nod to a culture of mass production, resonant of the multimedia work of pop artists Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg, and yet, singularly Indian in character...Used primarily for transporting hot lunches, tiffin boxes (from the archaic British slang tiffing, or snacking) are a colonial hangover from the days of the British Raj....”

 Untitled head by Reddy, left, "Metascape" by Padamsee, right

Front: Lot 75, “Untitled (Head),” by Ravinder Reddy, 2003, Resin and fiberglass, 44 by 24 by 42 inches; Rear: Lot 29, “Metascape,” by Akbar Padamsee, 1977, Oil on canvas, 59 by 59 inches

Ravinder Reddy’s marvellous super-sized Lot 75, “Untitled (Head), illustrated, reminiscent of ancient fertility figures and goddesses look strangely out of place in our civilization. The “headband” attempts to modernize her, but it is an awkward accessory at best. Reddy’s female heads resist being totally beautiful, graceful or poised. In the past these “goddesses” would have slipped comfortably into the role of maternal or religious figures, or a national icon. Today, this stereotype is confusing. Lot 75 has an estimate of $100,000 to $200,000.  It sold for $134,500.

On display behind Reddy’s “head” in the gallery is Lot 29, “Metascape,” a beautiful painting by Akbar Padamsee. Sotheby’s catalog notes: “Padamsee was strongly influenced by the Swiss-German painter Paul Klee, particularly with regard to Klee’s mastery of color and tonality, his noted surrealistic treatment of space, as well as his metaphysical inclinations....”  It has an estimate  of $300,000 to  $400,000.  It sold  for $134,500.

 "Metropolis 1 (Diptych)" by Thukral & Tagra

Lot 77, “Metropolis 1 (Diptych),” by Thukral & Tagra, 2007, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 72 by 144 inches


 "I Like My Man Covered Too" by Thukral & Tagra, left; "White Sweat/Inherited Allegy" by Jitish Kallat, center left; "Muslims around a Mosque" by Khakar, center right, and Untitled head by Reddy, right

Left to Right: “Lot 78, “I Like My Man Covered Too,” by Thukral & Tagra; Lot 82, “White Sweat/Inherited Allergy,” by Jitish Kallat; Lot 70, “Muslims Around a Mosque,” by Bhupen Khakar; Lot 75, “Untitled (Head),” by Ravinder Reddy

Thukral &Tagra are represented by two wonderful paintings, Lot 77, “Metropolis 1 (Diptych),” estimated at $30,000 to $40,000 (It passed) and Lot 78, “I Like My Man Covered Too,” (estimated at $20,000 to $30,000 (It sold for $35,000), “...that was part of T & T’s first exhibition in New York that addressed the problem of HIV and AIDS in India. The title itself is a play on words imitating the slogans of contemporary advertising. The project presented a range of probable solutions for dissemination of information to the vast population of India. Whilst in New York Thukral & Tagra worked alongside a group already developing HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns in India and suggested using some of their products to promote awareness. The two products were a pair of flip-flop sandals, imprinted with diagrams of how to put a condom on, to distribute to the poor and illiterate, who are the most at risk of contracting the disease and conversely a pair of designer underpants with a designer ‘Put it on’ waistband to offer to the urban well to provide a comic way of broaching the subject of safe sex (Sotheby’s catalog):  “They conceived a series of works...around the act of condom use, bringing humor to the process of demystification. The centerpieces of the show were large-scale paintings that illustrated couples of all genders sleeping amid T & T signature devices (their logo print pattern turned into crumpled bedsheets...” (“Put it On,” Bose Pacia, 2007, p.29).

 "Lotus Picchavai: Krishna and Radha amongst Lotuses"

Lot 108, “Lotus Picchavai: Krishna and Radha amongst Lotuses,” India Nathdwara, 19th Century, 85 7/8 by 96 inches

Lot 108, (estimate $50,000 to $70,000/It sold for $37,500), “Lotus Picchavai: Krishna and Radha amongs Lotuses,” is a gorgeous 19th Century wall hanging, painted in a similar blue palette to Lot 64, “Munna Apa’s Garden,” (estimate $100,000 to $150,000/It sold for $506,500). It is a magnificent contemporary work painted in 1989, illustrated with a Modern painting by Francis Newton Souza, (Lot 33) and a contemporary work by Aeela Suleman, Lot 84, in this story.

"A portrait of Maharaja Jagat Singh seated on an Elephant"

Lot 103, “A Portrait of Maharaja Jagat Singh Seated on an Elephant,” India, Udaipur, late-18th Century

Indian Miniature Paintings are lead by  “ Lot 85 “An Illustration to the Gita Govinda: Radha proceeds to her Tryst with Krishna,” (estimate $150,000 to $250,000/It sold for $290,500), is a stunningly beautiful miniature painting (not illustrated). Shown below is a Rousseau-esque wonderland, Lot 90, “An Illustration to a Ragamala series: Gaudi Ragini,” painted circa 1780-1800. Sotheby’s catalog notes: “Gaudi ragini, the wife of Megh Raga, is pictured in a lush forest setting surrounded by peacocks, in this colorful and elegant painting.” Lot 90 has an estimate of $8,000 to $12,000. It sold for $27,500.

 "An illustration to a Ragamala series: Gaudi Ragini"

Lot 90, “An Illustration to a Ragamala series: Gaudi Ragini,” India, Bundi, 1790-1800, Opaque watercolor heightened with gold on paper

Elephants are so much a part of India, it is somehow appropriate to end this story with a gem, illustrated above, “Lot 103, “A Portrait of Maharaja Jagat Singh Seated on an Elephant,” painted in the late 18th Century. The subject matter is self-explanatory, depicting a lucky maharaja on a palanquin in a very sumptuous and regal procession, accompanied with many attendants on foot, and two noble Afghan hounds. Lot 103 has an estimate of $10,000-15,000. It sold for $27,500.

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