NEW YORK – The South Asian Modern & Contemporary Art sale at Christie’s this week achieved a total of $7,505,250, selling 86 per cent by value, with a painting by Indian Modernist Sayed Haider Raza the top seller, achieving over $3 million. It was a different story, however, at an online auction at Sotheby’s this week, where the only two Raza paintings up for grabs, went unsold.
‘This year marked an important milestone for Christie’s as we celebrated 25 years in India,’ said Nishad Avari, Christie’s Head of South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art. ‘We were delighted with the strong results of this season’s sale.’
The top lot of the sale at Christie’s was La Terre, 1977, by Raza, which sold for $3,015,000 after 11 minutes of competitive bidding.
Shortly afterwards, a world auction record was set for Pakistani abstract artist Shakir Ali when Leaves (1960) achieved $87,500. Strong results were also achieved by fellow Indian Modernist Francis Newton Souza whose Head in a Landscape, a portrait from 1958, realized $471,000.
The auction showcased a group of important early paintings by members of the seminal Progressive Artists’ Group including Raza, Francis Newton Souza, Maqbool Fida Husain and Hari Ambadas Gade, as well as important works by other pioneers of modern South Asian art such as George Keyt, Abdur Rahman Chughtai, Zainul Abedin, Shakir Ali and Mohammad Kibria.
Alongside significant paintings by Arpita Singh, Jehangir Sabavala, Akbar Padamsee and Bikash Bhattacharjee, the sale also included a strong selection of works by the most sought-after contemporary artists from the region like Zarina, Mrinalini Mukherjee, Jitish Kallat, Muhammad Imran Qureshi and Subodh Gupta, among others.
A special section of the auction featured works donated to Columbia University Press by artists, galleries and collectors to raise funds for their project, the Library of Bengali Literature. These included paintings, sculptures and prints by Jamini Roy, Gopal Ghose, Jogen Chowdhury, Rina Banerjee, Raqs Media Collective, Rana Begum, Naeem Mohaiemen, Tayeba Begum Lipi and Ayesha Sultana, among others.
The Indian, Himalayan & Southeast Asian Works of Art sale at Christie’s totaled $3,003,750, led by a magnificent Tibetan gilt-bronze figure of Vajrasattva, which fetched $615,000.
The Dorothy and Richard Sherwood Collection achieved exceptional results, with a large and important buff sandstone relief depicting the seven divine mothers from Central India selling for $275,000.
The Asian Art Week in New York was a success, with a total of $41,641,250, at Christie’s. The series drew bidders from 36 countries across five continents, and saw 11 new world auction records set across the different categories. The complementary online sales run until September 25.
The top lot of the week was a rare and important large parcel-gilt silver bowl in the form of an open lotus blossom. Dated to the Tang dynasty and formerly in the collection of Swedish connoisseur Dr. Johan Carl Kempe (1884-1967), the vessel achieved $3,495,000 — a world auction record for a Chinese silver work of art.
The season opened with the Fine Chinese Paintings sale, which realized $2,341,750. Hibiscus by Zhang Daqian, a hanging scroll in ink and color on paper from 1948, produced the highest price at $591,000, while the Portrait of Cao Xueqin by contemporary Chinese artist Wang Ziwu sold for $231,250, more than 20 times its low estimate.
The standout at the Sotheby’s Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art Online auction were two paintings by B. Prabha, which saw plenty of competitive bidding.
An ‘Untitled’ work of Prabha, featuring a rural woman with a pensive stare – a signature style of hers – which had an estimate of $8,000-10,000, was sold for $32,500. Another painting ‘Untitled | (Trees), which had an estimate of $5,000 – 7,000, sold for $11,250.
According to Wikipedia, when Prabha (1933–2001) was still an upcoming artist, her work was acquired by Air India. Her paintings were used on menu cards and was displayed at the Air India Booking office in London. Her work was the basis of Air India’s large collection of some of India’s most illustrious artists, which includes Husain and Gaitonde.
In her formative years, Prabha was interested in both music and art. On her brother’s advice, she decided to choose art as her choice of vocation while finishing her matriculation. Her early work was modern freestyle painting. Over time she found her own signature style.
She held her first exhibition along with her husband B. Vithal in the year 1956. Over the years she held more than 50 exhibitions in India and abroad.
The Sotheby’s auction showcased some of the most important artists from the Indian subcontinent, from the early 20th century to present times. Among the diverse array of works on offer were a rare chromolithograph by Nandalal Bose, oil paintings by Francis Newton Souza from the 1960s and works by Raza, including an early, 1940s watercolor and a 1980s acrylic.
Other offerings included property with the fabled Chester and Davida Herwitz provenance, and paintings by artists from Bengal, ranging from masters such as Zainul Abedin – the father of Modern art from Bangladesh – and Manishi Dey, to popular artists from our own times – Paresh Maity and Rabin Mondal. However, works of both Maity and Mondal went unsold at the auction.
Also in the sale at Sotheby’s were works by GR Santosh and Krishna Reddy, as well as contemporary works by Seher Shah and Thukral & Tagra.
Thukral & Tagra’s work, ‘Metropolis -1’, which had an estimate of $15,000-$20,000, was sold for $22,500.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor at Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: email@example.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)