India is the colour of the summer auction season in London- both on and off the ground. A private collection of paintings dating between 1600-1800 CE, “India on Paper” is on sale online at the global art auctioneer Christie’s from May 29-June 12. Collected by a European connoisseur for over three decades, the collection comprises 50 lots from six major Indian School of paintings, ranging in geography from the Himalayan foothills to Karnataka.
The collection includes Pahari works from Bilaspur and Kangra and south Indian Deccani miniature art from Mysore and from Aurangabad in the Deccan region. The estimates for the collection range between £7000 and £ 20,000.
The auction house said the sale featured paintings from the Mughal and the Provincial Mughal schools as well. The highlights of the sale includes a large Pahari illustration from a dispersed “Harivamsa” series painted in Kangra in Himachal Pradesh by an artist Purkhu in 1830 CE. The painting describes the moment when Krishna and Indra go to battle for the wives — both of whom covet the Parijata tree. When both Krishna and Indra realize that they cannot beat each other to acquire the tree, they decide to keep the tree at Dwarka in modern day Gujarart.
The Harivamsa – the story of the dynasty of Hari or Vishnu – is a excerpt Mahabharata in three chapters.
Two important collectibles in the series are a couple of miniatures from Bikaner — one showing a couple on a terrace, which is probably an illustration from the Bharamasa and Ragamala series inspired by the Desakar classical raga – dating to the 1710 CE and an Equestrian portrait of Raja Sujan Singh painted by Ustad Qasim dating to 1720 CE.
In another sale on June 11 at Christie’s London, a collection of Indian modern and contemporary masters will go under the hammer led by “Man & Woman Grinding Their Teeth (1957)” – a satirical and dark painting by contemporary icon Francis Newton Souza. The double portrait executed in the typical Souza style of figurative abstraction from the artist’s experimental decades between 1950-1970s borrows from the traditional African art and cubism. The figures have mask like faces and elongated torsos. It is estimated at £1,000,000. ($1,700,000-2,500,000).
The large-scale work was formerly owned by Harold Kovner, a wealthy American hospital owner and collector who was a patron and admirer of the artist during a critical period in Souza’s life.
An accompanying photograph shows Souza at work in his studio/ It was shot by lenswoman Ida Kar in the same year the artist painted Man & Woman…”
A second portrait, also from the collection of Kovner, “Imbecile Girl in a Green Blouse”, is an arresting three-quarter length portrait of a half-naked girl set against a crimson background, It is estimated at £120,000-180,000 ($210,000-300,000)
The sale also features works by Indian modern masters from the Collection of Willem Baars, a pioneering Dutch gallerist, critic and curator. The collection includes an outstanding selection of contemporary works by Indian artists. Since the 1990s, when Willem Baars made his first trip to India as a backpacking 19-year-old, he has become a great patron, respected collector and gallerist, who was instrumental in making Amsterdam, the unlikely artistic and creative haven for many Indian contemporary artists. His exceptional collection is a product of passion, a keen eye and most importantly, friendship. Baars has been a great friend to many artists he met on his trips to India. Artists like Jitish Kallat, Bharti Kher, Bhupen Khakhar and Bose Krishnamachari would often visit him in Amsterdam and tour the city pillion-riding on Baar’s bicycle.
Thirty-one art works from Baar’s collection are on sale in the auction including Jitish Kallat’s (b.1974) FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions), a work from a 2003 series showing the head of a boy in triplicate with FAQ wriiten in bold across the centre of the canvas.
A senior spokesperson for the Christie’s said the June 11 sale would be the second of this year’s four sales for the auction house’ international department which would conclude with a sale in India, to be held in Mumbai this December. The debut sale of Christie’s in Mumbai was held last winter on Dec 19, 2013 .
Elsewhere in the sale, is a work painted two years after S.H. Raza became the first foreign artist to win the prestigious Prix de la Critique in Paris. The painting. L’Orage from a private Canadian collection represents the epitome of the artist’s experimentation with colour and structure in the 1950s and is one of his “largest and most ambitious works of the period”. Raza uses gestural brushstrokes and a heavy impasto to build up a stormy autumnal scene, in stylistic devices that foreshadow his later more abstract landscapes of the 1960s and 1970s. The work is £300,000-500,000 / $510,000-840,000)
A painting of a seated woman “Untitled” by Tyeb Mehta (1925-2009) is a vivid portrait in orange and blue representing a period when Mehta was experimenting with texture through thick impasto and bright colours having seen the work of the European expressionists on a visit to England in 1959. “Bhishma”, a free flowing composition by Arpita Singh addresses the challenging social and political issues of the 1990s using mythology as an allegorical tool.
The 1997 painting depicts the story of “Bhisma” in the final scene from the battle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas in the epic Mahabharata. The warring sides are shown as modern day rival gangs waging a street fight. The painting is estimated at £80,000-120,000 ($140,000-200,000 ). Also on sale is Night” , a highly nuanced and symbolic painting by Bhupen Kakhar, which was shown in an exhibition at the Mumbai’s National Gallery of Modern Art in 2003, a year before the artist's death. “Night”, a study in mega scale, is inexorably linked to Kakhar’s alternative sexuality — a scenario in which the artist imagines life as a marginalized member of a lower middle class community of homosexuals in India. The work is estimated at £180,000-250,000 ($310,000-420,000).
The contemporary highlight is Atul Dodiya’s “Black Moon”, shutter portrait commenting on the socio-politics of contemporary India.
The auction house is presenting a showcase of the last nine paintings of contemporary legend M.F. Husain at the V&A Museum in London from May 28 to July 27, 2014. -Staff Writer