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Sotheby’s $8.5M Indian Art Sale Points to a ‘Market on the Move’

Modern and contemporary Indian art reached new highs at Sotheby’s dedicated sale in London on May 2.

NEW YORK—Modern and contemporary Indian art reached new highs at Sotheby’s dedicated sale in London on May 2. In total the auction realized £4.3 million ($8.5 million), well in excess of the expected £2.4 million/3.4 million, and eleven artist records were set. Of 123 works offered, 97, or 80 percent, found buyers.

A record was set for a painting by Subodh Gupta when an untitled 2005 oil on canvas brought £264,500 or $522,500. (The highest price yet for a Gupta work was the $789,000 paid for his 2004 bronze sculptural installation Vehicle for the Seven Seas at Paris auction house Tajan last month.)

Francis Newton Souza’s oil on canvas The Red Road, 1962, was the top lot, earning £580,500, or $1.1 million (estimate: £250,000/350,000).

As in the market for Chinese contemporary art in recent years, prices for modern and contemporary Indian art are skyrocketing amid demand from buyers in India and the Indian diaspora as well as in Europe. “Indian art continues to prosper. It’s a market on the move,” said Zara Porter-Hill, Sotheby’s head of Indian art.

Of the dozen or so artist records that were set, several prices demonstrated a dramatic leap in value. For instance, Death Scene, a gouache and colored ink on paper by Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) sold for £144,500 ($285,445), well past the modest estimate of £15,000/20,000. The previous record for the artist was $55,000. The Tagore was one of eleven rare works from the collection of the late William and Mildred Archer, scholars who helped raise the profile of Indian art.

Another record was the £58,100 ($114,771) paid for Jitish Kallat’s 2005 mixed media on canvas, Humiliation Tax II (estimate: £25,000/35,000). Among other modern works in demand were Akbar Padamsee’s untitled oil of a nude, which sold for £252,500, or $500,000 (estimate: £150,000/200,000), and his untitled landscape, which sold for £264,500, or $523,710 (estimate: £150,000/200,000.)

Other works by Souza fetched strong prices, including an untitled 1963 oil on canvas depicting a partially nude woman reclining on a bed, which sold for £228,500, or $451,379 (estimate: £150,000/200,000), and a 1962 floral still life, which sold for £144,500, or $285,445 (estimate: £120,000/180,000).

Among contemporary Indian art, notable prices were achieved for works by T. V. Santosh (£102,500, or $202,950), Barti Kher (£106,100, or $210,078) and Thukral & Tagra (£102,500, or $202,950). Atul Dodiya’s mixed-media installation in three sections, Each Father, Lost (VIII), brought in £138,500 or $273,593 (estimate: £70,000/100,000).

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