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‘Spirited Bidding’ at Scaled-Down Contemporary Indian Art Sales

The recent sales of modern and contemporary south Asian art in New York and London had solid demand and strong prices despite lower overall totals compared with last year’s.

NEW YORK—The recent sales of modern and contemporary south Asian art in New York and London had solid demand and strong prices despite lower overall totals compared with last year’s.

Christie’s South Kensington branch realized a total of £2.4 million ($4 million) in its sale of South Asian modern and contemporary art on June 10, with 76, or 79 percent, of the 96 lots finding buyers. By value the auction was 91 percent sold.

The top lot, albeit below expectations, was Ragamala Series, 1960, an oil by Maqbool Fida Husain (b. 1915), which sold to a U.S. collector for £397,250 ($649,504) on a £400,000/600,000 estimate. The second-highest lot was Rashid Rana’s Red Carpet–4, 2007–8, a chromogenic print from an edition of five, which sold within its estimate of £135,000/200,000 for £175,250 ($286,534).

In a statement after the auction, Hugo Weihe, Christie’s international director of Asian art, said that there was “a tremendous sense of energy and spirited bidding in response to the carefully curated sale,” reflecting “renewed vigor in the field.”

Online auctioneer Saffronart’s summer auction of Indian art on June 10–11 brought in $2.2 million, with 61, or 72 percent, of the 85 lots on offer finding buyers. Saffronart officials noted that more than half of the lots exceeded their high estimates. However, the total fell short of the estimate of $2.3 million/$3 million.

The top price of the sale was $317,400, paid for an untitled 1984 abstract oil by Vasudeo S. Gaitonde (estimate: $265,960/372,345), followed by $201,250 for an untitled painting by Subodh Gupta (b. 1964) featuring the artist’s signature stainless steel pots arrayed in a merchant’s stall (estimate: $150,000/200,000). The third-highest lot was an untitled 2007 semi-abstract landscape by Akbar Padamsee, which sold for $163,875, surpassing its estimate of $95,745/117,025.

Saffronart CEO Dinesh Vazirani said the sale offered “competitive estimates and the market responded with strong demand . . . this demonstrates a clear vote of confidence in the market from the existing collector base as well as new buyers.”

Record for Chowdhury

Sotheby’s sale of Indian art in London on June 16 took in £2.1 million ($3.4 million), exceeding the estimate of £1.2 million/1.75 million. Of the 86 lots offered, 59, or 69 percent, found buyers. By value, the auction was 88 percent sold.

The house claimed a record for a work by Jogen Chowdhury (b. 1939) with Day Dreaming, 1979, which sold to a private U.S. collector for £373,250 ($609,629), well above both the £80,000/120,000 estimate and the previous auction record of $324,114. According to a Sotheby’s statement, this was the first time the 593⁄4-by-711⁄2-inch lacquered ink-and-pastel on paper, “one of the largest works of its kind by Chowdhury to ever come to the market,” had been offered at auction. It was exhibited at the São Paulo Biennial the same year it was executed.

The top lot was Orange Head, 1963, an oil by Francis Newton Souza, which sold for £403,250 ($658,628), far above the £80,000/120,000 estimate, also to a U.S. collector. Five of the top lots in the Sotheby’s sale were by Husain, led by Horses, 1950, which sold to a U.S. collector for £109,250 ($178,438), clearing the high estimate of £100,000.

Zara Porter-Hill, director and head of Indian art at Sotheby’s, said that “by choosing desirable works by leading artists at appropriate pricing levels, we assembled a sale that we knew would appeal to buyers in the current market.”

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