NEW YORK—Sotheby’s sale of South Asian art in London on June 15 realized a total of £5.5million ($8.1 million), with 12 paintings by Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) selling for £1.6million ($2.36million)—a remarkable event considering that the artist is known more for his literature than his art. The auction was 90 percent sold by value and 78 percent sold by lot.
The top ten lots all sold at prices above estimates, with Tagore’s watercolor and colored ink drawing Untitled (Portrait of a Woman), 1938, selling for an artist-record £313,250 ($461,229), seven times the estimate of £30,000/40,000.
Holly Brackenbury, deputy director of Islamic and Indian Art at Sotheby’s, said the 12 Tagore paintings had “distinguished provenance” and had never appeared before on the open market. They were consigned by the Dartington Hall Trust to raise money for investment in the arts, social justice and sustainability, “issues that were very close to Tagore’s own heart,” Brackenbury said.
The first Asian ever to win a Nobel Prize for Literature, Tagore has long been lauded in India as a poet, novelist and musician. Born in Calcutta (now Kolkata), Tagore started painting later in life.
The top lot of the sale, however, was Rajasthan, 1979–81, an acrylic on canvas by Syed Haider Raza (b. 1922), which took £517,250 ($761,599) on a £300,000/500,000 estimate, followed by Untitled (Nude), 1955, an oil on board by Francis Newton Souza (1924–2002), which brought £373,250 ($549,573) on a £60,000/80,000 estimate. A record was set for Somnath Hore (1921–2006) when the bronze The Khajani Player, 1995, was purchased by an Indian private collector for £157,250 ($231,535), topping the estimate of £130,000/150,000. Zara Porter-Hill, director and head of South Asian art at Sotheby’s, said the “results demonstrate the continued confidence in the Indian market and the ever-growing appetite both in India and around the world for South Asian art. Bidding came from a healthy mix of private collectors and trade buyers and their interest produced lively bidding battles.”