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Paintings fresh to market from private collections lead Bonhams South Asian Art Sale in London
Jehangir Sabavala, Vespers I. Estimate: £100,000-150,000. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- A strong selection of works by major South Asian artists, seen for the first time on the market, heads Bonhams annual summer sale of Modern and Contemporary South Asian art on 7th June in New Bond Street, London.

The sale includes works by well-known Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan artists such as M.F. Husain, S.H. Raza, Jamini Roy, Rabindranath Tagore, Avinash Chandra, F.N. Souza , B. Prabha, George Keyt, Sadequain, Jamil Naqsh and A. R. Chughtai sourced from private collections in Europe and the USA.

The highlight of the sale is the serene work by one of India’s foremost modern artists Jehangir Sabavala, Vespers I (£100,000-150,000). Illustrated on the cover of his monograph by Ranjit Hoskote, The Crucible of Painting: The Art of Jehangir Sabavala, Vespers I is one of Sabavala’s most important works, representing a key period of transition in the artist’s oeuvre. It was first exhibited at the Jehangir Art Gallery, Bombay and then at his solo exhibition at the Commonwealth Institute, London.

‘Sabavala had a lifelong fascination with monastic life, and the figures of the monk and the hermit are central to his work. Indeed, he often compared his long, solitary and disciplined hours of work in the studio with a monk’s routine of study, prayer, retreat and meditation,’ says Ranjit Hoskote, an independent curator who was responsible for the Indian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2011.

Bonhams has been offering works by F. N Souza for over a decade and are proud to present the important work Still Life with Fish and Bread, estimated to sell for £100,000-150,000 it was exhibited in Souza’s London gallery Gallery One and was published in the book Souza by Edwin Mullins. It comes from a private collection in the West Coast of the USA, where it was part of a larger Modern British Art collection including works by Henry Moore, Elizabeth Frink and Lynn Chadwick.

Another work in the sale by the renowned Indian artist M.F. Husain titled The Blue Lady (£70,000-90,000) is from the private UK collection of Mr. John Hay. The work was acquired from Dhoomimal Gallery, New Delhi in the mid 1950s.

The Blue Lady was presented to Hay’s mother Elizabeth Partridge by her sister as a wedding present in India. Elizabeth Partridge was a foreign correspondent for The News Chronicle and also worked for The Times of India in New Delhi during a time when the country was still adjusting to its newfound independence. Hay tells of his mother's instant decision to join the South East Asia Command when Lord Louis Mountbatten entered a room filled with young Wrens and announced: "I'm going to
India. Who wants to come?"

Partridge and a number of other journalists were billeted at government sponsored flats in Constitution House where the government could "keep an eye on them". The painting came into the possession of the Hay family following an encounter that Ms. Partridge's sister had with the artist. She found Husain painting in the flat of P.N. Sharma, a friend who at the time lived across the hall from where she and her sister were housed. Hay's aunt discovered the artist at work after coming upon the open door to Sharma's flat. Inside, kneeling on the floor and painting busily, was M. F. Husain surrounded by a number of half-finished canvasses which covered every surface and hung from every wall. Hay's aunt expressed her great interest in the work and Husain, in turn, told her that he was "under contract" to produce a number of paintings for the proprietor of the Dhoomimal Art Gallery in Connaught Place.

Having seen how beautiful Husain's paintings were, Hay's aunt resolved to purchase one of them as a wedding present for her much-loved sister. The gallery owner told her that Husain called the work "The Blue Lady" and that is forever how it was known within the family.

The auction will also present the largest group of works by Pakistani masters to ever come under the hammer at an international auction. Gulgee’s 1965 work titled Buzkashi (£15,000-25,000), which depicts Afghanistan’s national sport, is one of the highlights of this section. Although better known for his calligraphic compositions, during the 1950s and 60’s Gulgee was the national portrait painter of Pakistan and was commissioned to paint the portraits of many figures of the Islamic world, including the Saudi Royal family.

Works in the sale by Faiza Butt, Khadim Ali and Anwar Saeed represent a contemporary generation of Pakistani artists. International exposure of their work through gallery shows, art fairs and biennales worldwide have allowed voices of young Pakistani artists to be heard in major art centres. Faiza Butt and Anwar Saeed both exhibited in Hanging Fire, Contemporary Art From Pakistan at Asia Society in New York, the catalogue for which featured a work by Faiza Butt on the cover.

Meanwhile, Khadim Ali was selected to show his work in East-West Divan at the 2009 Venice Biennale. These artists have also participated in art fairs such as Art Dubai, The Indian Art Summit and the International Hong Kong Art Fair.

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