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Sotheby's Annual Sale of Indian Art in London Realises GBP 4.2 Million
Francis Newton Souza, The Red Road, oil on canvas, estimate: £250,000-350,000. © Sotheby's Images.

LONDON.- Sotheby’s sale of Indian Art in London realised £4,289,775, a figure handsomely in excess of pre-sale expectations (estimate was £2.4-3.4 million). The sale, which was extremely well attended both during the pre-sale exhibition and in the saleroom today, saw spirited and competitive bidding throughout. It demonstrated that the international profile of and market for Indian Art continues to surge forward. 67% of the lots in today’s sale sold for prices in excess of their pre-sale high estimate and an impressive 11 new auction records were established for names including Rabindranath Tagore and Jitish Kallat, among others. A new auction record by medium was also set for Subodh Gupta.

Commenting on the success of today’s sale, Zara Porter- Hill, Head of Indian Art at Sotheby’s, London said: “Indian Art continues to prosper – it's a market on the move. We collated a carefully edited sale with superlative examples from across the board and we are thrilled with the response that we’ve witnessed. We saw strong and encouraging prices achieved throughout today’s sale, with both Modern and Contemporary works performing equally well. Bidding came from a very international audience, which included private collectors, institutions and the trade. The auction was a great success and we now look forward to the international Contemporary sale in New York later this month which features a select group of works by Indian Contemporary artists.”

The sale offered some 120 lots of exceptional quality and provenance which traced the course of Indian Art over the last century and encompassed works by key figures of the Modern Indian Art movement, such as Francis Newton Souza and Akbar Padamsee, through to the cutting-edge names of Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher and Jitish Kallat.

The sale’s top selling lot was Francis Newton Souza’s (1924-2002) The Red Road, which was hotly contested by at least seven bidders before selling to a client on the telephone for £580,500; the painting had a pre-sale estimate of £250,000-350,000. One of the stars of the Modern section of the sale, the canvas was a gift from Souza to his wife Maria in 1962, a period widely acknowledged as the artist’s most successful, and it was later bequeathed by Maria to the present owner. The painting was exhibited at the Hayward Gallery in 1989.

Two works by Akbar Padamsee (b. 1928) were other notable strong performers in the Modern section of the sale. This artist’s Untitled oil depicting a nude sold for £252,500 against an estimate of £150,000-200,000 while his Untitled archetypal landscape, which is the result of a series of experiments juxtaposing colours and exploring textures, fetched £264,500 against its pre-sale estimate of £150,000-250,000.

The conspicuous success and performance of Indian Contemporary artists at auction that has been seen of late progressed even further today and was another extraordinary highlight of the sale; works from this period frequently doubled or trebled their pre-sale expectations. An Untitled canvas by Subodh Gupta (b. 1974) was the top selling work of this group, achieving £264,500 against a pre-sale estimate of £70,000-100,000 and establishing a new auction record for a canvas by the artist. The successful sale of this work, which dates from 2005, comes hot on the heels of the artist’s triumph in Sotheby’s international sales of Contemporary Art in both London and New York earlier this year.

Bharti Kher (b. 1969) is another artist who is at the forefront of the Indian Contemporary art scene and her striking aluminium panel encrusted with bindis entitled Missing made £106,100 against a pre-sale estimate of £30,000-40,000. As the cover lot of the sale catalogue, the work was hotly contested before being acquired by a bidder on the telephone. Like Gupta, Kher takes her inspiration from a wide range of images and artefacts from her daily life and surroundings.

Other strong results in the Contemporary offerings included: TV Santosh’s (b. 1968) oil on canvas A Handful of Ashes, which sold for £102,500 against its pre-sale estimate of £30,000-40,000; a colourful large-scale diptych by Thukral & Tagra (b. 1976 and 1979) entitled Stop Think Go which sold for £102,500, against a pre-sale estimate of £30,000-40,000; and Jitish Kallat’s (b. 1974) work from a series collectively titled Humiliation Tax, which realised £58,100 against the estimate of £25,000-35,000 – an auction record for the artist.

The sale was also spearheaded by a group of 11 exceptionally rare works from the collection of the late William and Mildred Archer, two remarkable scholars who played a fundamental role in bringing Indian Art to the fore. The works presented were a tribute to the couple’s long and happy relationship with the Indian subcontinent.

Estimated to fetch in excess of £80,000, the group quadrupled this by realising a total of 346,425 and the top selling lots were: Rabindranath Tagore’s (1861-1941) Death Scene, which made £144,500 against an estimate of £15,000-20,000 and his Bird, which sold for £70,100; and Jamini Roy’s (1887-1972) Santal Couple which sold for £29,300. Tagore’s Death Scene established a new auction record for the artist.

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