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Outstanding Modern and Contemporary South Asian masterpieces at Sotheby's London
Maqbool Fida Husain, Elephants One. Estimate: £100,000-150,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Hot on the heels of the landmark Amaya Collection, its first Evening Auction of Indian art, Sotheby‟s has sourced an exceptional line-up of works - many fresh to the market and with outstanding provenances - for its Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art sale in London on 11th June. In this, the centenary year of his birth, the sale will feature two magnificent works by Maqbool Fida Husain which are offered at auction for the first time – one from the collection of a former Indian Ambassador. Other highlights will include Vasudeo S. Gaitonde’s recently discovered masterpiece, the luminous Painting No.1, previously in the collection of the great international champion of Indian art John D. Rockefeller III, as well as important works by Francis Newton Souza, Bhupen Khakhar and Jehangir Sabavala. The sale will also feature exciting works by Contemporary Indian and Pakistani artists, including Deutsche Bank‟s Contemporary Artist of the Year, Mohammad Imran Qureshi.

Yamini Mehta, Sotheby’s International Head of South Asian Art, Indian and South Asian Art commented: “We are thrilled to be presenting a remarkable auction that has been carefully curated with wonderful museum-quality works that are very fresh to the market and come from private collections in India, Europe and America. Many of these works are masterpieces coming from their first owners into the market for the first time. It is a sale that offers something for everyone, with exciting estimates and opportunities for new and established collectors to collect fine examples of Indian and Pakistani art from the 20th and 21st centuries.”

Offered for the first time in this, the centenary year of his birth, Maqbool Fida Husain’s exceptional 1961 oil on canvas Jhoola (estimated at £220,000-250,000) was acquired directly from the artist during the 1960s. It is a profound example of Husain‟s unique amalgam of post-Independence and post-Impressionist painting. Illustrated in the 1972 monograph Husaini, the work is powerfully evocative of classical Indian traditions and distinctly Modern at the same time. The work depicts two women atop a swing (or jhoola) which hangs from a tree. A dark sun, a familiar theme from Husain‟s early work, dominates the background. In 1948, Husain visited the India Independence Exhibition with Francis Newton Souza, which proved to be a turning point in his career. It served as a catalyst for his unique visual vocabulary, as exemplified in this work which combines the palette of the Indian miniature with the voluptuous curves and fluid postures of early and medieval Indian sculpture.

A second work by Husain, Elephants One, estimated at £100,000-150,000 is offered for sale for the first time since it was acquired by the owner‟s husband in New York in 1964, where he was posted as a representative of the Indian delegation to the United Nations. Later Indian Ambassador to Spain, Switzerland and France, he and a number of diplomats befriended and supported Husain during his visits to the US. Elephants appear in a number of Husain‟s work from this period, in part derived from the artist‟s interest in the depiction of the elephant god, Ganesha.

Recently discovered and coming to the market for the first time in 50 years, Vasudeo Gaitonde’s luminous Painting No.1, was acquired in New York during the 1960s and is believed to have previously been in the collection of the celebrated collector and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller III, one of the earliest Western patrons of Indian modern art. Estimated at £250,000-450,000, the oil on canvas, which was painted in 1962, has the hallmark radiance and incandescence of Gaitonde‟s key works from this important year in his career. The painting has many similarities to Painting No.4, also from 1962, which is in the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York. During this period, Gaitonde turned away from his earlier geometric works and began to experiment with a paint roller and palette knife, scraping away and reapplying layers of pigment – his concern no longer with representation, but the painted surface himself. One of India‟s most important modern painters, Gaitonde will be the subject of a forthcoming retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Due to his slow and meticulous method of working, he produced few canvases during his lifetime, so this work offers the rare opportunity for a collector to purchase an outstanding work by the artist.

Francis Newton Souza’s Christ on Palm Sunday, executed in 1956, is estimated at £200,000-300,000. Influenced by his devout Roman Catholic upbringing, Souza made regular artistic references to Christian iconography in his work. Jesus and his disciples, the Madonna and a litany of Popes, prophets and saints. In this work, Souza depicts the head of Christ encircled by palm leaves – appearing to foreshadow the crown of thorns which would later be placed on his head. This painting is a brutalist take on Christ‟s passion and a consequence of his conflicted religious ideals. The composition of this work is highly reminiscent of Byzantine icons, a common feature in many of Souza‟s paintings from this period. It also bears a strong relationship to the mask-like tribal artefacts which formed influenced artists such as Pablo Picasso and Constantin Brancusi.

Throughout his career Sayed Haider Raza has been influenced by the mystical power of nature. Untitled of 1980 (right, estimated at £120,000-180,000) belongs to a series of landscapes from the 1970s and 1980s which were inspired not only by the French countryside, but which represented a visual expression of his own meditations, evoked by his childhood memories. Raza declared: “Paintings done between the 80s and now appear to me the most convincing part of my work. I was suggesting an inner climate which I experienced at the centre with the sum total of living experience that could come out on the canvas.”ii

Offered for sale for the first time since it was acquired by a Dutch collector in Paris in 1968, Sayed Haider Raza’s Black Moon (est. £50,000-70,000) is a remarkable painting produced during an important transitional period in the artist‟s career following his visit to America, where he encountered Abstract Expressionism for the first time. It was at this point that Raza abandoned his Post-Impressionist style of landscape for a new Expressive technique of brushwork. The title of this work is the germination of the artist‟s life-long fascination with the notion of the Bindu and also evokes memories of his childhood spent in the forests of Madhya Pradesh.

Executed in 1972, Bhupen Khakhar’s Air, Steam and Speed, estimated at £100,000-150,000, makes its appearance on the market for the first time in over 30 years from an English collection. While in London, Khakar established an eminent artistic circle of friends that included Sir Howard Hodgkin and David Hockney. These relationships influenced more and more of his paintings at the time. This work is a rare and accomplished example of Khakhar‟s early painting style with its candy coloured palette and tighter brushstrokes. The artist chose to portray ironic depictions of social types, mocking the tastes and aspirations of the Indian middle-class. He was one of the first artists from India to be celebrated in the West with major museum exhibitions and retrospectives at the Tate in Britain and the Museo Nacional Centre de Arte Reina Sophia in Madrid. Khakar often used multiple narrative episodes across a single picture plane. This particular compositional technique was inspired by Khakar‟s study of Italian Renaissance painting.

Property from a Private European Collection, Jehangir Sabavala’s Untitled of 1977 is coming to auction for the first time with an estimate of £100,000-150,000. Sabavala‟s oeuvre is unique amongst Indian artists practicing during the Modernist era. Sabavala returned to India from Paris in the 1950s and sought inspiration from the Indian landscape. The sky and sea dominate the subject matter of his canvases from this period and this work utilizes the artist‟s characteristic subdued palette which defines a visionary ethereal landscape.

A painting by senior master Krishen Khanna is being offered for the first time at auction for an estimate of £100,000-150,000. Acquired directly from the artist, this moving and emotional Pieta (pictured right) from 1978 is painted with subtle hues of blues and ochres. Published in his 2001 monograph by Gayatri Sinha, this work is arguably one of Khanna's finest compositions that he has produced in his career. The expressionistic brushstrokes and Khanna's mastery of light and tonality imbues the work with an otherworldly aura reminiscent of Dutch Master Paintings.

Jitish Kallat’s seminal artwork Conditions Apply has been exhibited as far and wide as Beijing and South Korea. Conceived between 2004-2006 and estimated at £80,000-120,000, it comprises a series of images of rotis (or daily bread) which have been eaten away to imitate the different phases of the moon. This alludes to both the earning of daily bread and the fast of Ramadan, the conclusion of which relies upon the sighting of the new moon.

Mohammad Imran Qureshi, appointed Deutsche Bank‟s 2013 “Artist of the Year”, currently teaches miniature painting at the National Colleage of Arts in Lahore. While his works can be found in the permanent collections of internationally-acclaimed institutions such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, 2013 will mark the opening of his special commission for the roof garden at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. His 2005 work Reshape is estimated at £5,000-7,000.

Over the last decade, Farida Batool has become one of the foremost pioneers of New Media art in Pakistan. Line of Control is among her most famous works having been widely published and exhibited internationally. Executed in 2004, the artwork is expected to achieve £4,000-6,000. The ambiguous title „Line of Control‟ refers to both the geopolitical boundary between India and Pakistan in the disputed region of Kashmir, as well as the power dynamics between males and females.

Born in Pakistan in 1968, Nazia Khan was inspired by the role female students played at the Lal Masjid siege of 2007 in Islamabad. This event marked the first time women took to the streets in their hijabs to protect their religious beliefs. Her artistic response was to develop a series of fabricated metal corsets and armour bodices that were both defensive and defiant, addressing the position of women within society. The Wardrobe, estimated at £6,000-8,000, is a display of war and love, aggression and seduction.

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May 23, 2013

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