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National art treasures included in Christie's first auction at The Taj Mahal Palace in India
Artist Meera Mukherjee's "Untitled" sculpture is displayed during a media preview ahead of Christie's first auction in India, in New Delhi on December 6, 2013. Christie's auction house will hold its first ever auction-sale in Mumbai on December 19. AFP PHOTO/ MANAN VATSYAYANA.
Works by six of the nine modern Indian artists whose works are defined as ‘National Art Treasures’ will be included in the 83 lots in Christie’s first auction in India. Works by this group are deemed of such national importance to Indian culture that they are non-exportable and when sold, must remain in India. The six artists represented are Rabindranath, Abanindranath and Gaganendranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Jamini Roy and Amrita Sher-Gil. The sale will be held at The Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai on Thursday, 19 December, 2013. Ahead of the sale the works are on exhibition at The Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi from 7-9 December and at The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai from 17 December.

The decision to hold auctions at this time is a reflection of the strong momentum in the domestic art marketplace, the increased international appeal of Indian art and the growing participation of Indian collectors across international sale categories. Christie’s auctions in Mumbai will serve as an introduction to the high standards and connoisseurship associated with Christie’s, the global market leader in Indian art and the world’s leading art business.

Steven Murphy, Chief Executive Officer, said: “This sale marks a major milestone in our company’s history, a history that spans nearly two and a half centuries. Whilst Christie’s has had a representative presence in India for almost 20 years, we are excited and proud to finally host our first auction here.”

Raj Sehgal, Managing Director at Credit Suisse Private Banking in the Middle East and Indian Subcontinent, said: “Credit Suisse's long-term association with Christie's demonstrates our strong commitment to fostering initiatives in the field of fine art. Through this collaboration, Credit Suisse brings to clients, investors and collectors in India, an opportunity to engage in the auction of an exquisite selection of modern and contemporary art. Credit Suisse believes that art plays an important role in social and cultural development and these works by our National Art Treasures are a tribute to the rich cultural heritage of India. Through this partnership, we are also expressing our commitment to the communities in which we live and work.”

From an Important Private Collection is Amrita Sher-Gil’s (1913-1941), Untitled (Hungarian Village Church), painted in 1932, while the artist was training with Lucien Simon at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris(illustrated on page 1). The same year, Sher-Gil’s works were exhibited at the Grand Salon in Paris, a rare honour at the time for a young, foreign artist. An unusual early landscape, this work was likely painted in plein-air during one of Sher-Gil’s visits to her mother’s family in the Hungarian village of Zebegény on the banks of the Danube. The structure depicted is the Roman Catholic Church in Zebegény, one of the first buildings designed by the well-known architect, writer and politician Károly Kós in the early 1900s. Born in Budapest in 1913 to a Hungarian mother and Sikh father, Amrita Sher-Gil is one of India’s most important modern artists. Today, she is recognized as a revolutionary artist, a pioneer of Indian modernism and the painting is expected to sell for INR3,00,00,000-4,00,00,000 (US$486,000-650,000).

As the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was one of the most influential figures in shaping modern India. At the age of 63 he began painting and his works often feature images of fantastical birds and faces, as in the Untitled work (shown here) included in this auction with an estimate of INR1,50,00,000-2,50,00,000 (US$243,000-405,000). His paintings were unlike anything being produced by other Indian artists at the time and his technique – the application of colour, the working and re-working of lines - perfectly expresses the energy and rhythm for which his work is so greatly admired. Pieces by his Uncles, Abanindranath and Gaganendranath are also included in the sale with Gaganendranath’s Untitled (Woman on a Staircase), a watercolour from around 1920, estimated at INR10,00,000-15,00,000 ($16,200-24,300).

By Jamini Roy (1887-1972) is his Untitled (Head of a Woman), a gouache on card portrait showing Roy’s ability to strip away the superfluous and make the elegance of his composition and intense concentration on colour, the focus. It is this style of painting for which he is best known, a revolutionary re-interpretation of traditional South Asian iconography through clean, crisp, modernist lines, (estimate: INR 2,00,000-3,00,000 / US$8,000-11,300).

Hugo Weihe, Christie's International Director of Asian Art, said: “we are delighted to act as temporary custodians to works by these seminal artists of the modern art movement in India and to be part of their safe transfer as they remain in India. For over 245 years Christie’s has acted as a unique place where commerce and connoisseurship work hand in hand and, building on this tradition and our twenty years as an established business in India, this first auction is a measure of our long term commitment to the future development of this market.”

These ‘National Art Treasures’ will be offered alongside the works from the personal collection of the late Kekoo and Khorshed Gandhy, Mumbai-based gallerists and among the most significant figures in the development of India’s modern art scene (separate press release available). Artists represented from their collection include V.S. Gaitonde, Ram Kumar, S. H. Raza, Tyeb Mehta, M.F. Husain and the Jamini Roy described above.

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