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Saffronart's back-to-back live Modern and Contemporary Indian art auctions show art market strength
S.H. Raza’, Haut De Cagnes. Sold for: US$ 942,623.

MUMBAI.- The Saffronart auction sale room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Mumbai was packed with over two hundred collectors, in addition to online and telephone bidders from around the world, generating tremendous enthusiasm for the artworks on offer. A surge in excitement was palpable as S.H. Raza’s Haut De Cagnes, the highlight of the evening sale of Modern art, appeared on screens. Estimated at Rs. 3 – 5 crores (US$ 491,805 - 819,675), competitive bidding between room and phone bidders drove it to a value of 5.75 crores (US$ 942,623): a world record for an Indian artwork on paper, amidst resounding applause from the audience.

The Modern and Contemporary Indian art live auctions held in Mumbai by auction house Saffronart on February 15 witnessed energetic bidding resulting in two very successful auctions that reinforced the strengthening trend of prices in the Indian art market. While “ALIVE”, the Contemporary Day Sale, grossed Rs. 5.37 crores (US$ 881,000) against a total pre-sale lower estimate of 3.47 crores (US$ 520,000)—the Modern Evening Sale realised a total of Rs. 30.32 crores (US$ 4.97 million) against a total pre-sale lower estimate of 23.14 crores (US$3.79 million).

Contemporary Day Sale
Vigorous bidding in the Contemporary day auction not only demonstrated the popularity of its no-reserve format where every bid is potentially a winning bid, but also led to nearly half the lots selling above the higher estimate. The Contemporary auction was led by Large Head, a four and a half foot sculpture by G. Ravinder Reddy. Estimated at Rs. 40–60 lakhs (US$ 65,575 – 98,365), it eventually sold for Rs. 96 lakhs (US$ 157,377), more than doubling its lower estimate. The sculpture is a stunning depiction of the contemporary Indian woman in the artist’s signature style, looking frontally through wide-open eyes and in bold hues of red, blue or gold with intricate hairstyles.

Thukral and Tagra, known for their collaborative creations in sculpture, painting and video installations among other media, had their canvas Somnium Genero 03, initially estimated between Rs. 12-15 lakhs, reach four times the lower estimate at Rs. 48 lakhs (US$ 78,689). This lot generated fervent interest among bidders, rapidly incrementing with every bid. Shibu Natesan’s The Dancer (After Verner Bischof) was estimated at Rs. 9-12 lakhs, and ultimately sold for Rs. 26.4 lakhs (US$ 43,279): nearly three times the lower estimate.

Evening Modern Sale
Following the Day Sale, bidders began flooding in for the Modern Evening Sale. The room was once again abuzz, with tensions (and paddles) rising. The record-breaking Haut De Cagnes, a 1951 gouache on paper by S.H. Raza, was the highlight of the sale. Raza’s works are among the most coveted of the Moderns and the haunting landscape of Haut De Cagnes is typical of his rigid, geometric representations of French towns and villages in the early 1950s, following his move to Paris. The presence of the black moon hints at the very beginnings of a definitive symbol in his later paintings - the “bindu”.

70% of the lots sold in the Evening Sale of Moderns went above the higher estimate, reinforcing the value of significant works of Indian Modern art. Husain’s Creation, an expressionistic burst of colours, sold for a remarkable Rs. 1.02 crores (US$ 167,213) against a pe-sale estimate of Rs. 40-50 lakhs (US$65,575 – 81,970). An early canvas made shortly after the Progressive Artists’ Group was established, it depicts Adam and Eve symbolically representing the gradual transition from day to night, and theologically engages viewers on various levels. An untitled watercolor on paper by Manjit Bawa generated great interest from room, online and phone bidders. Estimated at Rs. 15–20 lakhs (US$ 25,000 – 33,335), it finally sold at Rs. 66 lakhs (US$ 108,197): more than 4 times the lower estimate.

Works by Francis Newton Souza were among the top selling lots. The Student, a 1956 oil on board sold at Rs. 1.78 crores (US$ 292,623), and Nude in a City Background, a 1955 oil on board fetched Rs. 1.20 crores (US$ 196,721). A pencil on paper sketch of a nude by Francis Newton Souza sold for 6.6 lakhs (US$ 10,820)—well above the higher estimate. A watercolour, pen and ink on paper by Badri Narayan, once part of an important collection, sold for Rs. 14.4 lakhs (US$ 23,607) against a pre-sale estimate of Rs. 5 - 6 lakhs (US$ 8,200 – 9,840).

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