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When "Life" is a £20,000 present: A gift from a wandering Indian artist for sale at Bonhams
Maqbol Fida Husain (India, 1915-2011), Untitled (Horses), oil on canvas, signed lower right, further signed on reverse, framed, 91.4 x 121.9cm (36 x 48in). £170,000-250,000. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- Life, a painting by the Indian artist Manjit Bawa (1941-2008), is to be sold in the Bonhams Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art sale in London on April 8th.

Estimated at £20,000-30,000, this oil on board painting was executed in the late 1960s. However, what really sets this work of art apart is the story it conceals.

Manjit Bawa came to England in 1967 and worked as a silkscreen artist until 1971. When Bawa first arrived in London he had nowhere to stay. One day, by sheer coincidence, he found himself speaking to someone who shared his last name. Due to this surprising revelation, the artist was invited to stay with his new friend, and the two Bawas ended up living together for a few years. Before leaving London, Bawa (the artist) thanked his host for his generosity and gifted him with the current work.

Manjit Bawa was born in 1941 in Dhuri. He studied fine arts at the College of Art in New Delhi and this experience strongly influenced his painting style, which is characterised by extremely distrorted and stylised forms. Nature is a recurring motif in Bawa’s works, with birds and animals making a constant appearance in his paintings, either alone or in human company. He was in coma for three years after suffering a stroke and died on 29 December 2008.

Also in the sale are two pictures by another Indian artist, Maqbol Fida Husain, one of which is the top lot in the sale. The painting Untitled (Horses) is an oil on canvas executed in 1978 and estimated at £170,000-250,000.

The trademark horses depicted by Husain have now become a vital part of Indian art history. After a visit to China in 1952, Husain studied the art of the Sung Dynasty and the significant depiction of horses by Xu Beihong, celebrated Chinese artist and President of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in China. In its early stages, Husain’s style was very much influenced by the Chinese style, but as his talents progressed, by the 1970s his work had developed a more impressionistic bend.

Smriti (Secret Memory), by Hemen Mazumdar, estimated at £20,000-30,000 is a very rare published work and was awarded the Gold Medal in 1921 by the Bombay Art Society in their annual exhibition. This painting was previously in the collection of Nandalal Bose, considered to be one of the most important modern Indian painters. Known for his “Indian” style of painting, in 1976 the Indian Department of Culture declared his works among those considered "to be art treasures, having regard to their artistic and aesthetic value".

Also offered is Untitled (Parisian Landscape) by Syed Haider Raza, estimated at £20,000-25,000. Raza achieved the world record price for a modern Indian artist in 2010, when a seminal work, Saurashtra, sold for $3,486,965 USD at auction.

At the beginning of his career in the 1950s Raza was based in Paris and was inspired by the landscape and colours of nightfall in France. The influence of the greats of Impressionism, such as Cezanne, Manet, and Pissaro, can clearly be seen in his works, including the piece in this sale.

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