If you love art, missing Sotheby’s preview of 11 modern and contemporary artworks at the Taj Mahal Hotel this weekend will cost you dearly. It might even cost you millions of pounds. The works are rare, some have never been shown in India, and are headed for London, where they’ll be part of a huge auction of Modern & Contemporary South Asian paintings and sculptures in October. They’re expected to fetch anything from £40,000 (about Rs 35.5 lakh) to £1,400,000 (about Rs 12.4 crore).
The works include an early untitled abstract by VS Gaitonde from 1973, rare because it marks a shift from his previous horizontal canvases to the vertical format he favoured until the 1990s. There’s the very large, very impressive The Deposition: Burial of Christ — FN Souza’s 1963 masterpiece, a facsimile of which is at the preview.
“It’s truly gorgeous,” says Yamini Mehta, the international head of modern and contemporary south Asian art, of the Souza painting. “It shows the artist trying to say that he’s not just part of the Indian group of painters but is a global artist, by tackling a subject that old masters have. He’s using it to say, ‘I’ve arrived’, but in his own way.”
The Souza has been sourced from a collection in the UK; the Gaitonde from a Czech collection. Other paintings include an untitled 1979 work by Jagdish Swaminathan from a collector in Brazil; Hajera, an MF Husain work from 1964; and Rice Fields, Palni Holls- II, a 2008 work by Jehangir Sabavala.
There’s also a small untitled canvas by Ganesh Pyne from 1969, sourced from an estate in Switzerland. “It was bought and tucked away in the hills,” says Mehta. “It’s rare to find such an early Pyne work in pristine condition.” The paintings mark a long tradition of Westerners who were stationed in India between the 1950s and 1970s and took back art as mementoes of their visit. “Some were lucky — the artists they bought have since appreciated highly in value,” Mehta says.
The preview is part of Sotheby’s plan to extend its reach in India with workshops and other events. “There’s a growing sophistication among Indian collectors after [the economic downturn in 2008],” Mehta says. “There used to be a fair number of speculators, now we see more concerted collectors — people who are doing their research, getting to know the artists and are careful of what they buy. It’s a good prospect for long-term growth.”
What: Sotheby’s preview of Indian modern and contemporary art
Where: The Ballroom, Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Colaba
When: Saturday, 6.30 pm onwards; Sunday, 9 am to 6 pm
ENTRY IS FREE