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Tagore paintings sold for £1.6mn

world Updated: Jun 15, 2010 23:04 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar
Dipankar De Sarkar
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Spare a thought for Mamata Banerjee and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee: the news from London will leave them heart-broken.

Despite the Bengal stalwarts’ pleas to the government, a slew of private buyers from around the world — many in India — snapped up a dozen paintings by Rabindranath Tagore amid some fierce bidding at an auction on Tuesday.

The paintings fetched a tidy £1.6 million — tiny by international standards, but relatively high for Indian works of art.

Culture ministry officials in New Delhi said lack of legal rights over the works seem to have come in the way of India’s efforts in trying stop the sale.

Sources said a ministry official was in London over the weekend and held discussions with Sotheby’s on ways to prevent the sale. However, he returned on Monday without any breakthrough.

“…Unless we have legal rights, we cannot do anything. And it is being auctioned by a private auction house, not the government,” another official said.

They said the government officially participating was never an option as no administration would like to bid in an auction. Another said that even if the government does try to acquire the works, losing the bid is simply not the option.

The paintings — Tagore’s gift to his English friends Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst — were bought by telephone bidders as well as some collectors. As a result, they are set to be scattered around the world and remain in private hands.

So intense was the bidding that one of the paintings — an untitled portrait of a woman with bare hands — broke the record for a Tagore painting, selling for £313,250. The previous highest was £144,000.

The result both pleased and disappointed one of the buyers, London-based cardiologist and art collector Avijit Lahiri. “I am very happy, but also disappointed that the paintings will now be scattered.”

“This is a sad day,” said Kalyan Kundu of the London-based Tagore Centre, who had urged the government to bid. “But I understand the government’s point of view — obviously, money was a factor.”