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Sotheby's set to enter India, Sher-Gil and Mehta to headline debut auction

twitter-logo PTI        Last Updated: November 27, 2018  | 18:33 IST

New Delhi, Nov 27 (PTI) After ruling the art auction market across the globe, Sotheby's finally comes to India this week with an inaugural sale featuring 60 art works estimated to make Rs 43.1 crore-62.9 crore. The "Boundless: India" sale in Mumbai on Thursday is irresistible in its composition, not just in terms of the artists it is offering but also in the wide range of media of works going under the hammer in Mumbai. A part of the collection, headlined by the likes of Tyeb Mehta and Amrita Sher-Gil, was up for preview in Bikaner House here recently. There are sculptures and installations, oil and acrylic on canvases, furniture, lithographs as well as photographs. The decision to debut in India was taken after the auction house spotted the growing presence of Indian collectors at international sales and the development of an increasingly vibrant domestic Indian art market. "Given these promising signs, and the projected economic growth for India in the future, it is the right time for Sotheby's to further expand, and to bring our auctions directly to the doorstep of the many collectors who live here," said Jan Prasens, Sotheby's managing director for Europe, Middle East, Russia and India, said. Leading the lot is Mehta's "Durga Mahisasura Mardini", estimated between Rs 20 crore-30 crore. Commissioned directly from the artist in 1993, it has remained in a private collection since. The work is Mehta's earliest depiction of the deity. Sketched in his familiar sharp, edgy lines, the magnificently saffron Durga stands tall over the green vanquished buffalo demon Mahishasur against the backdrop of a "hope" hued blue sky. "What you essentially have here are the colours of the Indian flag," Yamini Mehta, international head of Indian and South Asian Art at Sotheby's, told PTI. The painting was done during one of Mehta's visits to Calcutta right after the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992. That Sotheby's left no stone unturned for their debut auction to make a mark in India is conspicuous. The artworks are beautiful, rare and have unparalleled histories. Sher-Gil's "The Little Girl in Blue", which is also headlining the sale, is one of them. With hints of the sprawling French landscape she grew up in, she blends, almost unintentionally, elements of her Indian origins. The portrait is of Babit, a cousin of Sher-Gil's. It was painted in 1934 on the request of her aunt, Babit's mother. But Sher-Gil painted the "exceptionally beautiful and fair" eight-year old as a "dark, ugly" child, which obviously did not sit well with the aunt, Mehta said. The artist, however, went on to exhibit the work at her debut exhibition in Lahore in 1937, where it was bought by Hungarian art historian Charles Fabri. It has stayed with the family since. Sotheby's is bringing the painting back on the market after eight decades, making it only the third oil painting by Sher-Gil to come to auction in India. "The Little Girl in Blue" is estimated at Rs 8.5 crore-12.5 crore. Francis Newton Souza's painting of the London skyline featuring the St Paul's Cathedral under what looks like a stormy sky is yet another stellar work in Sotheby's debut sale. The 1961 oil on board, estimated between Rs 90 lakh-1.10 crore, is a stunning piece of art in monochrome, deriving inspiration from both the Catholic architecture of his native Goa and from his immediate surroundings in the English capital, where he had been living for 12 years. "Souza is just wonderful in monochrome and the way he has painted this is as if he almost carved on the canvas," Mehta said. A very minimalist ink on paper by Vasudeo S Gaitonde, who is best known for his large oil on canvases, painted during the early years of his career is also part of the sale. An abstract piece, the simplicity of the medium renders a sense of innocence to the composition. The aged, sepia tinted parchment gives the whole work a "Japanese tempura kind of feel". According to Gaurav Bhatia, MD of Sotheby's India, the work allows room for subjectivity -- every viewer can see in the painting what they want to. "It's got a lot of depth and minimal elegance. It is a simple painting, not trying to say very much. It's just the quintessential Gaitonde style which develops into a very strong style later," Bhatia told PTI at the Delhi preview earlier this month. For Bhatia, the painting is reminiscent of sunrise. The auction will also see an unassuming, unlikely work going under the hammer -- a mix media work by Ahmedabad born artist Piraji Sagara. The 1962 work depicting a Kashmir landscape is quite "folksy" at first sight. Unlike most portrayals of Kashmir, this particular rendition is a "calm picture" of the volatile Valley. "Piraji was one of the most underrated artists who was not commercial. Extremely understated, he was rediscovered two years ago," Bhatia said. The catalogue also includes a steel sculpture by Bharti Kher and Priti Paul, a bronze sculpture by Sadanand Bakre, a painting by Gulam Rasool Santosh, two water-colour works by Bhupen Khakhar, two Sangath studio stools by Balkrishna V Doshi among others. The sale will be held at The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai on November 29. PTI TRS MIN MIN

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