It was brisk bidding in the room and on the phone in the two recent back-to-back auctions by Saffronart in Delhi that achieved a combined sales value of Rs 59 crores.
It was a white glove sale for the artworks by Francis Newton Souza with 100 per cent of the lots sold, (95 per cent of the lots sold above their higher estimates, and 50 per cent at more than double their estimates).
Souza’s drawings of Heads, a theme he explored throughout his career, dominated the day sale. It was the Lot 54, a set of six drawings created between 1983 and 1989, sold six times the higher estimate at Rs 26.4 lakhs.
Untitled (Head), an oil-on-canvas painting from circa 1966, more than quadrupled its higher estimate and was sold at Rs 22.8 lakhs.
The Evening Sale similarly achieved strong results with VS Gaitonde’s Untitled (1982) leading the auction at Rs 26.9 crores. The painting has now become one of the top three most expensive works by the artist to have sold in India.
Commenting on the success of both sales, Dinesh Vazirani, Saffronart’s CEO and co-founder said, “The results reflect the continued global interest in modern Indian masters including Bhupen Khakhar, KH Ara and Ram Kumar, whose artworks were created during a transformational period in Indian art history.”
We list down five top-selling works at the auction:
V S Gaitonde’s Untitled (1982) – created during one of the most significant periods of the artist’s career – was the top-selling work at Rs 26.9 crore. For this work, the artist preferred to use the term ‘non-objective’ to that of the abstract. By the 1980s, he took a step back from everything he felt was superfluous to his art or identity as a painter.
Tradesman, 1986 by Bhupen Khakhar, a significant painting that was auctioned for the first time, achieved the second-highest sale at Rs 3.72 crore.
According to art historian, Geeta Kapur, “Despite the deliberately banal subject matter, Khakhar still finds on his canvas a place for the insignificant man: a place that is so much like actual environment that the subject will not feel alien in it. And by giving him this place in a work of art, he enthrones the insignificant man in our imagination.” (Quoted in Timothy Hyman’s Bhupen Khakhar, Mumbai: Chemould Publication and Arts, 1998, Pg 41)
Ram Kumar’s Composition (1958) doubled its lower estimate to sell for Rs 2 crores. The painting marks a point in the artist’s career, when his work began to transition from the figurative to abstraction.
When Composition was painted, Kumar was briefly based in Paris, working out of a rented apartment he shared with fellow Progressive Artists’ Group member S H Raza.
A later work by SH Raza, Om (2007), sold for twice its lower estimate at Rs 1.92 crore. The artist called this work from the 1980s onwards a “result of two parallel enquiries.”
Firstly, it is aimed at a “pure plastic order” and secondly, it concerns nature. Both converge into one point and become inseparable – the Bindu.
Another Ram Kumar painting titled Leh (1980), sold at Rs 1.32 crores took the fifth spot. He visited Ladakh twice in 1976 and 1993.
“The landscape haunted me for quite some time. Later when I tried to paint my impressions on canvas, I could not imagine any colors. The eternal silence of a wasted, barren earth which refused to compromise with man could not be visualised in any other colors except grey and black and white.”
(Artist quoted in Uma Prakash, Ram Kumar: Selected Works 1950-2010, Vadehra Art Gallery, 2010,Pg 9)