2016 - The Most Eye Catching Artworks Sold at Indian Auctions

Art Wise

Auctions are always high drama and full of thrill. And the Indian auction scene has seen a lot of growth and excitement in the past few years, with high prices paid not just for paintings by modern masters, but also for works from royal collections and for sculptures. At the start of 2017, Artisera looks back at the year gone by, and brings you a snapshot of the most expensive and iconic art pieces sold at auctions in India in 2016.

(Image source: Newsweek)

Pundole’s Auctions

Some magnificent Indian art pieces were sold at the Pundole’s auction in November 2016. The centerpiece that was the cynosure of all eyes was undoubtedly Raja Ravi Varma’s Radha in the Moonlight, an 1890 oil on canvas, which sold for a whopping Rs. 20 crores! Being a master researcher on mythological subjects, Ravi Varma recognized every nuance of Radha’s energy in this masterpiece. As described on the Pundole website, “Not only is she dazzling and complete in her beauty of body and spirit, she is also the symbol of unconditional love which makes Krishna yearn for her…Radha has the pooja thali, the platter of flowers and sweetmeats near her, the ritual of worship and adulation to be completed before the love play starts…” The painting was originally in the collection of Shungrasoobyer Avergal, Dewan of Travancore (1892-1898), before being passed on to his great grandchildren. 

(Radha in the Moonlight by Raja Ravi Varma; image source: pundoles.com)

Kunvar Maha Unwar Singh of Uniara’s Hunting Boar (circa 1770), an oil on canvas sold for a stupendous Rs. 40 lakhs, thereby setting a very high standard for Indian collectors with a penchant for royal collections. A Processional Scene, Shri Rao Sardar Singh (1740-1778) with his Entourage, an opaque pigment on paper heightened with gold was another stunning piece from the royal collection, and sold for Rs. 28 lakhs.

(Hunting Boar by Kunvar Maha Unwar Singh of Uniara; image source: pundoles.com) 

The great poet Rabindranath Tagore was also known for his creative paintings, and from his paintbrush, the exquisite artwork Mythical Animals, which belonged to the family property of Nandalal Bose, got sold for Rs. 50 lakhs.

(Mythical Animals by Rabindranath Tagore; image source: pundoles.com)

The prolific Bengali painter Jamini Roy’s Landscape, declared a national art treasure, that was estimated for an amount ranging between Rs. 4-6 lakhs, actually sold for much higher, at Rs. 13 lakhs! 

(Landscape by Jamini Roy; image source: pundoles.com) 

Christie’s Auctions

In December 2016, at the Christie’s auctions of Indian classical as well as modern and contemporary art held at Mumbai, pieces from one of the most important collections of Indian art put together over the past thirty years by Abhishek and Radhika Poddar, comprising modern and contemporary art, antiquities, folk and tribal art, textiles, craft, design and photography, were auctioned. A stand-out piece from their collection was Tyeb Mehta’s 1975 Untitled (Diagonal) which was sold for Rs. 10.2 crores! In this work, Mehta used a thick line running diagonally across the canvas, allowing a single figure to adopt different forms on each side.

(Untitled (Diagonal) by Tyeb Mehta; image source: christies.com) 

Besides the incredible collection from Poddar, another set in the limelight, was 42 court paintings from the collection of Colonel R.K. Tandan, dating from the 15th to mid-19th centuries. Owner of one of the finest personal collections of ancient Indian art comprising over 1,000 pieces, Colonel Tandan began collecting when he was a new recruit in the army back in 1944. After 24 years of service, he decided to retire and devote all his time to this passion.

A highlight from his collection at the auction was a folio from the “Tandan” Ragamala: Ragaputra Chandrakaya of Malkosa, from Basohli, Pahari Region, North India, circa 1700, which went for Rs. 93.25 lakhs. This was one of four paintings from an iconic Pahari series of Ragamala painting, each a visual masterpiece exuding brilliance and rich hues.

(Folio from the Tandan Ragamala; image source: christies.com)

Amongst the sculptures on sale was one in grey stone depicting Lord Vishnu, dating back to the  12th century. The impressive figure is carved in deep relief with extraordinary detail. Estimated to be worth between Rs. 15-20 lakhs, the Vishnu, surrounded by several attendants, was eventually sold for Rs. 18.75 lakhs.

(Lord Vishnu stone sculpture, 12th Century; image source: christies.com) 

A 6th century polished stone figure of a Mother Goddess, most likely a Matrika, with a child resting on her left hip, got sold for a mind-blowing Rs. 43.75 lakhs.

Bronzes from the Bhedwar Collection, put together by renowned Mumbai-based architect Mr. Sohrab K. Bhedwar, who was associated with building one of downtown Mumbai’s most known Art Deco buildings - the iconic Eros Cinema, were amassed over three decades. Amongst his museum-worthy collection, were South Indian bronzes, Nepalese copper images and Tibetan sculptures as well as sculptures from Gujarat, Rajasthan and the Deccan. On sale from the Bhedwar collection, were a bronze shrine of a Jina, sold at Rs. 9.37 lakhs, and a bronze figure of a goddess, perhaps Sri Devi, from the 15th century, which went for Rs. 5 lakhs. 

(Bronze Shrine of a Jina from the Bhedwar collection; image source: christies.com)

Saffronart Auctions

At Saffronart’s September 2016 auction held in New Delhi, Akbar Padamsee's Greek Landscape, which is one of his four "works in grey", trumped all expectations, and was sold for an enormous Rs. 19.19 crores, thereby earning it place of pride as the most expensive painting by the artist ever to sell at an auction. Created in 1960, the artist imagined a cityscape in palettes of what could be easily described as “50 shades” of grey. 

(Greek Landscape by Akbar Padamsee; image source: saffronart.com)

Amongst the other bestsellers at the auction were V.S. Gaitonde's Untitled oil on canvas (1970), sold for a record-breaking Rs 10.12 crores. The reclusive Nagpur-born V.S. Gaitonde was invited to join the Progressive Artist Group in 1947 whose other two members were the inimitable M.F. Husain and S.H. Raza. Quoting Arun Vadehra from an interview with Christie’s, who was not just a friend of the artist but also represents Gaitonde’s work through his gallery - “Gaitonde is perhaps the boldest artist of the Progressive generation. In choosing the abstract form in art, Gaitonde took the road less travelled, especially by Indian artists of his generation, and devoted his skill in pursuing the art of painting as painting in itself…”

(Untitled by V.S. Gaitonde; image source: saffronart.com)

Another newsmaker was Nasreen Mohamedi's 1960 oil on canvas that sold for Rs. 2.4 crores. Amongst the first Muslim women in modern India to pursue a career in the arts, Nasreen’s aesthetics progressed to a delicate and minimalist sensibility when she made a complete shift to paper as her material of choice. In her own words: "I cannot seek form without. It has to come from within."  

(Untitled oil on canvas by Nasreen Mohamedi; image source: saffronart.com)

Amongst other big sells were M.F. Husain's Dreams (1979), sold for Rs. 4.44 crores and S.H. Raza's La Terre (1986) which went for Rs. 3.84 crores.

Here’s hoping that the auctions and art scene in India continues to buzz and vibrate with the same resonance in 2017!

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