A Year in Auctions: The 10 Most Interesting Indian Artworks Sold in 2017

Art Wise

2017 will always be remembered as a landmark year for art auctions, when global history was made with the much-debated, record-breaking sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, at a jaw-dropping $450 million! And while the world revelled in this excitement, auction activity for Indian Art was no less exciting, with rare pieces being discovered and brought to sale for the very first time, and the most well-known names of Indian art setting new records. Here is Artisera’s pick of the 10 most interesting and remarkable artworks by Indian artists, that were sold at auctions in 2017, both in India and internationally. 

1. Taash ke Patte (Deck of Cards), 2016

This extraordinary series of paintings is a ‘deck’ of 54 artworks made by India’s most important artists. For the series, the artists were asked to create their own interpretations of a playing card that they picked from a standard deck. Featuring artworks in varied mediums from charcoal to acrylics to even photography, the series included works by masters like S.H. Raza, Jogen Chowdhury, Krishen Khanna and Anjolie Ela Menon, as well as younger artists like Mithu Sen and Shilpa Gupta. Titled Taash ke Patte, it fetched GBP 281,000 ($364,700) at the May 2017 auction of South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art by Christie’s, London. The series was commissioned by the British Council to commemorate the 40th year anniversary of a similar project executed in Britain in 1976 with British artists. 

Artworks by Thota Vaikuntam (Left) and Krishen Khanna (Right) that were part of the Taash ke Patte series

2. Portrait of Husain by F.N. Souza, 1948

One of the most interesting pieces at the Saffronart Evening Sale of September 2017, was a portrait of M.F. Husain, painted by his friend and contemporary, F.N. Souza, shortly after the formation of the Progressive Artists' Group. What makes this painting special, is its rare and poignant depiction of the enduring friendship between two of India’s most respected masters of art, who together, with other eminent artists of their time, heralded a new era of Modern Art in the country. The artwork, portraying Husain working on a painting, bears many of Souza’s signature techniques, but completely lacks his typical angry, jagged lines and graphic details. Instead, the brushstrokes are applied with rare, tender restraint, seldom seen in Souza’s human figures. The painting fetched Rs. 2.64 crores at the auction, more than double its upper estimate.

3. Twenty Watercolours Depicting Scenes of Bombay by M.V. Durandhar, circa 1900

Among the most interesting pieces sold at the Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art Auction in London in October 2017, was a series of exquisite watercolours by eminent Indian artist, M.V. Durandhar. The series of 20 artworks was an extremely rare find, discovered in a forgotten drawer in a house in rural England. The pieces are delicate studies of people on the streets of Bombay in 1900, depicting everyday moments in poignant detail. The artworks are in excellent condition, having been untouched for 50 years and were auctioned for GBP 87,500 ($115,000).

4. Self Portrait by Amrit Sher-Gil, 1930

One of India’s most eminent artists and also one of the world’s most important women artists of the early 20th century, Amrita Sher-Gil is an iconic character in art history, her artworks having been deemed National Art Treasures by the Indian Government. With the artist having passed away at the young age of 28, her works are hard to come by, which makes a sketch like this a rare gem, and exciting to see at an auction. This drawing is a self-portrait of the artist, done in ink and pencil, bearing Sher-Gil’s characteristic style of depicting herself, with bold eyes, prominent eyebrows and full lips that mark her face with a certain intensity. The artwork was auctioned for Rs. 48,00,000 at the Pundole’s Fine Art Sale in April 2017. 

5. Untitled (Woman on Rickshaw) by Tyeb Mehta, 1994

Tyeb Mehta is known for using the hand-pulled rickshaw, a common sight in Kolkata where he spent a few years of his life, as a metaphor for human suffering and the struggle for survival, in his artworks. Depicting a woman on a rickshaw in his distinct abstracted style, this painting stands out for its allegorical portrayal of everyday human life, and the struggle that accompanies it. The painting sold at GBP 2.74 million (Rs. 22.9 crores) at the Christie’s South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art auction in October 2017, setting a new world auction record for the artist. This also made it the most expensive artwork from South Asia to be sold internationally in 2017.

6. Basohli Paintings, circa 1680-1690

A miniature painting tradition that was prevalent in the region of Basohli (now in Jammu and Kashmir) in North India, in the 17th and 18th centuries, Basohli Art is the oldest school of Pahari Art. Typically depicting royalty and mythological subjects, the paintings are rendered in exceptional detail and are often surrounded by a red border. The Arts of India auction held by Christie’s London in May 2017 saw an exquisite collection of rare Basohli paintings from the 1600s, titled ‘An Illustration to a Ragamala Series’, go under the hammer. While the entire collection was fascinating, two artworks stood out for the high prices they fetched. The first piece (shown on top) titled ‘Bhairava Raga’, depicts Lord Shiva seated on Nandi, carrying an alms bowl, which sold at an astounding GBP 209,000 (Rs. 1.7 crores). The other artwork, titled ‘Panchama Ragaputra of Bhairava Raga’ depicting a Prince, presumed to be Raja Kirpal Pal of Basohli, seated with his pet animals, fetched GBP 161,000 (Rs. 1.3 crores).

7. De-Luxe Tailors by Bhupen Khakhar, 1957

The first painting from Bhupen Khakhar’s acclaimed ‘Trade’ series to appear in the open market, De-luxe Tailors, depicting a tailor at work, was gifted to British artist Howard Hodgkin by Khakhar himself. Hodgkin had been his mentor and had hosted him several times in the 1970’s. The trade paintings were a series of portraits of people defined by their professions, an ode to India’s working class, who are often excluded from the ‘sophisticated’ world of art. The series marked a shift in the artist’s style, from his earlier, miniature-inspired works, towards realism. Other highly coveted paintings from the Trade series are in Khakhar’s friends’ homes, or in esteemed private and institutional collections. Part of the Sotheby’s ‘Howard Hodgkin, Portrait of The Artist’ auction in October 2017, this artwork sold for a record-breaking GBP 1.1 million (Rs. 9.4 Crores), making it Khakhar’s most expensive painting to be sold at an auction!

8. Untitled by V. S. Gaitonde, 1963

Depicting an inky expanse, composed of shades of blue and black applied in varying strokes and textures, V.S. Gaitonde’s Untitled (1963) is an enigmatic artwork, a symbol of the artist’s love for experimenting with the technique of painting itself. Evoking the image of a seascape at midnight (although the artist’s work was never literal), the abstract painting has a meditative quality that inspires you to go inward and reflect. The masterpiece was part of the Saffronart Evening Sale in September 2017, and fetched Rs. 19.99 crores, making it one of the most expensive pieces sold at an Indian auction in 2017, and also one of Gaitonde’s five most expensive artworks.

9. Train’D to Kill 1 by Bharti Kher, 2008

Brilliant in conception as well as execution, Train’D to Kill 1 by leading Indian contemporary artist Bharti Kher fetched Rs. 96 lakhs at the Saffronart Evening Sale in September 2017, making it one of the most expensive Indian contemporary artworks sold in the year. The piece is instantly arresting with its colour palette, created with bindis, which have long been recurring motifs in Bharti Kher’s art. In this artwork, the bindis are layered on each other to form almost dizzying rows of concentric circles that resemble shooting targets. 

10. Untitled by M.F. Husain, 1966

This magnificent and gigantic oil on board painting measuring 100” x 86”, set a domestic record price for M.F. Husain in auctions within India, selling for Rs. 9 crores at the Pundole’s December 2017 Fine Art Sale. Depicting an abstract figure of a woman with her hands engaged in a mudra, Husain has highlighted her beauty and strength with his intuitive and brilliant use of colour. The artist’s fondness for calligraphy is reflected in his use of symbols and letters from the Devanagiri script. This painting marked an artistic evolution of his large-scale paintings from the previous decade. 

With so many exquisite works of art making it to the auctions of 2017, here’s hoping that 2018 continues to be a year of excitement for Indian art, both within the country, and internationally.

Image credits: sothebys.com, christies.com, saffronart.com, pundoles.com and economictimes.indiatimes.com

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