Indian masters are truly going global

The Bid & Hammer auction on June 27 remained mired in controversy almost since it was first announced. Even after the event, the unsolved mystery of whether some of the works were fakes, continued to feature prominently in national dailies.

If earlier there were questions about Nandalal Bose’s painting, now there is a Ram Kinkar Baij landscape which is in doubt. Even the 22 works by MF Husain that were put up for sale are said to be fakes. Having had the privilege of knowing this great artist, I can safely say that his talent for creating a masterpiece on any available scrap of paper means that there are now thousands of sketches by the prolific artist that no one may have seen before.

It is sad, however, that the works of some of India’s most eminent painters including Rabindranath Tagore, Hemendra Majumdar, KH Ara, KK Hebbar, and Bikash Bhattacharjee, should be under a cloud. There is no doubt that such controversies will damage the global recognition that Indian artists have been enjoying in recent years. The art fraternity’s suggestion that an art regularity body appears to be a good move in this regard.

Christie’s recent sale of ‘South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art’, held in London on June 11, highlighted the global appreciation for Indian Art. FN Souza, whose interestingly titled painting Man & Woman Grinding Their Teeth, may be considered the star of the event. Created in 1957, this large canvas estimated between £1,000,000 and £1,500,000 did not find a buyer. However, it is said to have been bought later for £1,000,000 by an anonymous buyer. We have heard of such sales and one wonders if this is a recent trend and whether it will it become a practice at auctions, where estimates of high value put off genuine bidders. When the painting does not find a buyer at the auction, buyers have the option of buying the artwork at the lowest price estimated. This may work out cheaper, even after adding the agency commission.

Among others that were featured in the auction were Raza’s L’Orage, painted two years after he became the first foreign artist to win the prestigious Prix de la Critique in Paris. Tyeb Mehta’s 1960 painting Untitled, a vivid portrait in orange and blue highlights Mehta’s experiments with colour inspired by the works of the French impressionists. Arpita Singh, among the highest valued Indian female artists, also did rather well and her painting Bhishma was picked up for at £92,500.

(The writer is an author and a former art gallery owner)

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