STRONG DEMAND FOR MODERN INDIAN ART AT RECENT WINTER AUCTIONS
2023 has been a record-setting year for Indian art at international auctions. Just a few months ago, two records were set back to back by S.H. Raza for $6.27 million in August and then Amrita Sher-Gil for $7.45 million in September. While other auction markets have cooled around the world, the demand for modern Indian art has remained remarkably strong and consistent in contrast. Two recent sales at reputed international auction houses in December have solidified this upwards trend for investing in modern Indian art.
Reviewing the results, there were standout sales of Raja Ravi Varma and Akbar Padamsee, as well as notable results for artists Jamini Roy, M.F. Husain and S.H. Raza.
The surprising star of the December auctions was the painting Dattatreya by renowned Indian artist Raja Ravi Varma (1848–1906). This painting depicts the deity for which it is named — Dattatreya, or the three-headed incarnation of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva — alongside the wish-fulfilling cow Kamadhenu, and four dogs who each represent one of the Vedas. Although Varma is undoubtedly one of the most famous Indian artists, as well as one of the Nine National Treasure artists, the final price of $2.16 million was unexpectedly over six times its high estimate.
Other paintings by Varma also fetched high prices including Pandurangavittal and Rakhumaye (Krishna and Rukmini) at $1.68 million and Rama, Sita and Laksmana Crossing the Sarayu at $1.56 million.
Modern artist Akbar Padamsee (1928–2020) emerged as an auction powerhouse this month, with two paintings selling at the upper ends of both auctions. First, Metascape I sold for $1.56 million, over seven times its high estimate. This work is a gorgeous example of his popular Metascape series, incorporating abstracted elements of the sky, earth, mountains and rivers as well as the sun and moon.
Second, Woman with Corn was the most expensive work sold at December auctions, with the hammer falling at $3.12 million. An expressive, figurative painting from early on in his career in 1952, the dark color palette and semi-abstract style are highly reminiscent of his significant series Prophets, which he began that same year.
Four total works by modern artist Jamini Roy (1887–1972) sold recently, demonstrating an enduring demand for this beloved Indian artist. The top work was an untitled painting of three tribal women in his signature simplified style, realizing a final price of $96,000.
A number of works by distinguished modern artist M.F. Husain (1915–2011) also sold at auction in December. The highest-priced painting was That Obscure Object of Desire, ultimately achieving $300,000. This painting originates from a larger series inspired by surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel’s 1977 movie of the same name, That Obscure Object of Desire. During the 1980s, Husain was deeply interested in exploring both the particular aesthetic style of cinema and movie posters.
Modern artist S.H. Raza (1922–2016) similarly enjoyed a strong performance at the winter auctions. The most expensive of four lots was Eglise, which sold at $480,000. Predating his Bindu series, this landscape suggests a transition in Raza’s style towards abstraction that emphasizes gesture and color over forms.
Other artists featured at these recent art auctions included Amrita Sher-Gil, N.S. Bendre, Tyeb Mehta, S.N. Souza and G.R. Santosh. Overall, the two sales indicate that collectors’ interest in art by modern Indian masters has continued to grow, confirming the current robustness of the South Asian art market.
— Sonia Patwardhan