PAINTINGS BY AMRITA SHER-GIL & S.H. RAZA SET NEW RECORDS FOR HIGHEST PRICE ACHIEVED BY INDIAN ARTISTS
Indian art has reached new heights at auction in recent weeks — on August 31st at Pundole’s Fine Art Sale in Mumbai, a painting by artist S.H. Raza sold for the record high price of $6.27 million (₹45 crore). Then, shortly afterwards on September 16th at Saffronart’s Evening Sale in New Delhi, a 1937 painting by Amrita Sher-Gil sold for $7.45 million (₹61.8 crore) — setting the highest-ever price for an Indian artwork sold at auction. These two historic sales reflect the strength of the Indian art market as well as a growing recognition for modernist painters.
Amrita Sher-Gil (1913 – 1941) was a modern artist who achieved remarkable success during the span of her tragically short career. She has become one of the most popular figures in Indian art, praised as an early feminist and named as one of India’s nine National Art Treasures. Born in Budapest, Sher-Gil lived and studied between Hungary, France and India, developing a unique style that merged European modernism and traditional Indian art forms. Her gently colored scenes aimed to capture the beauty and reality of daily Indian life, frequently focused on women and their experiences.
Featuring a circle of village women seated among cows in a garden, her painting The Story Teller is a stunning example of her primary theme and artistic sensibility. The Story Teller was first exhibited at Faletti’s Hotel, Lahore in November 1937 and subsequently purchased by Badruddin Tyabji Jr., a diplomat in the Indian Civil Service and the grandson of a former President of the Indian National Congress. The Story Teller was later selected by Sher-Gil herself as one of her 12 most important canvases — and now, it is the most expensive work of Indian art ever sold.
Just a few weeks prior, the painting Gestation by Sayed Haider “S.H.” Raza (1922 – 2016) held the record for the highest price for an Indian artist of all time. In fact, Raza has now held this record twice, first in 2010 when his 1983 painting Saurashtra sold for $3.51 million at Christie’s. Both record-making works dated to the 1980s, a significant decade of Raza’s work when he honed the Bindu as his iconic subject. The Bindu is a symbol of potential and creation, rooted in sacred geometry and Indian philosophy. Gestation is one such result of Raza’s new direction, displaying a powerful black Bindu at the center of a complex abstract composition, each shape and color imbued with meaning.
A founding member of the Bombay Progressive Artist’s Group and regarded as one of the most influential Indian artists, Raza has recently been the focus of several international exhibitions. In 2023, he was the subject of a major retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Simultaneously in Dubai, 1×1 Art Gallery presented the exhibition A Life Loving & Working (1953 – 2002), which explored the relationship between Raza and his wife, the French artist Janine Mongillat. Partners in both life and art, the couple inspired and informed each other’s approaches, which can be seen when viewing the works side by side.
During the same auctions at Saffronart in September and Pundole’s in August, other Indian artists enjoyed strong performances that exceeded their estimates, including F.N. Souza and Tyeb Mehta. At other recent sales, V.S. Gaitonde has also fetched high prices, including setting the previous record at $5.49 million in 2021, before Raza’s and Sher-Gil’s recent sales. These five figures have certainly proved that modern Indian artists are coming into their own, continuing to set new records for South Asian art on a global stage.
— Sonia Nayyar Patwardhan