Art News & Views



Rabindranath and Raza create history

It is with a lot of enthusiasm and good cheer that one receives the news of Syed Haider Raza's 'Saurashtra' notching $3.49 million at Christies last month. Raza thus becomes the priciest Indian modern artist at the moment. And the good news is that the particular piece has come to India, thanks to a private museum that shelled out the huge sum.

Prices such as that fetched by Raza are the most positive trend to have blessed the Indian art market recently. This may actually result in taking more Indian artists up to the one million dollar price bracket. This also sets a positive note. And such efforts are laudable. Infact this is the first work purchased by an Indian at a record price. All other works sold for top prices were purchased by foreigners or NRIs.

But apart from Raza, Husain, Tyeb, Souza, Indian museums should also start locating and collecting works by Bikash Bhattacherjee, Swaminathan, Manjit Bawa etc which are still grossly underpriced. Such masters are becoming increasingly rare and are not easily available. It is already becoming difficult to find a good example of the Doll/ Durga series of Bikash, or a painting from the Mountain and Bird Series of Swaminathan. Major works of Manjit Bawa are also a rarity. According to market trends, these works are poised to reach record breaking prices in the next 3 to 5 years. Hence, it makes sense to acquire such works, as rational investment options.

Collectors around the country should feel encouraged by the efforts of the Private Museum which procured 'Saurashtra'. Others should also concentrate upon similar procurements, keeping in view National Treasure Artists as well. Considering there is no incentive from the government. The government, corporate, galleries and private collectors should also make similar endeavors.

Talking of National Treasure Artists, the hue and cry raised in India over Rabindranath Tagore's twelve paintings presented by the poet to the Elmherst family during his stay in England fetching less than eleven crores at the Sotheby's auction seems a little over-the-top. Firstly, none of those auctioned were Tagore's major works. Second, they were given as gifts. But a closer look at prices fetched by each of these individual paintings will paint a different picture.

The Tagore painting that was sold has actually fetched the highest price among any Indian artist considering medium size and quality. The painting of Tagore that fetched the highest price was a 19.5 x 15.75 inch watercolour. It was sold for 313,250 GBP against an estimate of 30,000 - 40,000 GBP.

The Raza's Saurashtra is 78.75x 78.75 inches, which fetched a price of 2,393,250 GBP against an estimate of 1,300,000 - 1,800,000 GBP. Naturally, it is clear that going by the medium, quality and size of the paintings, Rabindranath Tagore works out to be the most valuable among Indian painters, if one is to go by per square inch measures. Surpassing any other Indian artists. These were not just records for Tagore; they also set new records for any Indian works on paper of this size.

What is actually unfortunate regarding Tagore is that no single buyer could win all the bids. Neither did any Indian institution or private collector manage to lay their hands on any one of the works. The buyers, both at the auction and bidding anonymously by phone, included Bangladeshi and Pakistani collectors, A London-based Indian cardiologist, Abhijit Lahiri, bought one lot. Asked by the Journalists, Lahiri said he might take his collection to India one day.

Most India-based collectors would have been reluctant to buy the works because there is no clear picture on the import of National Treasure Artist. This only means that in all probability these works will never be seen anywhere in India.

But then, does one actually get to see the enormous treasures that already exist in the country? Works by National Treasure Artists that are held by government institutions like the Lalit Kala Akademi or Kala Bhavana are rarely exhibited. This does not happen with art treasures lying with government institutions in most other parts of the world.

We need to look at this bottleneck very seriously. Unless we make connoisseurs more involved and aware of our art treasures, incidents like Tagore's paintings will be repeated. It is only natural that the government leads the way in this field too.

  Vikram Bachhawat 




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art etc. news & views is a monthly magazine published from India in order to promote art and culture. It intends to raise awareness about art all around India and the world. The magazine covers art exhibitions, auction highlights, market trends, art happenings besides Antique, Collectibles, Fashion, Jewellery, Vintage, Furniture, Film, Music and Culture.