Pundole is holding an auction of this size after a while. How many items are on sale?
We have 315 lots for this particular auction. All the items on sale will be put up for viewing at the National Centre of the Performing Arts (NCPA) from September 1-3, and the auction will be held on September 3 and 4. This time the sale is filled with art and antiques with spectacular provenance, which range from an extraordinary portrait of Seth Lachman Das by the giant of pre-modern Indian Art Raja Ravi Varma and the entire collection of the late Laura Hamilton, who set up and owned the Malabar Boutique at the Taj Hotel in Colaba since 1962 and whose personal collection is unparalleled.
How did you become official auctioneers of Laura Hamilton’s estate?
It was Laura Hamilton’s express wish that Pundole auctions her treasures after her death. She had read about two of our earlier sales, including when we auctioned the property and estates of Jamshedji Bhabha and later those of Noshir Nanporia. When she saw the appetite that Indian collectors had for good things, especially for works of art that had good provenance, she mentioned in her will that we should be the ones to auction her collection. I think she chose auction over a regular sale because it is such a transparent and a neutral process.
Tell us about some of the most spectacular items that will go under the hammer.
There are so many great things. We have a Gandhara Era (2nd century AD) Buddha statue. It has very good provenance and therefore is much more desirable than a piece which has arrived through questionable means. It has a base price of Rs 46 lakh. Hamilton was well-known in the city for her connoisseurship and keen sense of style. She first came to India during the Second World War and continued to live in Mumbai until her death. She set up and ran the Malabar Boutique at the Taj Hotel from its inception in 1962 until she was 94. We also have some refined Tibetan paintings of Buddha and Arhats (17th-19th Century).
Did she also say in her will what is to be done with the proceeds?
The entire proceeds from the auction of Ms Hamilton’s estate will be donated to the JRD Tata Trust to help deserving Indian women pursue higher studies in medicine and humanities. This is in keeping with her will. Of course this is just a part of the auction. We also have rare collectibles from two other royal families -- the Gaekwads of Vadodara and another royal family that wishes to remain anonymous. We also have beautiful paintings of the legendary painter Nandalal Bose -- and once again these are of great provenance, having come to us from his grandchildren.
I believe you also have a Raja Ravi Varma painting in the catalogue?
Yes, this is perhaps the biggest draw of the auction. Lot 43 in the catalogue is an extraordinary portrait of Seth Lachman Das by the giant of pre-modern Indian art, Raja Ravi Varma. It’s valued at between Rs 3 to Rs 5 crore. Painted in 1896, this amazingly detailed work even shows the subject wearing two medals gifted to him by the British. Incredibly, the painting stayed with the family for the next 115 years. And in a final quirky element of luck, the two medals worn by Das and clearly depicted in the painting were still found to be owned by the family. They have been included with the lot, allowing the lucky buyer the opportunity to pose beneath the canvas with these very medals pinned to their chest!
Do you have any other royal property or big names on your list?
From the House of the Gaekwads, we have a brilliantly carved Chinese desk and chair commissioned specially for a prince. We also have a series of paintings by the artists from the school of European Realism. These belong to the personal collection of another royal house. It includes a painting titled Leopards and Elephants by Arthur Wardle, valued at between Rs 5 and Rs 7 lakh. Of great provenance again are the two paintings of Nandalal Bose, which we are putting on the anvil. Painted in the 1930s by the master, the one titled Notir Puja is based on the play by the same name written by Rabindranath Tagore. When it was performed in 1926, Bose’s daughter Gauri played a part in it -- becoming perhaps the first woman of a higher caste to actually act on stage. It created quite a stir then. The other painting, titled Golden Pitcher was a gift from Bose to his other daughter Jamuna. This one is up for grabs at a base price between Rs 30 andRs 50 lakh./p>
Do you think, given the economic slowdown, there will be takers for such rare but expensive items?
We are delighted to be holding this auction and we strongly feel Indian collectors have matured over the years and there are many who have a fine eye for treasures with a good provenance. The big word here is provenance or origin. When an item has great lineage, it will find many takers, irrespective of its price. Provenance of an item is critical in an auction. Having said that, I think this is going to be a thrilling auction and I am sure we will get a good response.