Year's art sale begins on a slow note

Saffronart's auction - 2017's first - sees a number of lots selling below or just skimming the lower estimate price

Saffronart co-founder Dinesh Vazirani helms the auction as a work by India’s top-selling artist VS Gaitonde goes under the hammer yesterday. Pic/Shadab Khan
Saffronart co-founder Dinesh Vazirani helms the auction as a work by India’s top-selling artist VS Gaitonde goes under the hammer yesterday. Pic/Shadab Khan

For those of us used to holding our breaths in auction rooms, the first art sale of the year by Saffronart came as a bit of a dampener. Whether the art market is still reeling under the aftershocks of demonetisation or it was the particular choice of works, the auction saw a sizeable number of lots selling below or just skimming the lower estimate price.

The total sale after slow bidding for 77 lots (a Bhupen Khakhar work was withdrawn) amounted to a respectable Rs 33.59 crore, with 11 lots passed. Compare this to the total sale worth of Rs 68.55 crore from 69 lots at their evening sale held in New Delhi in September 2016.

Falling Figure by Tyeb Mehta, oil on canvas, 1965, went for Rs 6 crore
Falling Figure by Tyeb Mehta, oil on canvas, 1965, went for Rs 6 crore

The cover lot of the evening, an oil on canvas by Tyeb Mehta, titled Falling Figure, which was exhibited in the First Indian Triennale in 1968, went under the hammer for Rs 6 crore, with auctioneer and Saffronart CEO, Hugo Weihe, saying, "One small step for you, a large one for Tyeb."

"While the art market is not the easiest yet, we carefully considered the composition with rare and unusual works - there were early works by Gaitonde and Raza. We are gratified to see that the art market received it well," said Weihe.

Talking points
The second highest selling lot of the evening was a diptych from Akbar Padamsee's Mirror Image series, made around the 1960s; it sold for Rs 3.60 crore. The third was an oil on canvas by India's top-selling artist VS Gaitonde, Portrait of Bhanu Rajapadhya - who got India's first Oscar for her costume design in the Attenborough classic Gandhi -which went for Rs 3 crore.

High points of the sale included an early work by SH Raza, much talked about during the preview of the sale; it went for Rs 1.08 crore. The gouache on paper work from 1948, depicting the iconic view of the city from Malabar hill, titled Bombay from Malabar Hill, was estimated to fetch originally anywhere between Rs 15 lakh and Rs 20 lakh. A Jehangir Sabavala piece, Down to a Sunless Sea (a title drawn from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's famous poem, Kubla Khan) also surpassed all expectations, by selling for Rs 95 lakh. It was originally pegged to sell for between Rs 50 and Rs 70 lakh.

Husain gets the cold shrift
Works by MF Husain still continue bear the brunt of passes. Three works by Husain, including a large acrylic on canvas depicting three avatars of Ganesha, went unsold in the course of the auction. Weihe said, "I was sorry not to see the large Husain work sell. Husain is unpredictable in the market, and some of his early works tend to sell well. We are sure that Husain will sort himself out in soon in the market."

Overall, participating bidders revealed that they were glad to see a majority of works sold, assuaging fears of demonetisation playing spoilsport with art transactions.

On a high

Individual artist records were set for Ramgopal Vijaivargiya, whose untitled gouache and watercolour fetched him Rs 32.40 lakh - the highest selling work for the artist.

Another record was set for Madhav Satwalekar, with his work going for Rs 14.40 lakh.

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