Amrita Sher-Gil's Little Girl in Blue goes for Rs 18 crore
Sotheby's inaugural India auction sets new benchmark as bohemian artist gets highest ever price in India; Tyeb Mehta's Durga gets Rs 20 cr
Art lovers can't part with their Amrita Sher-Gils easily, which explains why such few lots ever come up in auction. This year, Sotheby's managed a coup of sorts when it got its hands on Sher-Gil's Little Girl in Blue (1934), believed to be lost, and unseen for 80 years. It is also only the third Sher-Gil oil to go under the hammer in India.
The portrait was of Sher-Gil's cousin, Babette Singh Mann, who is 92 today, and who was present and swigging champagne when the portrait was unveiled in Delhi recently. In 1937, the portrait was sold to eminent art critic Charles Fabri, believed to be Sher-Gil's paramour, and remained with his family since. On Thursday, at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, it went for Rs 18cr, the highest price ever achieved for the artist in India.
Mehta's answer to the riots
While Sher-Gil always grabs headlines, there were other equally impressive sales. Tyeb Mehta's Durga Mahisasura Mardini, 1993, his answer to the 1992 riots that engulfed then-Bombay went for R20cr. Mehta captured goddess Durga in the middle of slaughtering the buffalo-demon Mahisasura. As he believed that "good and evil go together", the two figures dominated the canvas equally.
Of the 60 lots that were presented, 10 of which were online, there was a diversity of works: there were paintings, photography, sculpture and design. The auction itself was called Boundless: India, and Sotheby's managed to bring together works that ranged from Rs 60,000 to Rs 20cr. There were architectural drawings of IIM-Ahmedabad by Louis Kahn, furniture by Pierre Jeanneret, a 1948 photograph of Srinagar by Henri Cartier-Bresson, editorial drawings of RK Laxman and graphic posters of Air India. Among the heavyweights, there were three paintings by MF Husain and two each by FN Souza and SH Raza.
There was also a work on paper drawn by Sher-Gil, when she was 10 years old, that went for Rs 52 lakh, and a sculpture by Sadanand Bakre - the only sculptor among the founding members of the Progressive Artists' Group - at Rs 1.8cr. The online lots were curated by architect Ashiesh Shah and the offline lots by Lord Mark Poltimore, deputy chairman of Sotheby's Europe.
All in all, the auction was good news for Sotheby's, which desperately needed it, after the ouster of managing director Gaurav Bhatia under serious allegations of #MeToo last week. It was a case of life imitating art, and a demon being slayed by a goddess.
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