When V.S. Gaitonde’s Untitled (1998) came to the podium during Christie’s last Indian auction, a palpable murmur of interest rippled through the assembled bidders.
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The aquamarine painting was only the second of the artist’s works to come to sale, after the golden yellow Untitled (1979) sold for 230 million rupees — or $3.7 million — establishing a world record for modern Indian art. Within minutes, Untitled (1998) had found a buyer.
Though Gaitonde’s record-breaking sale took place in Mumbai, interest in his works has expanded far beyond India. Last year, a major retrospective at New York’s Guggenheim cemented his position as an artist worthy of an international audience — a status set to be confirmed again when Untitled (1970) is sold as part of Christie’s South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art auction in London on 10 June.
Left: Tyeb Mehta (1925-2009), Untitled (Blue Bird), 2007. Acrylic on canvas. Estimate: £600,000-800,000. Right: Vasudeo S. Gaitonde, Untitled, 1970. Oil on canvas. 59 7/8 x 34¾ in. (152.1 x 88.3 cm.). Estimate: £600,000-800,000. These works and those below will be offered in our sale of South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art on 10 June at Christie’s in London
Gaitonde is just one of the Modern masters to feature in the sale, which marks the 20th anniversary or Indian Modern and Contemporary art auctions at Christie’s. Recently discovered, an exceptionally rare self-portrait by Amrita Sher-Gil depicts the country’s most celebrated female painter at just 18 — the artist’s young age doing nothing to impede the fierce sense of conviction that characterised her work.
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Other works are a reminder of the crescendo of interest in Indian contemporary art over the past decade. In his lifetime, Tyeb Mehta (1925-2009) came to be India’s highest-selling artist; Untitled (Blue Bird) epitomises the artist’s exploration of bold colours and dynamic, near-Cubist forms. Both Mehta and Gaitonde were important members of the seminal Bombay Progressive Artist’s Group; paintings by other members — including abstractionists S.H.Raza and F.N.Souza — appear to be rapidly echoing their peers’ success.
Left: Zarina, The House at Aligarh, 1990. Etching on paper and text on Bhutanese handmade paper. Estimate: £15,000-20,000. Right: Francis Newton Souza (1924-2002), View From the Park, 1984. Acrylic on board. Estimate: £15,000-20,000
Works by Zarina Hashmi represent a later generation of Indian contemporary artists — who include Nalini Malani and Rameshwar Broota. Now in her late seventies, Zarina (who goes by her first name) has come to be celebrated as one of South Asia’s most critically acclaimed living artists — and was one of only four artists to represent India in the country’s inaugural 2011 Venice Biennale pavilion.
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Works by these Modern and Contemporary masters are testimony of the changing shape of India’s visual culture — a country whose strong incredibly rich artistic tradition continues to inform its identity. Along with Christie’s Arts of India sale, Christie’s South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art sale celebrates two very different sides of Indian creation — both nevertheless comprising masterpieces of international stature.
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