• Press release
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  • New York
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  • For immediate release
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  • 22 August 2019

RELEASE: Christie's 25-Year Presence in India

Syed Haider Raza, La Terre, Painted in 1977, Estimate on request.

Mumbai / New York – On 11 September, Christie’s New York will be holding its third auction of South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art for 2019, a year which marks the 25th anniversary of opening its first representative office in Mumbai and 24th year of holding standalone auctions of 20th Century Indian Art. The year for South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art at Christie’s will be closing in November in Hong Kong, where the department’s participation in Christie’s autumn auction season was reinstated a year ago.

Highlights of the New York auction will be on view at a preview exhibition in Mumbai for three days, from 22-24 August, open to the public with continuous guided tours given by Christie’s specialists.

For the past two decades Christie’s has led the market for South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art with a commanding 70% market share in 2018. Eight of the top ten auction prices in the category have been achieved at Christie’s. The exceptional growth in this field is best exemplified by our sale results. Between 1994 and 2005, Christie’s sold approximately $20 million of South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art, while between 2005 and 2018 sales in the category surpassed the $400 million. Sell through rates in New York achieved over 90% by lot in March 2019, and a year earlier the New York sale established the highest price for the category, when Tapovan by Syed Haider Raza sold for $4.45 million.

Christie’s India is pleased to celebrate its 25th year in the country, a presence which began in 1994 when the firm opened the first representative office of any international auction house in India, in Mumbai. The establishment of a specialist department in India, London and New York followed, with the first stand-alone 20th Century Indian Art sale held in London in 1995. It took another 10 years of strong auction results until the first $1 million lot was knocked-down, when Tyeb Mehta’s Mahisasura, painted in 1997, sold for $1,584,000.

In 2013, Christie’s brought its auction knowledge to India, by holding its first sale in Mumbai. This auction set the highest price for any modern Indian work of art sold in the country, when Vasudeo S. Gaitonde’s Untitled sold for INR 23,70,25,000 / $3,792,400. The following year, 2014, Tyeb Mehta’s Untiled (Falling Bull), painted in 1999 sold for INR 17,54,25,000 / $2,818,072 to an online bidder and became the highest lot sold online that year. Twelve months later the auction total of INR 97,69,90,000 / $14,723,239 represented the highest total ever achieved for any auction in India at that time.

25 years ago, Christie’s was the first international auction house to open a permanent office in India. Over this quarter century, the perception, recognition and admiration for this category has grown internationally with the help of major retrospectives and exhibitions of works by Indian Masters, alongside local initiatives, such as the India Art Fair, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale and the Serendipity Arts Festival. 24 years of holding auctions in the category has allowed Christie’s to establish a robust international platform for South Asian Art, from the modern masters to contemporary artists, and we will continue to build on these successes,” commented Sonal Singh, Senior Specialist and Managing Director of Christie’s India.

New York sale Highlights – to be offered on

11 September 2019 and previewed in Mumbai between

22-24 August

Christie’s sale of South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art presents over 110 works by modern and contemporary artists from the Indian Subcontinent. Leading the sale are important works by Syed Haider Raza, Francis Newton Souza and Bikash Bhattacharjee along with an impressive selection by contemporary artists including a sculpture by Mrinalini Mukherjee, whose work is currently on view in a dedicated exhibition at the Met Breuer in New York.

Leading the September 11 sale is an impressive canvas by Syed Haider Raza (1922-2016), La Terre (estimate on request). Painted in 1977, La Terre is one of the most important and largest works from a key period in Raza’s artistic career. Completed after many years working within the style of the Second École de Paris, his path brought him full circle and he began to integrate vital elements of his Indian childhood and cultural heritage into his paintings. La Terre represents a triumph in Raza’s long engagement with nature and the genre of the landscape, with its gestural brushwork, expressionistic use of color and spiritual and symbolic engagement with the land and the notion of creation. The scale and depth of this painting are instantly captivating, invoking a deep sense of land by fusing abstract and symbolic forms into a powerful and mystic expression of the mood and atmosphere of the Indian nightscape. There are less than twenty documented paintings by the artist of this size and caliber, and even fewer from this period.

Syed Haider Raza (1922-2016) left India for France in 1949, after receiving a scholarship from the French Government to attend the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. It was in Paris that Raza finally encountered the work of artists like Matisse, Cézanne and Gauguin in person, and where his body of work underwent its first dramatic transformation. He was influenced both by the palette and compositions of the Post-Impressionist paintings. In addition to abandoning watercolor and gouache for thicker and more tactile paint, the artist began to rely more on color and texture to evoke his experience of the landscape. A rare cityscape, this 1956 painting is one of the few that records Raza’s impressions of the vibrant and teeming metropolis rather than of the villages in the French countryside. Most likely a view from the artist’s first studio in Paris, a modest attic on Rue de Fossés St. Jacques, this work employs dark ink outlines over oil to portray the artist’s view of Parisian rooftops, on what appears a cold and overcast winter morning (estimate: $350,000-400,000).

Born in Goa, Francis Newton Souza (1924-2002) moved to London in 1949, remaining there for almost two decades until he moved to New York, where he lived for the rest of his life. From 1949 until his first solo show with Gallery One in 1955, the artist struggled to find an audience for his work in the U.K. Painted in 1952, this solemn portrait of an unidentified woman borrows from several artistic traditions, Eastern and Western, traditional and modern, laying emphasis on the artist’s broad and complex iconographic horizon. Unlike the female figures that soon began to populate Souza’s oeuvre, the subject of this painting is neither hyper-sexualized or grotesquely disfigured. Instead, the artist has painted a meditative portrait of a conservatively dressed woman, who seems to almost be sculpted out of the heavily textured paint. Her habit or veil-like headdress and tranquil expression suggest piety, perhaps indicating that she is part of some religious order or sect (estimate: $180,000-250,000). Raised a Roman Catholic in Goa, Souza’s early work reflects his initial enthrallment with the various facets and traditions of the Church and its representatives, from the imposing architecture to the vestments of its priests and the implements they used in worship. Although this fascination would soon turn into a repudiation of the faith, it nevertheless influenced Souza’s work in every genre over the course of his long career, including portraits, landscapes and still life paintings.

Following from a series of surrealist mixed media collages and animalistic portraits that the artist executed in the late 1960s, this masterful painting from 1970 titled The Visitors represents one of Bikash Bhattacharjee’s most accomplished compositions in oil, perfectly straddling the realms of reality and fantasy.

On closer inspection of this photorealist, finely detailed scene from the artist’s studio, the viewer is confounded by the apparition of a beautiful woman wearing a sheer blouse and diamond earrings. The odd angle of her head and surprised expression lead the viewer’s gaze to the head and shoulders of a bespectacled male rendered in shades of grey, slightly overlapping hers. Finally, behind this phantom figure is a third head, also male with dark-rimmed glasses, but this time separated from its bare torso with a suggestively placed pair of scissors hanging from the shelf on which it sits. While the two male figures bear a degree of resemblance to the artist, their female companion is a more unusual visitor to his studio.

This painting represents the zenith of an extraordinarily creative period in the artist’s career, which led to two consecutive National Awards in 1971 and 72. (estimate: $40,000-60,000). The painting is part of the renowned Dorothy and Richard Sherwood Collection, formed by an American couple who devoted their time, prodigious energy and resources to helping build some of the leading cultural institutions in Southern California, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Center Theatre Group.


The auction will also offer about 20 modern and contemporary works of art donated by artists, galleries and collectors to support the Library of Bengali Literature, published by Columbia University Press.

The project is driven by the renowned Bengali poet Sankha Ghosh, winner of the Jnanpith Award, and the renowned Bengali critic Padma Bhushan, Kyoto Laureate, and University Professor at Columbia, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, assisted by the dedicated expert Thibaut d’Hubert, Professor of Bengali literature at the University of Chicago.

The idea is to edit an open-ended bilingual collection of 1000 years of the texts of Bengal, a territory located around the Bay of Bengal and Calcutta situated between Bangladesh and West Bengal in India. The project is similar to the Loeb Classical Library, started in 1911 at Harvard University Press, which now has more than 500 entries devoted to preserving the writings of Greek and Latin antiquity. 

The editors have established a working list of fifty volumes, but in fact, this is project is to be seen as open-ended and entries will be welcomed from all sources, on all kind of subjects and researched as well as edited to the highest standards of the Columbia University Press. The first two volumes are ready to be published as soon as funds are secured.

Columbia University Press is raising an endowment of $2 million to support the project and we hope to raise part of this endowment through this auction. For more information about the project please visit cup.columbia.edu/library-of-bengali-literature.

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Christie’s auctions span more than 80 art and luxury categories, at price points ranging from $200 to over $100 million. In recent years, Christie’s has achieved the world record price for an artwork at auction (Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvador Mundi, 2017), for a single collection sale (the Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller, 2018), and for a work by a living artist (Jeff Koons’ Rabbit, 2019).

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Recent innovations at Christie’s include the groundbreaking sale of the first NFT for a digital work of art ever offered at a major auction house (Beeple’s Everydays, March 2021), with the unprecedented acceptance of cryptocurrency as a means of payment. As an industry leader in digital innovation, Christie’s also continues to pioneer new technologies that are redefining the business of art, including the creation of viewing and bidding experiences that integrate augmented reality, global livestreaming, buy-now channels, and hybrid sales formats. 

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