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Art Scan: Antique acquisition

A preview of the forthcoming Saffronart Classical Indian Art auction


A Nagaur miniature, circa 1750, valued at Rs50-70 lakh.
A Nagaur miniature, circa 1750, valued at Rs50-70 lakh.

In the past few years, classical Indian art has become somewhat of a favourite category in the secondary art market. In December 2016, a Basohli miniature painting sold for a tidy Rs93.25 lakh at the fourth Christie’s India auction. In December 2015, two Basohli works from the same collection, owned by late Colonel R.K. Tandan, sold for Rs96 lakh each at a Saffronart auction. Within India, regulations govern the sale of antiquities—any work of art that is over 100 years old cannot be exported, and needs to be registered with the Archaeological Survey of India.

“Classical art is very much undervalued, considering its significance in our heritage,” says Hugo Weihe, chief executive officer of Saffronart. Regulation, he believes, isn’t a bad thing, for the registration also provides a clear title of ownership.

At the 9 March evening sale of the Saffronart Classical Indian Art auction, 36 lots of miniature paintings from the Motichand Khajanchi collection will be up for sale; these will include works from the Bikaner, Mughal, Mewar and Kishengarh schools, ranging from the 17th to the early 19th centuries. Khajanchi was born into a family of jewellers that supplied to the royals of Bikaner, and built a formidable collection of Rajasthani miniatures during his lifetime. Pahari miniature paintings, and ancient and medieval sculptures, belonging to other private collections will also be part of the auction. To participate, visit Saffronart.com. The works will be on view at their Mumbai outpost till 8 March. Here are some highlights.

A set of 12 miniature paintings with inscriptions, from Jaipur circa 1820, valued between Rs80 lakh and Rs1 crore.
A set of 12 miniature paintings with inscriptions, from Jaipur circa 1820, valued between Rs80 lakh and Rs1 crore.

The Baramasa

The Baramasa, which translates to 12 months, is a classical text that is not religious, and uses the rhetoric of love and musical ragas to talk about each month of the Hindu calendar. It formed a popular theme in miniature painting, especially among artists of the Jaipur and Bundi schools of Rajasthan. The couplets of the poet Brahmadas singing the praise of Ram and Sita, after the defeat of Ravana and the coronation of Ram, accompany the works of this folio, and as such these works are remarkable in that they depict Ram in the sringara rasa (romantic mood). One of the 12 miniature paintings (pictured above) shows a dance performance in the month of magh (it usually falls in February).

Maharaja Bakhat Singh of Nagaur Proceeding For Battle

Bakhat Singh, who ruled Nagaur from 1724-51, and Jodhpur from 1751-52, was a patron of the arts who commissioned paintings to record important events in his life—the larger the painting, the more important the occasion. The painting above depicts Singh leading an army to battle, including an impressive cavalry of camels, horses and elephants. It belongs to the Mewar school of Rajasthani miniatures, evident from the stylized clouds, and the subdued foreground. A related painting of Singh on horseback, attributed to Dalchand, which belonged to the Sven Gahlin Collection, was sold by Sotheby’s London in 2015 for £16,250 (around Rs13.36 lakh now).

A sandstone sculpture, 10th-11th century, from the Uttar Pradesh or Madhya Pradesh area, valued at Rs3-5 crore.
A sandstone sculpture, 10th-11th century, from the Uttar Pradesh or Madhya Pradesh area, valued at Rs3-5 crore.

Mahishasuramardini

The myth of Durga slaying the demon Mahishasura has been a creative inspiration for Indian artists—the late Tyeb Mehta’s modern work, Mahishasura, sold for $2.2 million (around Rs15 crore now) at a 2012 Christies auction, a record-breaking feat for Indian modern art at the time. This particular sandstone sculpture, highly detailed, is in remarkable condition. You can see the nails of the goddess, her grip on an arrow in her quiver. She holds the demon’s neck with one hand, and, with another, draws her sword. The dramatic nature of the sculpture is heightened by the vitality of the other smaller figures surrounding her, including her lion, which is busy taking a bite of the hindquarters of the slain demon.

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