Rajiv Jahangir Chaudhri began collecting art when he wasn’t even 10 years old. According to the recently published Elite Collectors of Modern and Contemporary Indian Art, he would buy posters at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi. Once he had a little more cash in hand, the high technology expert and hedge fund investor began collecting original works of art in the early 1990s and made headlines when he bought Tyeb Mehta’s Mahisasura for $1.6 million in 2005 (around Rs7 crore then), breaking the million-dollar price ceiling for a work by an Indian artist.
“It is absolutely true that the joy one gets from a great work of art grows with time,” he says in an email from New York. “All collectors like to show their collections to other people. This is not because they are showing off. Rather, it is because the collectors know that the joy of a great work of art multiplies as it is shared, unlike so many other experiences which are zero-sum games.”
Elite Collectors of Modern and Contemporary Indian Art: By Purrshottam Bhaggeria and Pavan Malhotra, Elite Media Pvt Ltd, New Delhi.Limited edition, Rs15,000.
Chaudhri tells Lounge about five of his favourite paintings.
‘Untitled’ by Gaitonde
The large work by Gaitonde is unusual in its searing intensity for an artist who was a practitioner of Zen Buddhism and whose paintings typically evoke a calming and peaceful response. This painting seems to be on fire, with the flames bursting out of the canvas.
‘Lady Godiva’ by MF Husain
This large work is untitled, but I jokingly call it ‘Lady Godiva’ for obvious reasons. Husain has been fascinated by Tang dynasty horses since he went to China early on in his career. His ability to capture the raw animal energy of the horse is, in my opinion, unrivalled among artists. Like the ‘Mahisasura’, this painting is pulsating with energy and motion. Husain signed it three times on the front of the canvas, in English, Hindi and Urdu. Perhaps he felt, as I do, that it is one of his masterpieces.
‘Bharat Natyam’ by KH Ara
Ram Gopal also figures in the beautiful temple dance scene by Ara from the 1950s. The painting, which records Ram Gopal dancing, is unusual for several reasons. For one, Ara typically did not do scenes from daily Indian life. Indian painters have by and large stayed away from recording historical or real life people. It is rich in detail, marvellously executed, and you want to keep looking at it.
‘Mahisasura’ by Tyeb Mehta
I first saw the painting a month before the auction and was immediately drawn to the power and energy radiating from it. I did some research on the story of Mahishasur and Kali, and on how it was traditionally depicted in ancient Hindu iconography. Tyeb Mehta’s modern and innovative interpretation builds on the tradition and adds to it in a marvellous way. He has done other renderings of the subject but it seemed to me that this was the best. So I knew I had to go for it at the auction. Unfortunately for me, somebody else wanted the painting almost as badly as I did!
‘View from Magitia House-Amritsar’ by Amrita Sher-Gill
This is a small gem. It was done when Amrita Sher-Gill was in her early 20s and depicts the view from her home in Amritsar. At that time she was still selling her paintings as an amateur. A document from the gallery where it was exhibited shows that it was sold for Rs100 in the mid-1930s. Over time the painting came to be owned by Ram Gopal, the famous temple dancer. He loved the painting so much, he signed his name all over the back of the frame—some 15 times. Eventually the painting was sold by him at an auction and when I purchased it in 2000, it was the most expensive Indian painting ever sold.
As told to Himanshu Bhagat.
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