Opposite the Mint office in Delhi, a black banyan tree stands embedded in white marble. Only, instead of a real tree, it is a mural on the façade of the British Council building, designed by the British artist Howard Hodgkin at the invitation of architect Charles Correa in 1992. Hodgkin, one of the pre-eminent contemporary British artists, died in March, and come October, Sotheby’s in London will auction his prolific personal art collection, a substantial part of which comprises eclectic Indian art.

Hodgkin’s well-documented love affair with India began rather ominously in 1964, when he spent the first night in the country sleeping on train bedding rolls on the platforms of Mumbai Central station for reasons unknown. It would be the first of many nights he would go on to spend in India over the next 50 years, an experience that would extensively influence his art.

Howard Hodgkin’s collection at his home. Photo: Courtesy Sotheby’s.
Howard Hodgkin’s collection at his home. Photo: Courtesy Sotheby’s.

Introduced to non-Western art by an art master at his school, Eton College, collecting Indian paintings became a lifelong passion for Hodgkin. The formidable collection traverses four centuries, from the 17th to the 20th, and includes Deccani and Pahari works, as well as the art of the Rajput and Mughal courts. Elephants feature prominently in the paintings. “Hodgkin absolutely loved elephants," says Frances Christie, a director at Sotheby’s overseeing the sale, on a call from London.

The 20th century works of Indian art will include three paintings by Bhupen Khakhar, a friend of Hodgkin and a beneficiary of his largesse when Hodgkin hosted him in London in the 1970s, introducing him to many figures in the art world. One of the paintings is The De-Luxe Tailors (1972), which Khakhar presented to Hodgkin. It will be interesting to note the vigour with which Khakhar’s work enters the market, in the wake of a major retrospective of his at Tate Modern last year that further cemented his global reputation.

Bhupen Khakhar’s ‘The De-Luxe Tailors’ (1972).
Bhupen Khakhar’s ‘The De-Luxe Tailors’ (1972).

The diverse collection totals around 400 objects; it includes Persian tiles, medallions, busts, sculptures, carpets and even books, featuring a rare edition of an Agatha Christie in which Hodgkin often immersed himself.

Hodgkin’s Indian collection has previously been lent to museums around the world and has been shown at celebrated exhibitions, such as Visions Of Mughal India at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, in 2012. His India-inspired paintings are the subject of a show, Howard Hodgkin: Painting India, that is on display at Hepworth Wakefield in Yorkshire, UK, till 8 October. The Indian-inspired canvases feature explosions of colour, with Hodgkin providing no opportunity for the viewer to ask what the painting is “about". Yet he famously maintained he “was not an abstract artist"—a paradoxical utterance informed no doubt in part by the many paradoxes he encountered in the complex kaleidoscope that is India.

The auction of the artist’s personal collection, Howard Hodgkin: Portrait Of The Artist, will be held in Sotheby’s sale room, London, on 24 October and will be open to online bidding. Click here or details.

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