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Christie’s 19 December auction is a breakthrough for Indian art

Estimates for works going under the hammer on 19 December range from Rs1 lakh to Rs5 crore, with the auction’s showpiece, a signature 1949 abstract in vibrant yellow by V.S. Gaitonde, estimated to fetch Rs6.5-8.5 crore. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images/AFPPremium
Estimates for works going under the hammer on 19 December range from Rs1 lakh to Rs5 crore, with the auction’s showpiece, a signature 1949 abstract in vibrant yellow by V.S. Gaitonde, estimated to fetch Rs6.5-8.5 crore. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images/AFP

Christie's first ever auction in India will include works of M.F. Husain, Amrita Sher-Gil, Rabindranath Tagore

More than two centuries after it began putting collectables under the hammer, Christie’s is to hold their inaugural auction in India on Thursday, with the planned sale of 83 lots of South Asian art, including paintings by Jamini Roy, Ganesh Pyne and M.F. Husain.

The sale at the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai seeks to present Indian art in a broader and more representative framework than the Moderns, including those belonging to the Progressive Artists movement, who tend to dominate local auctions.

The centrepiece of the auction is a collection from the personal collection of Kekoo and Khorshed Gandhy, founders of Gallery Chemould in Mumbai, and patrons who helped create a vibrant and organized Indian art scene in the early and mid-20th century.

Their collection has works by Ram Kumar, Syed Haider Raza, Jamini Roy, M.F. Husain, Nalini Malani, Nasreen Mohamedi, Anju Dodiya and Arpita Singh.

Another important collection in this auction are works by six artists whose works are considered “National Art Treasures"— Rabindranath, Abanindranath and Gaganendranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Jamini Roy and Amrita Sher-Gil.

These works must remain in India after their sale.

Steven Murphy, CEO, Christie’s, who was present at a preview on Monday, said the firm decided to hold its maiden India auction at this time because of a strong momentum in the domestic art market, the increased international appeal of Indian art and the growing participation of Indian buyers across international sale categories.

He said Thursday’s auction would be the first of many events, including more auctions, that Christie’s plans to hold in India in the coming years.

“For over 245 years, Christie’s has acted as a unique place where commerce and connoisseurship work hand-in-hand and, building on this tradition and our 20 years as an established business in India, this first auction is a measure of our long-term commitment to the future development of this market," said Hugo Weihe, Christie’s international director of Asian art.

The move comes after Christie’s collected $25 million at its inaugural auction in China and rivals Sotheby’s recorded unmatched sales of Indian art earlier this year. Sotheby’s sold 43 works from the collection of private collector Amrita Jhaveri for a total of $6.7 million in a New York auction, which set four artist records.

Unlike Chinese or Iranian art that attract collectors from all over the world, Indian art has mostly drawn Indian buyers, including many wealthy non-resident Indians. After a boom in the early 2000s, prices of Indian works of art dropped following the global economic downturn of 2008-2009.

However, Jussi Pylkkanen, president and chairman, Christie’s Europe, Middle East, Russia and India, who will conduct the Mumbai auction, believes the Indian art market is ready for a bigger presence.

Christie’s has been selling Indian art since its inception, with founder James Christie offering “four fine India pictures painted on glass" at the inaugural auction in 1766.

In 1994, the company opened an office in India and, a year later, held its first stand-alone Indian art sale in London. In 2002, one of Tyeb Mehta’s paintings sold at a Christie’s auction for 8 crore, which was the highest sum fetched by an Indian painting at an international auction at that time and helped fuel the Indian art boom.

Estimates for works going under the hammer on Thursday range from 1 lakh to 5 crore, with the auction’s showpiece, a signature 1949 abstract in vibrant yellow by V.S. Gaitonde, estimated to fetch 6.5-8.5 crore.

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