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Business News/ News / India/  ‘More people are willing to pay more money for Indian artworks’
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‘More people are willing to pay more money for Indian artworks’

India’s art market has never looked better. This year alone, over ₹150 crore worth of artworks have sold at auctions in India and around the world

M.F. Husain’s artwork Bulls had a winning bid of $2.7 million, or ₹23 crore, at a Sotheby’s auction in March. (Sotheby’s)Premium
M.F. Husain’s artwork Bulls had a winning bid of $2.7 million, or 23 crore, at a Sotheby’s auction in March. (Sotheby’s)

In March 2023, Sotheby’s South Asian Art, a division which primarily focuses on the Indian art market, attracted $22 million in bidding with 84% of lots selling above estimates. An important piece in the collection was a Maqbool Fida Husain artwork titled Bulls which had a winning bid of $2.7 million, or 23 crore.

In its most recent sale, the British auction house saw similar, promising results as buyers lined up for Indian artworks.

The auction, which concluded last week, had a 99% sell-through rate, with a Manjit Bawa painting selling for about 20 crore, creating a world record for the artist.

The entire auction raked in a strong $9.9 million, or about 84.3 crore, twice its pre-sale estimate, which also included a work by Rabindranath Tagore that fetched $772,382 and one by Bhupen Khakhar that got $1.8 million.

India’s art market has never looked better. This year alone, over 150 crore worth of artworks have sold at auctions in India and around the world. Husain’s, Bawa’s, and Tagore’s works join a heady list that have broken records of Indian artworks sold recently. The iconic auction house’s South Asia market is now seriously focused on collectors in India.

Ishrat Kanga, director, specialist, and head of sale, Sotheby’s, said people are now spending larger amounts on art and what the auction house sees is that in every single season, a new world record for a particular price paid for an artist in South Asia is being broken.

What is driving this shift is that the market is evolving with newer, younger collectors increasingly getting interested in Indian art. These are collectors who are exposed to art through their families, as well as complete first-time collectors.

Today, around 40% of buyers at Sotheby’s Asian art auctions are from India or other parts of South Asia, with the rest being collectors of Indian origin globally.

“Everybody knows that with the 2008 financial crash the entire art market suffered and the Indian market was definitely impacted. But what we’re seeing today, after the pandemic, is a very, very positive trend. The market is very buoyant and clearly, there are collectors from the region as well as expats who are very interested in acquiring in this category," Kanga said in an interview.

The demand largely is for Indian masterworks and progressive artists’ works.

In March, the auction house, in New York, broke the world record price for any paperwork by the artist S. H. Raza painted on paper, crossing the $1 million mark. Artists such as F. N. Souza, Raza, M. F. Husain, K. H. Ara, H. A. Gade, and S. K. Bakre have been hugely popular with buyers.

Other artists such as Raja Ravi Varma, Rabindranath Tagore, Gaganendranath and Abanindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Jamini Roy, Ramkinkar Baij, Sailoz Mookherjea, and Amrita Sher-Gil, too, have been driving the art market.

“Last week, again, we broke the world record prices for Manjit Bawa, Rabindranath Tagore and a few other artists which we offered for the first time at sale. What’s happening is that more people are willing to pay more money for Indian artworks," she added.

There is also a big focus on buying works of female artists which is driving the art market. Amrita Sher-Gil, whose work recently broke a world record for any artwork ever sold in India, has also brought to the limelight a focus on a more female modern artist who was practising alongside major male artists. There is also a demand for Indian-American artist Zarina now.

“Many collectors now come to us asking to be introduced to works of artists who painted at the same time as some of the Indian modernists. For instance, many don’t know the works of Nasreen Mohamedi who painted at the same studio as VS Gaitonde. Today, even museums have mandates to be more inclusive and even include categories like more female and queer art," she said.

At the moment, the auction house does not have any dedicated sales in the Indian art market, but it is also working to popularize some important artists of the same period, like Homi B. Patel. In 2020, when it put up a private auction for Danish couple Gunnar and Inger Hanssen up -- who collected art from India for over 40 years-- it was the first time that Patel’s works sold at an auction, following which, around the world, many of the artist’s works have sold publicly since.

“Sometimes, all it takes is selling a new artwork at an accessible price point for it to get appreciated and that can open the floodgates for other people to collect those artworks or those artists to become serious about it," she added.

Today, it also expects an increase in business from non-art categories from India. Kanga said there are people now also looking to purchase handbags, sneakers, memorabilia, fashion items, etc., at auction, so even the scope of what they are selling has been widening and increasing.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Varuni Khosla
Varuni Khosla is a journalist with close to 14 years of experience in writing business news stories for mainstream newspaper companies like Mint and The Economic Times. She reports and writes on luxury and lifestyle brands, hospitality and tourism news, the business of sports, the business of advertising and marketing and alcohol brands.
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Published: 06 Nov 2023, 11:43 PM IST
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