Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art auction totaled $4.8 million in New York on 16th March 2020, exceeding its $4.7 million high estimate, with a strong 91.1% of lots sold. The sale saw robust online bidding, with 33% of all sold works acquired online. Bidders from 13 countries competed in yesterday’s auction, with 20% of all bidders participating in a Sotheby’s sale for the first time.
Commemorating the 25” anniversary of Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art sales at Sotheby’s worldwide, this result marks the highest total for the category since 2017 in New York. Several notable auction records were established, including for pioneering Indian abstractionist Nasreen Mohamedi.
The auction was led by Vasudeo Santu Gaitonde’s Untitled from estimate. Renowned as India’s pioneering abstract artist, Gaitonde painted only five or six works a year, with each painting representing a specific and dedicated relationship of form, color, and consciousness. Gaitonde began his career as a figurative artist, however, by the early 1960s, he began to work towards stillness in his paintings through a meticulous approach to line and color. Some of Gaitonde’s early non- objective paintings evoke the feeling of a landscape, especially his canvases of the early 1960s where gradations of color and geometric forms coalesce almost as a ‘horizon line’ as seen in the present work.
Indian National Treasure artist Raja Ravi Varma’s Untitled (Swami Vishvamitra in Meditation) fetched $860,000 (estimate $700/900,000). Formerly in the collection of German printer Fritz Schleicher, the present work depicts BramhaRishi Vishvamitra in meditation. A former king who renounced his throne to become a famous and much venerated sage in Indian history, Vishvamitra is credited with writing a significant part of the Rigveda, the oldest and most sacred collection of Vedic hymns composed in Sanskrit. In this painting, the artist melds the tenets of Indian mythology while incorporating the contrast, detailing and color palette of an Old Master painting.
The auction was highlighted further by Nasreen Mohamedi’s Untitled, circa 1960s, which reached $437,500 — well-exceeding its $300,000 high estimate. The work was originally acquired in Bombay by American patrons Peggy and Robert Matthews in 1963. Celebrated as a pioneer of minimalist abstract art in India, Mohamedi developed a form of abstraction while working within a community of artists in India, including V.S. Gaitonde. In its commitment to abstraction and composition, the present canvas reveals Mohamedi’s indebtedness to her mentor and fellow-artist Gaitonde.
Manjari Sihare-Sutin, Head of Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary South Asian Sales in New York, said: “We are extremely pleased with the results from yesterday’s sale, which saw strong demand from international collectors and institutions — many new to auction — and reinforced the health of this market. A curated section on Neo-Tantra was 100% sold, and a diverse selection of works from the Bengal School of Art performed exceptionally well. Significant prices were achieved for works by the Progressive School bastion V.S. Gaitonde, Indian National Treasure Artist Raja Ravi Varma, and a rare canvas by Nasreen Mohamedi, highlighting the range of artists as the market continues to expand and grow.”