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Painting record, touch short of a crore
- Gaitonde work commands highest-ever bid at home, though a Picasso was on sale

Feb. 10: India's art trade posted two records last night in Mumbai: the highest price ever paid for a painting in the country and the sale of a Picasso work.

It was not Picasso's sketch, though, that commanded the fancy price. Nor was it an M.F. Husain, whose paintings were on offer at the auction held by Osian's.

An abstract painting by V.S. Gaitonde went under the hammer for Rs 92 lakh. Works of Indian painters have sold for higher prices abroad but this is the first time so much has been forked out inside the country.

Osian's website said: 'An art collector, who was bidding over the telephone for (the) Kitto & Jane De Boer collection, one of the foremost collections in the world, was successful in purchasing this important painting.'

The Picasso went for as little as Rs 8.05 lakh, but then it was only a tiny sketch. Not its price, but the event of the sale was important since this was the first known trade in a work by the master in India at an auction.

Osian's founder chairman Neville Tuli explained that the sketch would not have fetched any more on the international market.

Among the other highs were a painting by Rameshwar Broota titled Queue that sold for Rs 27.6 lakh and Cityscape by F.N. Souza for Rs 25.3 lakh. Husain's Veena Player fetched Rs 18.4 lakh.

Tuli said: 'The maturity of the Indian market was exhibited today as connoisseurs of art were unfazed in spite' of what he described as a 'libellous' newspaper report published on the morning of the auction.

The report called Bhupen Khakhar's controversial painting, Ram, a fake but it went under the hammer with Osian's insisting that it was an original work. The same artist's Ghotak was, however, withdrawn after a controversy over its genuineness.

Amid the clink of champagne glasses and the banter of the auctioneer Rajit Kapoor, the actor, there were more controversies. A painting, which Tuli maintained was by Nirode Mazumdar, had to be withdrawn after doubts were raised about its authenticity.

Both the artist's sister, Shanu Lahiri, and son Chittrovanu Mazumdar said the work could not be his as it did not match either his style or signature.

According to a PTI report, two other works ' Mahendra Pandya's Torso and Somnath Hore's Figure with Bucket ' were also pulled out for different reasons. One had developed a crack in transit and the other was embroiled in a row over ownership.

Although these glitches would, perhaps, be forgotten in the glory of the Gaitonde price tag, prices paid at an auction in the often shadowy world of art trading are not sacrosanct.

Artist Paritosh Sen, whose works went under the hammer for Rs 6.44 lakh and Rs 5.06 lakh, said: 'Auctions are manipulated everywhere, even in Paris. Twenty years ago at a charity auction, a gallery rigged the price of a Mumbai-based artist and eventually bought the work itself so that they may reap the gains in future.'

Calcutta-based art dealer Prakash Kejriwal, however, said Gaitonde's value was rising and the price paid last night was not unexpected.

Tuli protested, saying: 'There is suspicion about anything of public accountability. We never took one penny in cash. We never promoted any particular artist.'

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