The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Art auction' Shut eyes and splurge the crores
- Gaitonde breaks own record, but the taste of some buyers is raising eyebrows

Calcutta, Feb. 1: V.S. Gaitonde broke his own record — for the highest price ever paid for a painting in the country — when an untitled work by the artist fetched a whopping Rs 5.76 crore at an auction in Mumbai last night.

In February 2005, an abstract work by the 1924-born Gaitonde had been bought for Rs 92 lakh, then a record, at another Osian’s sale.

Every one of the top 10 paintings sold last night went for a higher price. (See chart) Amrita Sher-Gil’s Girls in Conversation came in second at Rs 3.48 crore.

According to the Osian’s news release, the Masterpieces and Museum Quality Series auction registered total sales of Rs 39.8 crore (hammer price plus the 20 per cent buyer’s premium). The average lot price was Rs 44.62 lakh.

The organisers hardsold the art works as some of the best of national art treasures, the rarest works of contemporary Indian art and sculpture by, besides Gaitonde and Sher-Gil who are both dead, Akbar Padamsee, S.H. Raza, F.N. Souza, Manjit Bawa, who has been ill for some time, Satish Gujral, Rabindranath Tagore, A.R. Chughtai, G.R. Santosh, Jyoti Bhatt and Navjot and Bharti Kher.

As is not a rarity in the art mart any longer, their works broke various price thresholds.

Rameshwar Broota, who sold for Rs 1.3 crore, when told about the auction result, said over the telephone from Delhi: “I expect this much. This has been happening for the past two to three years. I benefit from this indirectly. Earlier, in the 1970s, my works would go for Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000. Quality always matters for serious buyers. Art as investment can remain in currency for some time only. Ultimately, good art goes to the collector. It is very important that prices get established by real collectors.”

Osian’s connoisseurs of art chairman Neville Tuli said: “The market is maturing quickly and now the work-specific qualities far outweigh the importance of the mere signature. Historical significance is now clearly the most important factor in determining the value of art and the public perception is slowly getting the message.”

Significantly, Radha and Krishna Playing Holi, a painting by Chughtai, received a bid as high as Rs 1.6 crore and went for Rs 1.68 crore.

Some artists, however, questioned the aesthetic sensibilities of Indian buyers.

Paritosh Sen said: “I rate Chughtai as one of the weakest links in the Bengal school style.”

Tagore, the pioneer of contemporary Indian art, went for just Rs 31.2 lakh — much less than Chughtai.

Tuli has in the past resurrected artists long forgotten, some would say justifiably.

The debate over taste could go on, but the prices went spiralling. Three paintings of S.H. Raza — Ankuran, Village and Encountre — were sold for over Rs 5 crore.

As to sculptures, Sankho Chaudhuri’s untitled and Prodosh Dasgupta’s Halves, both in bronze, also set records. Somnath Hore’s paper collage went for Rs 15.6 lakh, and Prakash Karmakar’s oil on canvas went for Rs 40.8 lakh. Bikash Bhattacharjee’s Cityscape went under the hammer for Rs 72 lakh. This is the spirit of art.

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