On Thursday night, when the hammer came down on Akbar Padamsee’s ‘Greek Landscape’, with a winning bid of Rs 19.9 crore at Saffronart’s Evening Sale in Delhi, it marked a record price attained by the Mumbai-based modernist artist in an auction. What also generated attention, though, was its provenance. For over five decades, the 1960 plastic emulsion on canvas was owned by Krishen Khanna, Padamsee’s contemporary and fellow artist.
“I had bought it in 1960 from (artist and collector) Bal Chhabda for Rs 1,000 through a phone conversation,” recalled Khanna.
Khanna quoted from a letter he had written to Padamsee weeks after buying it: “I was terribly envious that you (Padamsee) had painted such a magnificent painting… I remarked to Renu (Khanna’s wife) at that stage that there was a terrific painter somewhere of whose existence we had not known about…”
Estimated to fetch between Rs 7 crore and Rs 9 crore, the 4.3×12-foot landscape in varied intensities of grey depicts a panoramic view of a city. It is among the handful grey works painted by Padamsee on his return to Mumbai in 1959, after more than five years in Paris.
Khanna had loaned the painting for several exhibitions in the past but this is perhaps the first time he put it in the market. “It is because I am 92 years old now,” he said. The two artists, who share a along association, are among the last surviving members of the influential Progressive Artists’ Group, established in Mumbai in 1947.
While Khanna’s 2006 oil ‘Emmaus’ sold for Rs 1.14 crore at the auction, the event also fetched record prices for Nasreen Mohamedi and Gaganendranath Tagore. The former’s untitled oil on canvas (1960) went for Rs 2.40 crore; Tagore’s ‘Ruben’s Sketchbook’, featuring preparatory sketches, sold for Rs 1.8 crore.
With 69 of 87 lots sold, works sold at the auction fetched Rs 68.55 crore in all.