A rare pencil portrait of Mahatma Gandhi dating back to 1931, when he was in London for the Second Round Table Conference, is set to go under the hammer by auction house Sotheby’s in London on July 11. Termed as “a rare portrayal” of the leader who often refused to sit for formal photographs, this is one of the several portraits of him sketched by South African artist John Henry Amshewitz, who managed to capture him during his stay at Kingsley Hall, a community centre in London.
In the work, Gandhi is seen seated on the floor, writing with immense concentration. It is inscribed with the words “Truth is God/ MK Gandhi”, and is dated 4.12.31, a day before he left Kingsley Hall. It was owned by a local resident, and is expected to fetch Rs 6.72 lakh-Rs 10.09 lakh at the upcoming sale. “The portrait has never been displayed before. Gandhi was not someone who would sit still for professional photographers, let alone for painters.
In most of the images, he was seen moving around. But he would allow painters to be in his presence and sketch him,” says Gabriel Heaton, Director of Sotheby’s Books & Manuscripts Department. The other lots on sale include personal handwritten letters from the mid-1940s penned by Gandhi to the family of Subhash Chandra Bose. In a letter penned a few months before Gandhi’s death on January 30, 1948, and addressed to Subhash’s elder brother Sarat Chandra Bose, who was a staunch supporter of an independent united Bengal, Gandhi shared his views on the partition of Bengal.
He wrote, “You should give up the struggle for the unity of Bengal and cease to disturb the atmosphere that has been created for the partition of Bengal.” The letter is expected to fetch Rs 10.09 lakh-Rs 15.14 lakh. Other letters unveil Gandhi’s fondness for the Bose family, his visits to their home in Calcutta and his discussions on the development of India with Sarat’s son Amiya Nath Bose.
Heaton adds, “One of the letters to Amiya talk about Gandhi’s attitude to modernity and how he wanted electricity to be brought to the villages.” In 2009, an auction held by Antiquorum Auctioneers in New York had led to a controversy, when the Indian government raised concerns over the sale of Gandhi’s personal possessions by documentary filmmaker James Otis. India termed the five items, including his glasses, watch, a pair of sandals, a plate and a bowl, apart from his blood test results from Irwin Hospital in Delhi, “part of India’s national heritage”.