Auction house Sotheby’s announced the opening of its Indian office with a preview of some of the works that will go under the hammer at the upcoming Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art Sale in October. Both moves come in light of what Priyanka Mathew, recently-appointed as regional director of Sotheby’s India, describes as being the “tipping point” in the Indian collectibles market.
“We’ve been engaged with India in a very meaningful way since 1992, but we felt that this was a great moment to come in and set up an office here,” she says, “The wealth in the country is growing, business are expanding globally and more and more Indian businessmen and CEOs are travelling abroad. They’re exposed to a more global way of collecting and that’s reflecting here, with a growing interest in wines, vintage cars and particularly in Indian art, jewellery and watches.”
The first office will be set up in Mumbai, where Mathew says they already have an infrastructure which can be expanded to take on the responsibilities of a full-fledged operation. She says,“We also see Mumbai as the cultural centrepoint of the country, being well-located and accessible from all parts of the country.” Sotheby’s focus, at least in the beginning, will be on organising educational events that will help keep the market well-informed on the current trends and concerns of the global collectibles market.
“The Indian market is fairly well-versed in Indian art, but we don’t see much activity from here in other categories. For instance, during our Impressionist & Modern Art auction, we saw buyers from North America, Europe, the Middle East and China. In fact, a Van Gogh was bought by a Chinese collector for $40 million. It would be great to see Indian buyers represented at such auctions as well, because India has the capacity,” says Mathew.
Earlier this year, an Amrita Sher-Gil self portrait, auctioned by Sotheby’s for $3 million, broke the record for the highest price paid for a work by a female Indian artist. The auction house hopes to break this record with yet another self-portrait by the same artist. Made by Sher-Gil in 1931 for her fellow artist and lover, Boris Taslitzky, it has been in the latter’s family all these years. “Sher-Gil died tragically young and most of what she produced is with the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi. Very few of her works ever appear for sale in the international market, so the acquisition of this self-portrait has been a rare opportunity for us. It has impeccable provenance, having been in Taslitzky’s family all these years, so this is a great chance for collectors to own a Sher-Gil,” says Mathew.
The Sher-Gil self-portrait may be the highlight of the auction, but several other remarkable works will be up for auction as well, including Jehangir Sabavala’s Intangible Menace, a depiction of gathering storm clouds, that comes from the collection of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit and which was gifted to her by the artist himself when she was Maharashtra governor during the 1960s. Also included in the catalogue will be works by FN Souza, MF Husain, SH Raza, Prabhakar Kolte, Akmal Hussain and Jogen Chowdhury.