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Explained: Some of the most expensive Indian artworks sold at an auction

A look at some of the most expensive Indian artworks sold at an auction.

Written by Vandana Kalra , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: September 6, 2020 10:12:50 am
VS Gaitonder, Tyeb Mehta, Tyeb Mehta Kali painting, Raja Ravi Varma, Raja Ravi Varma Radha in the moonlight, indian artworks, expensive indian artworks auction, indian express explainedKali, the 1989 canvas by Tyeb Mehta is the largest of the only three standing figures painted by the artist.

On September 3, when an untitled 1974 oil on canvas by V S Gaitonde came under the hammer for Rs 32 crore at an auction by the Mumbai auction house Pundole’s, it set a new world record for Indian art. Bought by an unnamed international buyer, it was part of the auction titled “Looking West: Works from the Collection of the Glenbarra Art Museum, Japan”, owned by Japanese businessman and art collector Masanori Fukuoka. It was reportedly estimated to sell between Rs 15 crore and Rs 25 crore. The same auction also saw the sale of an untitled 1993 work by Jagdish Swaminathan for Rs 9.5 crore, which set a new record for the artist.

Here are some of the most expensive Indian artworks sold at an auction:

Tyeb Mehta, Kali

Price fetched: Rs 26.4 crore in 2018

Representing the battle of good and evil, creation and destruction, the 1989 canvas by Tyeb Mehta is the largest of the only three standing figures painted by the artist. Depicting a blue Kali with a red mouth attacking a demon, it was once part of the art collection of eminent theatre director Ebrahim Alkazi, who passed away recently. Known to bring together abstract and expressionist elements, a note on Mehta on the art market website Artnet states, “The subject matter of falling bodies and religious motifs seen in his painting Kali (1989), came from his childhood recollections of violence.” It further quotes Mehta stating, “An artist comes to terms with certain images. He arrives at certain conventions by a process of reduction.”

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VS Gaitonde, Untitled

Price fetched: Rs 29.30 crore in 2015

When the 1995 oil painting by Gaitonde was sold for the amount at a Christie’s auction in Mumbai, it set a new world record for Indian artwork. Considered to be one of India’s greatest abstract artists who advocated Zen philosophy and spiritualism, Gaitonde followed a meticulous process of painting, which was rather slow. Living a rather reclusive life, before his death in 2001 he lived in a small flat in Delhi. He was described by fellow artist MF Husain as a “genius” and Krishen Khanna as a “perfectionist”. He is reported to have declared, “The only thing I could do was painting. I was not fit for anything else.”

With the Pundole sale this week, Gaitonde has set a new record for Indian art.

Also in Explained | What is Blood Gold, and why is an ancient Amazon tribe talking to Indians about it?

FN Souza, Birth

Price fetched: Rs 26 crore in 2015


The 1955 48 x 96 inch oil on board painted by the Goa-born artist has a pregnant female nude who seems to be on the verge of giving birth. A man stands next to her with a decorated red tunic associated with clergy and the window looks out into a townscape trademark of Souza, with corniced buildings and geometric forms. In 1958, it was selected to represent Great Britain at the Guggenheim International Award alongwith works of five other artists. “The painting uniquely encompasses all the subjects that define Souza’s early practice, including the pregnant reclining nude with hairpins, the autobiographical man in a priest’s tunic, a still life on the window ledge and, beyond the window, a townscape with corniced buildings and tall steeples,” reads the catalogue essay on the Christie’s website.

Raja Ravi Varma, Radha In The Moonlight

Price fetched: Rs 23 crore in 2016

While his inexpensive oleographs of Hindu gods and goddesses reached the masses, Varma also made paintings for the elite, doing commissioned work for the princely states as well as moneyed professionals. Often referred to as the father of modern Indian art, his 1890 painting Radha In The Moonlight shows Radha with a pooja thali and flowers. “Having thoroughly absorbed written and performed mythological subjects, Ravi Varma recognised every nuance of Radha’s energy. Not only is she dazzling and complete in her beauty of body and spirit, she is also the symbol of unconditional love which makes Krishna yearn for her. Supreme beings love those who submit to them unreservedly,” reads the note accompanying the work on the Pundole auction website (attributed to Rupika Chawla, author of Raja Ravi Varma: Painter of Colonial India). The auction house had sold the work in 2016.


Akbar Padamsee, Greek Landscape

Price fetched: Rs 19.19 crore in 2016

When the hammer came down on Padamsee’s 1960 Greek Landscape, what also generated attention was its provenance. For over five decades, the plastic emulsion on canvas was owned by 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. 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 of grey works painted by Padamsee on his return to Mumbai in 1959, after more than five years in Paris. Padamsee passed away, at 91, in January this year.

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First published on: 05-09-2020 at 08:00:54 am
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