The applause that surged across the auction hall on Tuesday night was not much of a surprise — after all, the hammer had just gone down on a
V S Gaitonde painting, an untitled work from 1973, for Rs 25.24 crore. What was more remarkable, though, was the auction itself.
The bidding was for 68 artworks owned by Nirav Modi, the 48-year-old fugitive jeweller who is lodged in a London jail after extradition proceedings were initiated against him in connection with the Rs 13,500-crore Punjab National Bank fraud case.
The auction was conducted by SaffronArt on behalf of the recovery officer of the Income Tax Department in Mumbai, which had recently sealed some of the properties owned by Nirav Modi.
In the end, the Gaitonde painting turned out to be the most expensive pick, and the fourth highest ever for one by the artist. In all, according to SaffronArt, the collection fetched Rs 60.9 crore — the tax department will receive Rs 54.84 crore after the buyers’ premium is deducted.
“We were expecting to collect between Rs 30-50 crore,” said Dinesh Vazirani, CEO and co-founder of SaffronArt, which was selected as the official auctioneer by I-T officials after a screening process.
Apart from the Gaitonde, the other top picks on offer during the two-hour auction were 10 paintings by F N Souza, a few by Jogen Chowdhury and an Atul Dodiya.
There were also a number of antique works, including Raja Ravi Varma’s 1881 oil-on-canvas depicting the Maharaja of Travancore and his younger brother welcoming the third Duke of Buckingham, Richard Temple-Grenville, to Trivandrum (now Thiruvananthapuram) in 1880. Estimated to go for Rs 12-18 crore, it fetched Rs 16.1 crore.
But another much-anticipated piece, Akbar Padamsee’s ‘Grey Nude’, an oil-and-plastic emulsion on canvas from 1960, fetched over Rs 1.72 crore — it was expected to net up to Rs 2 crore. Also part of the collection were a few pieces by Chinese artists, including a set of four by Ge Guanzhong.
The auction did throw up a few other remarkable bids: Chowdhury’s untitled work of 1994, a mixed media-on-paper, started at Rs 12 lakh, and eventually went for Rs 52.9 lakh.
Souza was popular, too, with most of his work crossing the estimated price: Cityscape (oil-on-canvas, 1974), Golly-Wog (oil-on-board pasted on board, 1958) and an untitled self-portrait (oil-on-canvas board, 1971), fetched over Rs 1.78 crore, Rs 1.38 crore and Rs 1.03 crore, respectively.
Among the photographs, Vivan Sundaram’s portrait of Amrita Sher-Gil fetched Rs 4.83 lakh, well past the estimated mark of Rs 3.5 lakh.
Six artworks breached the Rs 1-crore mark, while 13 went unsold. In London, meanwhile, Nirav Modi’s legal team is expected to submit a second bail application Friday before the Westminster Magistrates Court after he was denied relief in the first hearing soon after his arrest on March 20.