Thirty 20th century Indian artworks from the private collection of Swiss collectors Guy and Helen Barbier will go under the hammer at Sotheby’s upcoming sale on June 10. The collection built over a span of three decades, was exhibited in 1987 in the form of a show titled ‘Coups de Coeur’.
An outcome of the Barbiers’ commitment to discovering and celebrating Indian art, more than two thirds of the works were acquired directly from the artists and none have ever been offered at an auction before. Highlights of the sale include a rare 1953 figurative work by Ram Kumar, one of the India’s foremost abstract painters.
The painting featuring a man and woman holding hands was originally intended as a gift from Kumar to his wife. The Barbiers acquired the work when the artist sold it to them in 1985-86 because of “their hospitality and generosity”. It is estimated between Rs 1.94 – 2.47 crore.
Another work by Kumar, a 1967 oil on canvas from his celebrated Varanasi series, will also be part of the sale. Also acquired by the Barbiers directly from the artist in 1982, this painting has not been seen in thirty years since 1987.
The work, estimated between Rs 88.40 lakh to 1.32 crore, straddles the boundaries between abstraction and realism. With its sombre hues and dark shadows, this haunting vista matches the mysteries of the sacred city itself.
“Having first met the Barbiers in 2005 and over many conversations with Mr Barbier throughout the years, we are honoured to present this extraordinary collection this June.
“The Barbiers were pioneering for their time, collecting in the 1980s in a field of Indian art that few westerners sought. Their works are historic, exciting and fresh. It has been a coup for us as well to work on this collection,” Yamini Mehta, Deputy Chairman, Indian and South Asian Art, said.
Also part of the sale would be two oil on canvases by M F Husain — “Marathi Women” (1950), and “Umbrella VII” (1978). In “Umbrella VII”, one can see a village woman whose face is obscured by the umbrella.
Acquired by the Barbiers the year it was painted, this work hails from Husain’s ‘Portrait of an Umbrella’ series in which the artist explores what the umbrella could mean as a metaphor to different people. The work is estimated at Rs 88.40 lakh to 1.32 crore.
The other painting, estimated at Rs 66.30 – 88.40 lakh, belongs to the body of work that Husain produced between 1948 and 1951, the time of the formation of the Progressive Artists’ Group.
Bhupen Khakhar’s landmark “Two Men in Benares”, unanimously considered one of the most important works by the artist will also be on offer. It was with this work through which Khakhar became the first Indian artist to freely disclose his sexual orientation.
Guy and Helen Barbier acquired it from a show at Mumbai’s Chemould Prescott gallery where it was showcased for the first time in 1986.
“Bhupen Khakhar’s works are the result of an artist bravely portraying his ethos and beliefs, making use of a myriad of sources from his life in an unabashed way to express his own honest narrative of love and desire.
“‘Two Men in Benares’ is a seminal work, both for the context it was made in and its powerful and complex imagery. In equal parts it is subversive, sensual and sentimental,” Ishrat Kanga, Specialist in Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art and Head of Sale, said.
The painting is estimated at Rs 3.97 – 5.30 crore. Other works include a rare early painting by Tyeb Mehta, and a collection of works by Rameshwar Broota.