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Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art
Sotheby's New York
18 September, 2013
"American Survey Officer" by Khakhar
Lot 8, "American Survey Officer," by Bhupen Khakhar, (1934-2003), 1969, oil on canvas, 41 1/2 by 34 1/2 inches
Photos by Carter B. Horsley
By Michele Leight

Bhupen Khakhar's leafy, Pop Art inspired, autobiographical "American Survey Officer, painted in 1969, was one of several paintings by Indian Modern masters offered at Sotheby's New York sale of  Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art in New York this Fall. The reference to [Henri] Rousseau is obvious, but the artist's sneaky addition of himself (on the left) in white and Shankarbhai Patel (on the right), flanking the mysterious (fictitious) survey officer offers a humorous twist to the composition. Other artists whose work was included in this sale are Ram Kumar, Francis Newton Souze, MF Husain, Syed Haider Raza, Manjit Bawa, Anjolie Menon and Avinash Chandra, among others. This sale featured many beautiful works on paper by Zarini, and V.S. Gaitonde, among others.

After the auction, Priyanka Mathew, the head of Sotheby's sales of Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art in New York, said that "we saw strong prices for high caliber works by senior modern artists including Buhpen Khakhar, Maqbool Fida Husain and Francis Newton Souza, reinforcing the quest for quality in the field," adding that "six bidders fought for the cover lot, Bhupen Khakhar's American Survey Officer, which after a prolonged battle, sold for $401,000, almost double the pre-sale estimate.

The sale total was $3,261,375.

A friend of Bhupen Khakhar shares insights on the painting, Lot 8, "American Survey Officer,  in Sotheby's catalogue for this sale:
"Timothy Hyman, close friend of the artist and author of the monograph Bhupen Khakhar, 1998, comments: 'In this striking image, the 35-year-old Bhupen Khakhar has begun to discover his own consciously hybrid identity: East and West both juxtaposed and fused within a seriocomic vision. For several years he'd derived inspiration from Indian popular art, delighting especially in the debased and stereotyped versions of once-high genres: in this case, the heavy greens and gorgeous leaf-and-flower imagery of pichwai, paintings on cloth associated with the Krishna-cult of Nathdwara. Although Bhupen would later make several pilgrimages to the Rajasthani temple-town, and become friendly with its surviving painters, at this point he was content with the modern generic and commercial pichwais he encountered in local travelling-tent exhibitions."

The influence of David Hockney and Pops potent colors, are evident in this wonderful painting, that sold for $401,400, well above its estimate of $180,000 to $220,000.

Painting by Avinash Chandra

Lot 50, "Churches," by Avinash Chandra, 1958, oil on board, 30 by 40 inches

Lot 50, "Churches," a luscious 1958 painting by Avinash Chandra (1931-1991) sold for $50,000, with an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000.

Landscape by Francis Newton Souza
Lot 15, "Untitled (Landscape)," by Francis Newton Souza, 1961, oil on canvas laid down on board, 48 by 24 inches

Lot 15, "Untitled (Landscape)," by Francis Newton Souza (1924-2002) reflects the artist's experiences and travels in Europe, when he was awarded a government scholarship and study tour in Italy in 1960, when he was able to visit Rome, Madrid and Amsterdam. The present work is possibly an abstraction of the Portuguese city of Lisbon, with its homes perched on hillsides, beautiful Roman Catholic churches, and the blue Atlantic ocean lapping its shores. India is historically linked to Portugal. Souza was Indian of Portuguese descent, born in Goa. The Portuguese colonized India in the 16th centiry, when Vasco da Gama accidentally found India when he was in search of America. This strong composition reflects Cubism and a noticeable change in color pallette after Souza's earlier, bright canvasses painted in India in the 40s:

"The use of thick black outlines to separate the buildings also reveals the influence of the stained glass windows in the Roman Catholic churches of Goa as well as the influence of the churches that he visited in Europe during his travels. By incorporating the spiritual influences of his childhood within these tightly ordered compositions, Souza has created a body of work where religion and Modernity coexist. 'In moving to Europe, he has never lost touch with the art that first inspired him. Souza is not an artist who changes his style who changes his style every now and then, as fashions come along: he is a painter who has developed an imagery which is strongly his own...The result is a synthesis of traditions and styles, and at the same time, and at the same time the evolution of an original talent which has stolen its greatest powers from no one.'" (E. Mullins, Souza, Anthony Blond Ltd., London, 1962, p. 44-45) While a great number of apinters veered towards complete abstraction, Souza was one of the few important Indian Modernists that unwaveringly maintained figuration in his works" (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale"

Lot 15 has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $221,000.

"Varanasi" by Ram Kumar

Lot 59, "Varanasi," by Ram Kumar, painted in the 1980s, oil on canvas, 58 1/4 by 50 1/2 inches

Untitled by Ram Kumar

Lot 56, "Untitled," by Ram Kumar, 1961, oil on canvas, 21 by 26 inches

Landscapes and nature as subjects abound in this sale, including Syed Haider Raza's sublime "La Forge," (Lot 61), and two gorgeous canvases by Ram Kumar (b. 1924). Illustrated above is Lot 56, "Untitled," a painting of Varanasi (Benares), "is the representation of his first impression of the revered city. With darkened skies and somber hues, this nightscape by the banks of the river, is painted devoid of human figures, much like an abandoned town. With thickly applied impasto and masterful brushstrokes, this powerful landscape matches the mystery of the sacred city itself..." (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale).

Lot  59, "Varanasi," by Ram Kumar, is a beautiful abstract interpretation of this ancient and fabled city on the Ganges that juxtaposes the natural and the manmade, omitting human beings altogether. Sotheby's catalogue for this sale describes the artists visit to the holy city of Varanasi that "resulted in a significant shift in his painterly style. He sought to capture the haunted nature of his experience in a novel way. Moving away from figuration, he started to paint a series of landscapes devoid of the usual constituents of reality, and where the human figure is noticeably absent. The dramitic intensity of his early figurative paintings is retained in these canvases, but the works attain a kind of austere brilliance, a certain ascetic purity. This new expression of lines and forms and the orchestration of colour began in the 1960s and continued to appear in his paintings for many years."

Lot 56, "Untitled," has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $112,500.

Lot 59, "Varanasi," has an estimate of $100,000 to $120,000. It sold for $125,000.

"La Forge" by Raza

Lot 61, "La Forge," by Syed Haider Raza, acrylic on canvas, 47 1/4 by 47 1/4 inches

Lot 61, "La Forge," by Raza (b. 1922) is a glorious composition, painted at the peak of the artist's career: "This work shows competing elements and forms in nature applied to a fluid pictorial space. The work shows how Raza dexterously integrated autonomous modernist abstraction with the organic qualities of the most picturesque countryside, making the styles leading high modernism in the United States apply to Raza's ongoing interest in landscape." (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale).

Lot 61 has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $305,000.

"In the Snows of Kashmir" by Gulam Rasool Santosh

Lot 60, "In the Snows of Kashmir," by Gulam Rasool Santosh, 1962, oil and wax on canvas, 34 by 52 1/4 inches

Lot 60, "In the Snows of Kashmir," by Gulam Rasool Santosh (1929-1997), is a poetic work inspired by an place so beautiful it inspired the description "shangri-la." It is rendered here in Cubist style, but retains its spirituality and mystery:

"After a few successful years in Bombay, he settled in Delhi in 1960. He never lost his connection though to Kashnir, Kashmiri poetry, and its landscape and spiritual traditions. His painting explored both figural and landscape subjects, he built up his canvases into a deep impasto, a techique that emerged from his time in Baroda, The early sixties represented a turning point for Santosh, one in which the struggle to articulate an idiom for India's modern painting ran up against a concern that the work of this period was merely a derivative of European styles. He sought to pursue a different path, one that embraced his own Kashmiri heritage and the broader Indian context. For his writing and his painting, Santosh looked for inspiration outside Europe, and found it in the Kashmiri Hills. (Rebecca M. Brown, Awakening: A Retrospecive of G.R. Santosh, Delhi Art Gallery, New Delhi, 2011, pp 29) (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale)

Lot 60 has an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $40,625

Mother Theresa by Husain

Lot 93, "Untitled (Mother Theresa)," by Maqbool Fida Husain, oil on canvas, 36 by 24 inches

Lot 93, "Untitled (Mother Theresa)," by M. F. Husain, illustrated above, has and estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $245,000, well above its high estimate.  Lot 88, "Untitled," by M. F. Husain, also depicting Mother Teresa, (a small watercolor and ink on paper), sold for $34,375 with an estimate of $15,000 to $20,000.

Saraswatu by Husain

Lot 86, "Untitled (Saraswati)," by Maqbool Fida Husain, oil on canvas, 36 by 24 inches

Husain was prolific. Three paintings are illustrated here depicting women - one of his favourite subjects - including Lot 86, "Untitled (Saraswati)," that has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $100,000.

Untitled by Husain

Lot 62, "Untitled," by M. F. Husain, oil on board, 13 1/2 by 11 inches

Lot 62, "Untitled," by MF Husain sold for $43,750, with an estimate of $30,000 to 40,000. It is an oil on board measuring 13 1/2 by 11 inches.

Untitled by Husain

Lot 85, "Untitled," by M. F. Husain, oil and marker  on paper, 14 3/4 by 10 3/4 inches

Lot 85, "Untitled," by M. F. Husain, an oil and marker on pen measuring 14 3/4 by 10 3/4, sold for $25,000, with an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000.


Lot 69, "Untitled (Musicians)," by Kattingeri Krishna Hebbar, 1973, acrylic on canvas, 40 by 44 1/4 inches

Lot 69, "Untitled (Musicians)," illustrated above, is by Katngeri Krishna Hebbar (1911-1996), who : "...studied at the JJ School of Art , and throughout his career remained engaged with classical Indian art forms, particularly the murals of Ajanta and classical Mughal and Rajput miniatures. Though his work bears some resemblance to the expressionist treatment of his contemporaries, he sought to create his own style that blended ancient and modern. This rare work dates from a period after he had been traveling extensively in Europe. He also studied the classical Indian dance form of kathak, which informs the subtle rhythm of his canvases, as well as his interestin representing the beat of a musician's drum in his work." (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale)

Lot 69 has an estimate of  $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $50,000

"Untitled" by Husain

Lot 89, "Untitled," by M. F. Husain, watercolor and ink on paper, 14 by 20 inches

Lot 89, "Untitled (Ganesh), by M. F. Husain, a watercolor and ink on paper, measuring 14 by 20 inches, has an estimate of $15,000 to $20,000. It sold for $18,750.

"Untitled" by Subramanyan

Lot 32, "Untitled," by K.G. Subramanyan, acrylic on canvas, 47 by 35 inches

Another work of art depicting the beloved deity Ganesha, Lot 32, "Untitled," is by K.G. Subramanyan (b. 1924), an acrylic measuring 47 by 35 inches, illustrated above, has an estimate of  $30,000 to $50,000. It sold for $37,500.

"Afer early studies in Madras,  Subramanyan gained admission to the Visva Bharati School at Shantiniketan where he learned from master artists Nandalal  Bose, Benode Behari Mukherjee, and Ramkinker Baij, who each encouraged collaboration of fine arts and crafsmanship through collective work. Subramanyan absorbed these lessons and translated them into his teaching and practice at the new M.S. University of Baroda in the 1960s. His work bridges the ideals of modernism, seen in the simplified and symbolic forms in this work, with vernacular culture, as this work is dominated by a large Ganesha." (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale)

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