Sotheby’s presents Amaya Collection at its first global evening sale on March 19

By Sujeet Rajan

NEW YORK: Sotheby’s will present the Amaya Collection, the first international evening sale of Indian art and the first single-owner sale in this category to be held at Sotheby’s in more than a decade, on March 19.

Consigned by esteemed collector and author, Amrita Jhaveri, the collection comprises important modern and contemporary Indian art produced during the second half of the 20th century through to the early 21st. The sale offers some of the finest examples from the oeuvres of key artists, including highly sought-after and important works by 20th Century Modernist Masters Maqbool Fida Husain, Tyeb Mehta, Francis Newton Souza, Sayed Haider Raza, and Vasudeo Gaitonde, many of which have been extensively published and exhibited internationally.

The auction of 43 lots is estimated at approximately $5-7 million, and works will be exhibited in New Delhi, London and New York in advance of the sale. Proceeds from the sale will underwrite a project space and lecture room at Khoj International Artists’ Association in New Delhi.

Jhaveri is also supporting museum initiatives in the collecting area of South Asian art by donating a work by sculptor Mrinalini Mukherjee to the Tate Modern.

“This sale is a celebration of the very best of Indian art. The impulse to share these rare works with other collectors while continuing on the journey remains strong,” said Jhaveri in a statement.

Yamini Mehta, Senior Director, Sotheby’s International Head of Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art, London and New York said: “The Amaya Collection is one of the finest single owner collections of Indian art to come to the market. Amrita Jhaveri has spent more than two decades putting together, with a passionate and scholarly approach, a stellar collection, which includes numerous works by Modern Indian masters. Her remarkable eye has also enabled her to seek out some exceptional works by younger Contemporary artists.”

Robin Woodhead, Chairman of Sotheby’s International, said the exhibition follows two high-profile Indian-themed exhibitions in the last nine months – collaboration with couturiers Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla for the London launch of their book “India Fantastique,” and “Inspired by India,” an exhibition of contemporary design.”

The Amaya sale is led by Tyeb Mehta’s Untitled (estimated $800/1.2 million) from 1982, produced during an important period in the artist’s career. Painted three years before the famous Santiniketan Triptych, the
current work possesses a number of key parallels. In both works he used an unusually muted palette, and the androgynous figures are placed against a distinctive pastel blue ground. Mehta spent the early 1960s in
London where he was exposed to the style of Francis Bacon, which greatly influenced his early works. He was a recipient of the Rockefeller scholarship in 1968 which took him to New York where he was influenced
by the work of American abstract painter Barnett Newman. This painting was formerly in the important collection of Chester and Davida Herwitz and was purchased from Sotheby’s in 2000.

A further highlight is Rajasthan I (estimated $600/800,000), a resplendent work by Sayed Haider Raza rom the 1980s which brings together his influences from France and India to represent an ultimate depiction of nature. This painting is from a period that represents his transgression towards total abstraction and is influenced by the Indian miniature tradition not just in composition but also in palette. The flaming colors which pulsate across the canvas depict the rhythms of nature. Rajasthan I was exhibited at The Phillips Collection in
Washington, D. C. in 1986.

Another important work for sale is the 1962 painting, Untitled (estimated $600/800,000) by Vasudeo S. Gaitonde, one of India’s most important modern abstract painters, was one of few canvases produced during his lifetime. His work was greatly influenced by the color techniques of Indian miniatures, the study of ancient scripts and
Japanese Zen philosophy. Similar to Mehta, Gaitonde was awarded a Rockefeller scholarship, and while in New York in 1964, he was exposed to Abstract Expressionists like Rothko, whose work had a profound effect
on him.

Painted in 1963, The Puppet Dancers (estimated $200/300,000) represents Maqbool Fida Husain’s fascination with toys, a theme that he developed during the 1940s and 1950s. While working at the Fantasy furniture company in Bombay in the early 1940s to make ends meet, he began to design and paint children’s toys, which he cut from plywood and hand painted.

Although Husain only produced the toys for a short period, his interest in the subject lived on. This composition is very similar to a 1950s preparatory sketch he produced for one of his plywood toys. A distinctive set of characters that he employed throughout his career are also seen in this piece: faceless woman, equine figure, tribhanga nude and mustachioed warrior. The Puppet Dancers was on exhibition at Asia House, London, in 2006, in M. F. Husain: Early Masterpieces 1950s – 70s.

Also of great interest in the sale are Francis Newton Souza’s The Crucifixion (estimate $200/300,000). It’s a powerful painting that represents Souza’s fascination with religion that continued throughout his career. This painting is one of his largest and most evocative portrayals of the subject.

Bhupen Khakhar’s Satsang (estimate $180/250,000) depicts a Hindu gathering with a group of male figures paying their respects. He has placed himself within the narrative, both seated amongst the seated figures to the right and at the rear of the primary standing figure in the foreground. Highly influenced by his time in London and his
friendship with David Hockney and Sir Howard Hodgkin, Khakar combines the lush evocative scenery with hues relating to folk traditions.

Arpita Singh’s Untitled (estimate $80/120,000) is also going to evince interest. Singh, one of the most important mid-generation female Indian artists, often portrays the role of the female within contemporary Indian society in her humorous and disturbing paintings. Her subjects are drawn from family, friends, neighbors and everyday objects. Singh was greatly influenced by Marc Chagall, not just in palette and composition, but also in imagery.

Untitled from 1959 (estimated at $60/80,000), belongs to Ram Kumar’s early figurative phase which not only reflects his disillusionment with the monotony and anonymity of urban existence, but is also part of a larger commentary on the unrealized promises of Independence which had held hope for a better life for millions of Indians. The figures in these five paintings are reminiscent of the forlorn characters he portrays in his novel, Ghar Bane Ghar Toote, which depict the isolated and despairing urbanites of India who feel constrained by the city
itself, its vast faceless population and the poverty and decay that surround them.

Also on sale is Ganesh with Crown (estimate $40/60,000) by Jogen Chowdhury, whose subjects are usually rendered against a black background, their fluid contours tightened with cross-hatching and heightened with touches of color. This 1979 work is part of the Ganesha series that he produced during the end of his tenureship where he plays on the popular characterization of the elephant god. (GIN –

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