Posted by: John Elliott | June 18, 2009

Has the modern Indian art market found its bottom? – updated

(updated with information from the Financial Times dated June 20-21 on works in the Sotheby’s sale inserted in italics below)

Judging by the relative success of sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and SaffronArt in the past ten days, it looks as if auctioneers and serious collectors of modern Indian art have found common ground at what some experts believe is the bottom of the market.

Prices have collapsed overall by 40% or more over the past year or so, and some contemporary artists are down to 25% or less of their peak, but it seems that big collectors have decided it is time to start buying again now that auctioneers have severely curbed sellers’ expectations.

FNSouza 43x31 Death and the Maiden Sotheby's sold '08-09Sotheby’s auction on June 16 included 27 works that were originally bought in its New York auctions in March and September last year by an art fund – but “never paid for”, says the Financial Times quoting “trade sources”.

The FT adds that “Death and the Maiden” (left), a 43inx31in oil on canvas by F.N.Souza, which was estimated at £30,000-50,000 and sold for £46,500 ($76,800), had been secured in September last year by the art fund at $182,500 (then approx £102,000) – a fall of more than 50%.

Lot 59 ChowdhurySotheby’s reached a sale total of only £2.07m or $3.37m (including 20-25% buyers premium), but it was significant for the buoyant bidding, especially for a remarkable Jogen Chowdhury(right but pictured larger last week in my first auction post – click here) ink and pastel on paper (lacquered), Day Dreaming.

Painted in 1979, this went for a hammer price of around £310,000 (£373,250 including 20% premium) to a private US (presumed Indian) collector. That was an auction record for Chowdhury and was about three to four times the £80,00-£120,000 estimate.

Souza Sotheby's London June '09 Lot 62

Orange Head by F.N.Souza

The highest price of £335,000 (£403,250 with premium) – also three to four times estimates – went for Orange Head, a striking though rather fierce F.N.Souza (left) 86inx62in oil on canvas that was painted in 1963.

Bought by a private US (presumed Indian) collector, this work was also being re-offered after the art fund default. The price was an amazing 50% above the $400,000 (then approx £228,000) bid last September.

“This indicates that the focus among buyers is shifting back to selective artists in the modern Indian art market,” says Anders Petterson of ArtTactic, a London-based art analysis firm. Other works by Souza and M.F.Husain, India’s two leading veteran modern masters, also sold well including Husain’s untitled 1953 oil on canvas (below) that a US investor bought well above estimates at £109,250. Sotheby’s top ten lots are said to have been bought by established Indian and international collectors.

The Sotheby’s event followed a successful though smaller on-line auction by Mumbai-based SaffronArt last week, where more than half the 61 lots sold (out of 85 on offer) went above top estimates. The auction reaped Rs104m or $2.2m/£1.3m (including 10-15% buyers premium).

Earlier last week Christie’s set the trend with a good and lively London auction , with £2.43m (US$3.96m) sales – about 80% of the total 97 lots on offer and 90% of their total

Husain Sotheby's London June '09 Lot 53

untitled by M.F.Husain

estimated value. But both Christie’s and Sotheby’s sales were far below last year’s levels, when Christie’s London auction for example’s netted £5.4m . More than a third of the Sotheby’s works were miniature classical paintings from the 1700’s and 1800’s.

“”There has been a sea-change in perceptions and mind-set from even three months ago,” says Dinesh Vazirani, one of SaffronArt’s founders. “Serious collectors are seeing an opportunity and some old collectors from 2002-03 are buying again, but not investors who are scared to come in”.

SaffronArt’s buyers were mainly Indian, about 60% of them living in the country and 40% abroad. Its highest price of Rs14.9m or $317,000 (including premium) was paid for a 1984 untitled oil on canvas by V S Gaitonde.

SubodhGupta 66x90in oilcanvas sold $201k Rs94m Saffronart June 10 '09 Lot_21_edited

untitled by Subodh Gupta

Other sales included a 66inx90in oil on canvas untitled work by Subodh Gupta (right) which fetched Rs9.5m ($201,250). This was seen as a good price for current market conditions, but was far below Gupta’s record $1.2m paid in Hong Kong in May last year for a similar sized painting of a man pulling a luggage trolley.

Gupta is one of India’s leading contemporary artists. The steep fall shows how contemporary artists have been hit harder by collectors’ and investors’ loss of confidence than established modern artists such as Husain, Souza, Gaitonde and Ram Kumar, whose early works were the top sellers in the current auctions.

ArtTactic’s indicators (below) have significantly improved this year – more for modern than contemporary art – suggesting, Petterson says, that current price estimates have come down to attractive buyer levels, which “could be a sign that confidence is returning”.

IndiaAuctionIndicatorJun09_editedAs Vazirani points out, the current buoyant mood after India’s recent general election, with economic growth picking up and a slow-down in bad economic news, has helped boost buying – in addition to the fact that auctioneers have drastically cut their estimates in order to attract buyers.

That will be tested next at an auction in Mumbai on June 30 by Osian’s, India’s other leading auction house, of 58 modern and contemporary works. It includes Roadside with Temple, a vivid 4ftx6ft (approx) oil on canvas (below) by Atul Dodiya, a leading contemporary artist, estimated at Rs6.4m-8m ($133,330-$166,670).

“Sotheby’s tactic significantly to reduce the estimates (for some works between 60-70%), has paid off,” says Petterson. “The market seems to have found a temporary bottom, which has clearly reduced the price uncertainty……long-term buyers are seeing opportunities at current price levels”. However Petterson cautions that this should not be taken as a definite recovery in prices.

AtulDodiya RoadsideTemple 4ftx6ft approx $133-166k Osians June '09

Roadside with Temple by Atul Dodiya


  1. I am a complete skeptic of the idea that art is an investment. Would love to hear arguments: see

  2. […] […]

  3. well i think the correction is in every field..and as such art is a luxury item and booms when everything else is settled as was the case in 2005,2006 ..having said that atleast art has not been hit as badly as some other markets especially real estate..also till now indian art was running more on adrenaline that on also the signature and not the quality works were fetching high with the correction though transcations have substantially reduced great art works are still in demand and the focus is more on quality than on the signature which all holds well if indian masters are to reach the level of european masters.

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