Posted by: John Elliott | June 10, 2010

S.H.Raza follows Souza’s auction success with £2.4m record Indian art price

LONDON JUNE 10: A new record auction price for modern Indian art was set at Christie’s in London today when Saurashtra, a massive 79x79in acrylic on canvas by Syed Haidar Raza, one of India’s veteran masters, was bought for a hammer price of £2.1m – £2.4m ($3.5m) including buyer’s premium.  


This beat slightly lower records set in the past two years by F.N.Souza, M.F.Husain, Tyeb Mehta and Raza – all prominent members of Bombay’s Progressive artists’ group of the 1940s and 1950s. Experts say this demonsrates that top collectors are prepared to pay very high prices for the best examples of modern Indian art. 

The work (right) was bought – along with Falling Bird, a 59x47in acrylic on canvas byTyeb Mehta that fetched £1m ($1.5m) – by Kiran Nadar for a Museum of Art she has built in Noida on the outskirts of New Delhi. The wife of the founder of HCL, one of India’s largest computer software companies, she has been paying top prices at several sales. Yesterday she was the runner up bidder for Souza’s Red Curse (see below). After today’s sale, she said both of her purchases were “seminal works of top quality”, but she also told me she was concerned about whether such high prices could be sustained.

 Christie’s two-day auction of South Asian art realised a total of £12.4m which was a record for the region. This has set new benchmarks for a Sotheby’s annual South Asian London sale next week, which includes rarely seen works by Rabindranath Tagore, and an on-line SaffronArt auction.

 Souza auction doubles estimates with £5.4m sales

LONDON JUNE 9: It could have been a sad and depressing occasion, with the eldest daughter in a debt-ridden squabbling family quickly disposing of the estate of one of India’s greatest artists – and doing so with such a massive sale that the auctioneers anxiously set estimates unusually low in order to attract bidders and keep them motivated.
But it didn’t happen like that, and today’s mammoth London auction of brilliant works by F.N.Souza, who died eight years ago, was a triumph for the artist, whose entire range of work sold well – from gentle village scenes and landscapes painted in his mid teens through decades of tension, love, anger and frustration to his final years.

This possibly unique example of an auction doubling up as a retsospective exhibition reflected the words of one of his three wives, Barbara, who said he painted “sex, violence and the mind”.  

Red Curse

It was a considerable success for Christie’s, the auction house, which was faced with so many works that it marked many estimates 40% below market prices, and had to group 25 or more drawings into single lots in order to avoid auction fatigue.  

As one specialist put it, to have offered each work individually would have “strained buyers patience and gone on long into the evening” – as it was, bidding continued for over four hours. The sale was the result of a court order that Souza’s estate should be wound up, despite objections from some of his offspring (four daughters and a son).
There were 152 lots – paintings, drawings, collages, watercolours and prints plus ten sketch books. Amazingly, all were sold apart from five minor items, and many went at twice the highest estimates or more. The auction produced hammer sales totalling £4.4m, which more than doubled the average of £1.6m-£2.3m estimates and, together with buyers’ (12-25%) premiums, realised a final total of £5.4m ($7.9m). 
A large and violent 1962 work, Red Curse (above), got the highest hammer price of £750,00, triple the highest estimate for the work. That yielded £881,250 ($1.3m) including buyers’ premium. “I would like my paintings to disturb the calm, the smug,” Souza once said, and he certainly does that here in this 70x45in work that was painted for special effect in oils on black satin.
Red Curse went to an anonymous buyer, one of many who bid from places as far afield as Taiwan, Hong Kong, California and Washington DC – two-thirds of the lots received on-line bids using Christies’ internet system and many bids were phoned in.
“This shows that the market for the Indian Progressive movement is strong,” said Hugo Weihe, Christie’s international director of Asian art . “This is a fantastic testament to the legacy of Souza who himself was a trailblazer within the Indian Progressives”.   

Goa village scene

 Most buyers were private Indian collectors and dealers, and many left with far fewer works than they expected because of the high prices. One prominent Delhi gallery owner took away five or six works, having expected far more, and at least one established collector ended with nothing. I was unsuccessfully interested in four or five paintings at the lower end of the price ranges – aiming especially for a jolly 22x12in untitled nude (below right) painted in gouache on card in 1950 that was estimated at £2,500-3,500 and went for a hammer price of about £13,000 (£16,250, $23,595 including the premium).


 The beat-the-estimate trend was set with the first lot, a happy Goan village scene (above -gouache on paper 10x15in) painted by Souza when he was 21. That was estimated at £4,000-6,000 and shot up to £22,000 (£27,000, $39,930 incl premium). Soon after that, a Roman Catholic Phantom (below -polyvinyl acetate on canvas 32x22in) more than doubled its top estimate and achieved a final price with premium of £55,250, and a face of Christ 27x20in (oil on board) estimated at £50,000-£80,000 went for a final price of £349,250. Later a typical nude (oil on board 48x32in) from Souza’s 1960s period more than doubled estimates to finish up at £169,250.    

The auction came at a good time when the Indian modern art market is recovering from the crash of 18-20 months ago, especially for the best works, with serious collectors paying good prices. That reflects an international trend with a new world auction record of $106.5m (₤70.3m) being set for a Picasso at a Christie’s New York auction in May.
The record price for a Souza was set at Christie’s in June 2008, just before the crash, when Birth, a 1955 work, sold in London for £1.3m  (then $2,5m).  That was an exceptionally high price and yesterday’s auction results do not compare badly, given that prices are now beginning to recover. 

Roman Catholic Phantom

Strong results have been recorded in recent auctions in New York and Hong Kong, with a 1955 untitled painting by M. F.Husain, who ranks alongside Souza as one of India’s greatest modern painters, being sold at Sotheby’s in New York in April for $1m, over five times a very cautious estimate. In Mumbai, another market leader from the Progressives group, Tyeb Mehta, did well in March when one of his Mahishasura series fetched Rs40.56m ($900,000). That was well below his 2008 record of £982,000 (then $1.9m) achieved at Christie’s in London, but a valid example of good prices being paid for good works.
These auction results have been backed up by ArtTactic, a London-based analysis firm, which said last month that market confidence in modern Indian art was continuing to improve strongly. However Indian contemporary art, whose prices slumped by as much as 80% for some top over-exposed artists, was not doing so well and the gap between modern and contemporary was widening.
Mehta’s works will be tested tomorrow (June 10), along with Husain and another Progressive, Sayed Haider Raza, when the Christie’s annual London Indian art auction continues for another day. 

 But today was Souza’s and, although the reason for such a rare auction devoted to just one artist arose out of of family problems, it brought new stature and acclaim to one of India’s leading masters.

ALSO SEE: An epic Souza exhibition begins to open up the elite world of modern Indian art -April 14 ’10


  1. […] as those achieved, for example, by Raza who established an Indian art record with an acrylic on canvas abstract work that sold for £2.4m ($3.5m) at a Christies’ London auction in […]

  2. I thought the topics you posted on were very interesting. Nice Blog and keep posting 🙂

  3. […] last week’s buoyant Sotheby’s and Saffronart modern South Asian art auctions to match up to the excitement of Christie’s Souza retrospective sale a few days earlier, but they certainly did well with prices which showed that the top end of the […]

  4. Glad to know that collecting Indian art is becoming serious and good art always has a market

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