A collection of works by one of India’s priciest modern artists, Francis Newton Souza, sold last night for more than double its estimate as dealers saw recovery in the country’s art market.
The 152 lots fetched 5.4 million pounds ($7.9 million) with fees, exceeding a presale upper forecast of 2.3 million pounds, based on hammer prices, said London-based auction house Christie’s International.
The paintings, drawings, prints and sketch books were offered directly from Souza’s estate. The co-founder of India’s postwar Progressive Artists Group died in Mumbai in 2002.
Auction prices for modern and contemporary Indian art have risen -- and fallen -- spectacularly in recent years. Values of modern Indian works fell during the financial crisis, though not as much as their contemporary counterparts. Prices for contemporary works increased seven-fold between 2000 and 2008, according to the French-based database Artprice.
Ninety-seven percent of the Souza lots found buyers, with a top price of 881,250 pounds paid for the 1962 oil, “Red Curse,” painted on black satin while the artist was living in London. The dark 6-foot-high (1.8 meters) image of a female nude being attacked by a snarling, multi eyed beast had been expected to fetch between 150,000 pounds and 250,000 pounds. It was sold to a European buyer bidding on the telephone, said Christie’s.
A watercolor self portrait from 1949 that was included in the Souza exhibition held at Tate Britain in 2005 sold for 61,250 pounds against a high estimate of 18,000 pounds.
Average auction prices for modern and contemporary Indian works were respectively 18 percent and 63 percent lower than they were at their peak in 2008, the London-based research company ArtTactic said in May, before yesterday’s auction.
Souza was voted the modern artist most likely to have a market with high importance in 10 years time by respondents in ArtTactic’s Indian Confidence Report in November 2009.
In June 2008, at the height of the art-market boom, his 1955 painting “Birth” sold at Christie’s in London for 1.3 million pounds, then a record for a modern Indian work.
Today, a painting by Syed Haider Raza, another member of the “Progressive Artists Group,” sold at Christie’s for 2.4 million pounds, making it a record for any modern or contemporary Indian work of art, said the auction house.
“Saurashtra,” a 7-foot-high, richly colored abstract dating from 1983, had been expected to sell for between 1.3 million pounds and 1.8 million pounds.
(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer on the story: Scott Reyburn in London at firstname.lastname@example.org.