The hammer goes down at Rs 19.19 crore.
The hammer goes down at Rs 19.19 crore. A painting of modern master Akbar Padamsee titled ‘Greek Landscape’ (1959), which was bought for Rs 1,000 in 1960 by fellow artist Krishen Khanna, fetched a whopping price of Rs 19.19 crore at the recently concluded Saffronart’s Evening Sale making it a world auction record for the artist. The artwork, which was estimated to sell between Rs 7-9 crore, surpassed its bidding expectation, sparking new interest in the Indian art market.
It is a sad state that the numbers have ignited the sudden interest in a legendary artist like Padamsee, expresses Ranjit Hoskote, cultural theorist and independent curator. He says, “Anybody who is talking about the auction and the price point must understand that it not something unusual or new. In the auction scene, modern artists have always been the first preference. The particular work ‘Greek Landscape’ is one of the masterpieces by the veteran artist and has a unique value because it is coming out of the art collection of fellow Progressive Artist Krishen Khanna. It was produced during a time when artists used to buy works of their peers. And Krishen is known for having a unique eye for great work and has an amazing collection of art. So, the work has an added provenance, making it even more interesting.”
Talking about what makes Padamsee a great artist, curator Alka Pande says that his pioneering spirit has allowed him to experiment with a wide range of media. She shares, “His portraiture works have a lot of soul; his human faces tend to capture the gamut of human suffering and exaltation. The forms carry an expression of ineffable sadness and there are periods when he has painted landscapes that express the grandeur of infinite time. He is an artist whose work ranges from the figure to the non-figurative... an artist difficult to bracket. He is also very conscious of every mark he makes in the process of creation, and his works are filled with contemplation and articulation of thoughts and ideas.”
Hugo Weihe, auctioneer and CEO of Saffronart, adds, “There is a huge demand for unseen works of modern artists as compared to Indian contemporary artists.
He continues, “There are intelligent buyers, and the growth of Indian art market has been faster than the rate at which the Chinese contemporary art market has evolved. I feel that the contemporary art market is affected because galleries are handling these artists and nurturing their careers."
However, this auction result might not reflect on all of Padamsee's works and mean that they will fetch a similar kind of price or that this has opened up new market avenue, states Ranjit. He adds, "The workings of auction houses are way different from the actual market. It does not affect the real market in any way. There is a certain style of working of an auction house and the collector. Having said that, we are also seeing that the collectors are breaking free of the stereotype 'big name' and looking into art more seriously."
Alka agrees and feels that auctions like these are not the indicator of the true art market. "It is surprising that in the recent past we have seen a rise in the demand of Indian masters. What would be more interesting to know from this particular auction would be the name of the buyer to understand what intrigued him. In the recent past, we have seen certain works of M.F. Husain, S.H. Raza, Tyeb Mehta and Vasudeo S. Gaitonde fetching the market's interest but it is very intriguing that a living master like Padamsee is getting the limelight all of a sudden. Having said that, not all works of a master artist gets such high bidders, as they are not masterpieces or hold perfect aesthetic values," she points out.
Talking about the sudden shift towards Indian masters, Alka says, "With the busting of the bubble of the Indian contemporary art market, it was obvious that the market will shift towards the artist whose works are more complete (in terms of the world viewing and past history). One must also understand that the contemporary art world was booming at a time when the international market was turning towards India after China and checking all avenues, and were ready to invest on young artists. But with recession setting in, no one wanted to take a huge risk at the Indian contemporary art, as they were priced very high at that time. Thus leading to a downfall."
An experiment with plastic emulsion The ‘Greek Landscape’ (above) was an experimental painting created by Akbar Padamsee (left) using plastic emulsion and home painter’s brush. He used to buy the paint in large tins — black and white — as the paint he wanted was not available in India. In an interview with Meera Godbole-Krishnamurthy, editor-in-chief, Saffronart, Akbar said, “The paint one got was often glossy, but I was lucky to find a man who sold the non-glossy matte, plastic emulsion. When I told him I was using it for a painting, he said I would need brushes and brought out the painters’ brushes he had — broad ones with thick bristles. So I bought those from him too.”
‘I was intrigued by the way he could move the brush freely’ Artist Krishen Khanna bought the ‘Greek Landscape’, part of Padamsee’s grey series, from Bal Chhabda over a phone conversation in 1960. Talking about what caught his attention, Krishen says, “I always had an eye for good art and this was an interesting piece. I was intrigued by the way my friend could move the brush freely from figure to ground in grey or sepia hues”
Khanna is known to have written a letter to Padamsee stating that he was terribly envious that he had painted such a magnificent painting. He wrote, “I remarked to Renu (Khanna’s wife) at that stage that there was a terrific painter somewhere of whose existence we had not known about ”
Krishen had loaned the painting for several exhibitions in the past but this is the first time he put it (for sale) in the market. Talking about the sudden interest in Padamsee’s work, Krishen says, “We come from an era where good works inspired us, not the price. It’s unfortunate how everyone is talking about the price. It is one of the great masterpieces produced by the artist and I would like people to see his work and not for the money it has been sold for.”