India’s burgeoning art market: Saffronart online auction – round-up

Saffronart online auction in December 2017 confirms upturn in Indian art market.

Mumbai-based Saffronart’s recent online auction confirms the rumours about India’s burgeoning market.

M F Husain, ‘When I begin to paint hold the sky in your hand as the stretch of my canvas is unknown to me’, 1982, Oil on canvas, 82.6 x 67.3 cm. Image courtesy Saffron art.

M F Husain, ‘When I Begin to Paint Hold the Sky in Your Hand as the Stretch of my Canvas is Unknown to Me’, 1982, oil on canvas, 82.6 x 67.3 cm. Image courtesy Saffronart.

India’s art boom

Recent record auction sale results across the country suggest that India’s art market is more than recovered from the 2007 dip. The country is currently experiencing an economic boom, led by a new wave of business tycoons who are selecting art as a viable investment option. The Artery India consultancy reported to that art sales more than doubled from about USD44 million in 2011 to over USD95 million last year, and that 47 world records for Indian artists were recorded in 2017.

S H Raza, ‘Untitled’, 1982, Acrylic on canvas, 80 x 80 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Saffron art.

S H Raza, ‘Untitled’, 1982, acrylic on canvas, 80 x 80 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Saffronart.

Surpassing the estimates

The success of Mumbai-based Saffronart’s online auction on 6-7 December 2017 – one of the emerging trend of “cross-category” sales that offers a selection of works by Indian modernists as well as rare antiquities – confirms the trend. At the online auction, three artworks by S. H. Raza, Akbar Padamsee and Arpita Singh together achieved a quarter of the total sale value. S. H. Raza’s Untitled (1982) acrylic on canvas, which led the sale, sold for INR1.73 crores (USD270,000).

The dominance by modernists in this sale reinforces the strong demand for their works by collectors nationwide. Record auction sale prices were recently achieved for works by members of the avant-garde Bombay Progressive Artists Group, namely M.F. Husain, Francis Newton Souza and the late painter Vasudeo Gaitonde, whose blue landscape canvas painting is now one of the fifth most expensive artworks ever bought in India.

Early 20th century artists such as Madhav Satwalekar and Jamini Roy also did well in the sale. Born in 1915, Satwalekar was among the early wave of Indian artists who combined realism with an indigenous approach to painting. A 1980 landscape painted in pastel shades, sold at six times its upper estimate of INR4 lakhs (USD6,250) for INR25.5 lakhs (USD39,900). A work by Roy also sold at over twice its upper estimate of INR7.68 lakhs (USD12,000) for INR19.58 lakhs (USD30,600).

F N Souza, ‘Head’, 1953, Oil on board, 56.8 x 40.9 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Saffron art.

F N Souza, ‘Head’, 1953, oil on board, 56.8 x 40.9 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Saffronart.

Other artworks that surpassed their estimates included two works by F. N. Souza. Souza experienced a similar disillusionment in London when he painted the present lot in 1953. Souza’s subjects during this time were the savagely distorted heads of the everyman, with soulless eyes displaced to the forehead, a set of gnashing teeth bared, all of which invited comparisons with the British existential painter Francis Bacon. His 1953 work Head, which is of this period, achieved INR77,76,000 (USD121,500). Paintings by Manjit Bawa and Madhav Satwalekar also did well.

Senaka Senanayake, ‘Untitled’, 1992, Oil on canvas, 132.9 x 111.8 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Saffron art.

Senaka Senanayake, ‘Untitled’, 1992, Oil on canvas, 132.9 x 111.8 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Saffronart.

Contemporary South Asian artists

The contemporary section was led by an intricate sculpture by Dhananjay Singh made of stainless steel and bronze, which sold at over twice its lower estimate for INR24.14 lakhs (USD37,725). Senaka Senanayake is one of Sri Lanka’s best-known artists. His brightly hued canvases of the country’s flora and fauna draw attention to its rapidly depleting rainforests. Born in 1953, Senanayake studied Art and Architecture at Yale, which impacted his decision to make a career out of art. Following this, he moved back to Sri Lanka and delved deeper into environmental issues. His vibrant painting of a rainforest sold for INR14.2 lakhs (USD22,200) against an estimate of INR8 – 10 lakhs (USD12,500 – 15,625).

Rebecca Close


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