Vasudeo S Gaitonde’s untitled work stole the show as the celebrated London-based auctioneer Christie’s debuted in India on Thursday evening, selling 79 lots of art.
The Gaitonde, which was expected to fetch between Rs 6.5 crore and Rs 8.5 crore, went for $37,92,400 (Rs 23.7 crore). Tyeb Mehta’s Mahishasura fetched the second highest price of Rs 19.7 crore.
Buyers spent a total Rs 102 crore, the second-biggest splurge at a Christie’s auction for Indian art. Works by M F Husain, Manjit Bawa, S H Raza, Arpita Singh and Ram Kumar were among those that went under the hammer at the packed Crystal Room at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
A palpable excitement took over the venue as bidding for the Gaitonde crossed the upper limit of Rs 8.5 crore. At Rs 12 crore, there were collective gasps in the audience. At Rs 16 crore, those in the room pulled out, leaving the battle to two anonymous phone bidders and one bidder online. Auctioneer Hugo Weihe egged them on, raising the price Rs 50 lakh at a time.
At Rs 18 crore, one of the bidders dropped out. At Rs 20 crore, even before the hammer hit the gavel, applause rang out, and seconds later, Weihe closed the bidding and the piece went to an American collector.
Christie’s was cautious in describing Thursday’s sale as the most expensive Indian work ever sold at an auction. S H Raza’s Saurhastra was sold for $ 3.5 million at Christie’s in London in 2010. “Because of the difference in the value of the pound of that time and the dollar today, we cannot say it is the highest priced Indian art work to be auctioned ever. But in rupees, it definitely is,” Weihe said.
Gaitonde, who passed away in 2001, had another untitled landscape at the auction, which sold for about seven times its highest estimated price, at Rs 80 lakh. An untitled Tyeb Mehta went for Rs 8.2 crore. Two untitled paintings by Bhupen Khakhar were sold for Rs 1.95 crore and Rs 4.82 crore, the latter a personal record for the late artist. An untitled Ganesh Pyne estimated at Rs 25 lakh went for Rs 2.3 crore, a record for the artist.
Works in the section National Art Treasures could not be taken out of the country, and saw the least interest. Works of Amrita Sher-Gil and Rabindranath Tagore did not go higher than their estimated price.