Bonhams’ annual summer sale of modern and contemporary South Asian art opened earlier this month and displayed a stunning image by one of Pakistan’s foremost modern artists Ismail Gulgee. The sale included works by well-known Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan artists such as MF Husain, Sadequain, Jamil Naqsh and AR Chughtai.
Besides exhibiting works by other South Asian artists, the auction presented the largest group of works by Pakistani masters to ever be auctioned at an international auction. Gulgee’s “Buzkashi” was given a reserve price of between Rs2 million and Rs3.6 million but being one of the highlights of this section, went for Rs9 million — more than doubling its estimate. The sale price of this 1965 painting, which depicts Afghanistan’s national sport, is a record for an oil-on-canvas work by Pakistani artists and follows the success of previous watercolours by Gulgee that have also sold for record amounts through Bonhams.
While he is better known for his vibrant calligraphic work, Gulgee was the national portrait painter of Pakistan during the 1950s and 60s. He was also commissioned to paint the portraits of the Saudi Royal family, along with many figures of the Islamic world.
Sadequains’s pieces, titled “Girl with Mirror” and “Figure in Landscape”, were also included. These two sold for about Rs5.4 million and Rs6.3 million respectively. An untitled piece by Jamil Naqsh also went for about Rs6.3 million while AR Chughtai’s work, “Girl with Instrument”, sold for about Rs5 million.
The highlight of the sale, however, was a beautiful piece of work by one of India’s foremost modern artists, Jehangir Sabavala, which shows a group of nuns standing in front of a worship house-like structure. The Sabvala painting, titled “Vespers I”, had been estimated to sell for between Rs14 million and Rs22 million. But after a saleroom tussle between two buyers in the room, the painting was finally auctioned for about Rs37 million. Illustrated on the cover of his monograph by Ranjit Hoskote, “The Crucible of Painting: The Art of Jehangir Sabavala, Vespers I” is one of Sabavala’s most important works, representing a key period of transition in the artist’s life
Mehreeen Rizvi, head of modern and contemporary South Asian Art at Bonhams commenting after the sale, said, “We are delighted with this result for Sabavala. It is about time this artist achieved commercial success in the market to mirror his artistic reputation.”
The second highest price achieved in the sale was a work by renowned Indian artist MF Husain titled “The Blue Lady” which made Rs14 million against a pre-sale estimate of about Rs13 million. It was from the private UK collection of Mr John Hay, having been presented to Hay’s mother Elizabeth Partridge by her sister as a wedding present in India.
These rare paintings have so far been a part of private collections in Europe and the USA.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 15th, 2012.