Saffron Sep 2016 Auction

The Saffron 2016 September sale in Delhi looks like a major sale – a hundred crore sale , the second live auction in Delhi after the recent DAG Modern auction. Quite a few interesting lots – I would like to point out a few that I like

Jehangir Sabavala

Jehangir Sabavala Portrait Lady

I do believe this early work is highly desirable. It can be called an academic study, rubenesque in style possibly and certainly displays an aesthetically pleasing color palette. Possibly the portrait of his wife executed in Paris in 1949.

I would much prefer this over his later “cubist” style landscapes. Frankly, I have never really admired Jehangir Sabavala for his so-called “cubist” works and that word (cubism) is the very place from where my dis-agreement starts. I would hardly call his works cubist (maybe a weak form of cubism) – more like a mosaic or planes of colour. Maybe the issue is not with the artist but with the art critics who inaccurately describe his style ?

Jehangir Sabavala Landscape
How Is This Cubism?

In Cubist artwork, objects are analyzed, broken up and reassembled in an abstracted form—instead of depicting objects from one viewpoint, the artist depicts the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a greater context.

Pablo Picasso Woman In Blue Hat

Cubism was created many decades ago in the West thanks to pioneering work  by Cezanne, Picasso and Braque – the distinction of bringing cubism to India goes to Gaganendranath Tagore – and that too quite a few decades prior to Sabavala.

Gaganendranath Tagore Towards Infinity

Gaganendranath Tagore - Flight Of The First Cubist
Titled: Flight of the First Cubist by Gaganendranath Tagore c 1920s

Having said that Jehangir Sabavala is a important artist, has his collectors, and now has an established price bracket which in unlikely to change – and is therefore very collectible – cubism or no cubism! Contribution to modern art or modernism is not the only yardstick by which prices are set – collectors play an important role – a perfect example would be Gustav Klimt


Which is why these days I am learning how to make dhansak to impress my Parsi neighbour who has a Sabavala. My knowledge of the recipe would be the conversation starter – “did you know I make good dhansak and ohh by the way is your Sabavala for sale ?“.

Maqbool Fida Husain

An artist who needs little introduction. I am completely enamored by this work from 1955 though frankly the quality of all the Husain canvases in this auction are superb including the signature horses work.

MF Husain 1950

I have never been a fan of some of the excessively large Husain canvases – which are anyways most likely meant for museums or hotels. I do believe that most of the larger works would be commissioned works and in my opinion an artist somehow loses his touch in completing commissioned works.

To anyone not agreeing with me on this (the issue of size) , I would like to point out that an Amrita Sher-Gil Canvas sold for 2.9 Million USD and whose size is only 18 x 13 inches !!

Amrita Shergil Self Portrait
18 x 13 inches in Size !

Francis Newton Souza

francis newton souza oil on linen

Quite a stunning landscape and that too on linen which is a harder medium to paint on – not suited for thick impasto effects and needing care in storage. I do believe that the best of his landscapes are most likely already owned by museums or in collections that dont sell and would be impossible.

Souza landscape

Souza 1957 landscapes

Himmat Shah

Sculptures are slowly gaining in prominence and getting their due. Certainly in the western art world the record auction price realized is for a sculpture – by Giacometti  at 141 Million USD !


I would consider Ram Kinker Baij, Meera Mukherjee and Somnath Hore as the first rung (earliest) of the Indian modernist sculpture artists. Followed by the likes of Sadanand Bakre (the only sculpture artist in the Progressive Artists Group) and Himmat Shah (of the 1890 group).

Himmar Shah Terracota

I would call this lot a dream investment. In five years one will probably sell each of the terracota works for the same price as the entire lot today. Himmat Shah terracota works are rare and normally I personally would salivate at the opportunity of acquiring this lot –  I already have a very nice bronze but more importantly I also have two children four and five years old whose average time to destroy toys is around a half-hour – this is not for me. But  for anyone else with more mature adults at home or a stable environment – this would be a highly recommended acquisition.

Ending this post with a small note – I would hope that K G Subramanyan would be given his due importance in the next auctions whether in India or abroad.

Indrajit Chatterjee

Disclaimer: I do believe I know three of the consignors (of the four lots above) – though the work may have changed hands since then

Image Credit: Images are credited to the respective artists and are used here for representative purposes only,  1 ,  Paintings of Gaganendranath Tagore by R Siva Kumar

Leave a Reply