In 1972, at an auction organised to raise funds for Bangladeshi refugees in Ahmedabad, American-Indian architect and urban planner Christopher Benninger acquired a 1972 Bhupen Khakhar titled Krishna Hotel. Depicting people chatting over tea and snacks at what appears to be a neighbourhood restaurant, the work that hasn’t been in the public since, fetched £1.2 million (Rs 12.7 crores) at a Sotheby’s auction of Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art in London on October 26. This is the third highest price for the artist and six times the pre-auction estimate.
Speaking about the work in a release, Benninger said, “In 1972 I saw this painting as a radical break away from the dull, lifeless, often geometric modernism sweeping the world. This painting was a new start and I wanted to keep that positive energy near to me in my home. I am saying goodbye to this important, iconic piece of art in order to use the proceeds to create a non-profit foundation here that will support art and artists across South Asia. I believe that this particular painting has immense importance as it marks the beginning of Bhupen’s “Tradesmen Series” of paintings, and the point where his greatness as an interpreter of the Indian ethos seen in everyday people in everyday situations begins. It is a landmark piece.”
Another significant sale at the auction was Francis Newton Souza’s 1955 Landscape (Red Building), which sold for £922,500 (Rs 9.5 crores), three times its pre-sale estimate. Bought for $100 in Detroit in the 1980s by a local collector, this work too had not been seen in public in the last 40 years.
The auction comprising more than 100 paintings, drawings and sculptures saw total sales worth Rs 55.9 crores. Speaking about the sale, Ishrat Kanga, Head of Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art at Sotheby’s, London said, “This season’s results reflect the continued strength and health of the South Asian market and follow on from the exceptional results we saw in our most recent New York auction in March. They demonstrate the ever-present demand from collectors to acquire South Asian Art, especially the rare, fresh to the market works that we were able to offer this season. Collectors living in India were especially active, acquiring 70% of the overall value of the auction and showing the truly global reach of Sotheby’s South Asian Art sales, attracting bidders from across Europe, the States, South Asia and East Asia.”