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Saffronart's Bouquet of Masterpieces

From Francis Newton Souza's poignant still life to Tyeb Mehta's iconic Kali, further on to Rina Banerjee's voracious expression of political will through colour – Saffronart's 200th auction is testimony to the grand evolution in Indian art, writes Uma Nair.

Saffronart's upcoming Summer Online Auction June 13-14, 2018, marks an important milestone for India's leading auction house. With its 200th auction, Saffronart consolidates eighteen years of expertise and leadership in pioneering art sales in India and abroad. To celebrate this momentous occasion, the auction house presents 150 exceptional works of modern and contemporary Indian art.
The artists represented span the evolution of the Indian art scene from the pre-Independence period to the present day, illustrating over a hundred years of art history. Each work epitomises the achievements of these artists, and has been chosen bearing in mind its provenance and historical contribution to Indian art.
Tyeb's Kali
Top of the lots is Tyeb Mehta's Kali. Mehta's iconic and monumental Kali, was once part of the art collection of the eminent and influential theatre director, Ebrahim Alkazi. Over his entire artistic career, Mehta painted only three standing Kali figures between 1988 and 1989 – of which the Kali on offer is the largest, at 67 x 54 inches – with only a few smaller format Kali heads in later years. The monumental artwork has been estimated at USD 3-4 million (INR-18.9-25.2 crore).
Souza
Lot 1 is an irresistible Eucharist ensemble by the brilliant artist and founder of the Progressives and writer, Francis Newton Souza. The elements at the Eucharist table become a poignant still life. Souza's unrestrained and graphic style created thought-provoking and powerful images. His repertoire of subjects covered still life, landscape, nudes and icons of Christianity, rendered boldly in a frenzied distortion of form. Souza's paintings expressed defiance and impatience with convention and with the banality of everyday life. Souza's works have reflected the influence of various schools of art: the folk art of his native Goa, the full-blooded paintings of the Renaissance, the religious fervour of the Catholic Church, the landscapes of 18th and 19th century Europe, and the path-breaking paintings of the moderns.
Raza's Paysage Provencal
S.H. Raza's dreamy landscape created in 1951 at Lot 71 is a masterpiece in its historicity. Paysage Provencal is a village-scape, seen from an aerial perspective, its like a pastoral in shades of ochre – Raza places the houses across the surface of the canvas. Raza translates lithe architectural forms through the use of key signposts; as he connotes gabled roofing, soaring slender connote chimneys, and alternating fields of colour to suggest walls. Consequently, the village is conveyed to its viewer in temporal increments. It requires its viewers to stand before it, to let the colours flicker across the canvas and the shapes to collide and intersect, until the provincial scene reveals itself as the subject.
Stunning Swaminathan
Lot 18 is a stunning Swaminathan. The guru of the abstract movement in the North, this ochre-toned work is a part of his historic Bird Mountain and Tree series. Jagdish Swaminathan was a writer, painter, and political activist, who rejected the notion of "modernism". The present lot is one from his Bird Mountain and Tree series, which occupied him for almost two decades. The subjects and objects he chooses are placed into a composition which he defines spatially with a horizon line and variations in shades of yellow. A bird, seated on an oval shaped tree, surrounded by mountains is accompanied by an oval orange sun. In Swaminathan's words, "The objects in themselves have relevance only as agents and not as themselves... Thus, the work becomes concrete and abstract at the same time," (J Swaminathan, "The Traditional Numen and Contemporary Art," Lalit Kala Contemporary, No. 29, New Delhi: Lalit Kala Akademi, April 1980, p. 11). In the placement of these objects, Swaminathan plays with notions of reflection and shadow, thereby raising questions about existence and perception
Subramanyan
Lot 27 is an evocative multidivisional work by K.G. Subramanyan. He peopled his works with familiar deities, their vehicles, and mythical creatures but they come alive in the most unfamiliar and unorthodox situations and circumstances. Thus, a multi-armed deity could sit on a chair, goats talk to each other. He embraces all styles, Western as well as the Kalighat pat style.
Just like India's folk art, there is a strong decorative element in all of Subramanyan's compositions but its not for mere embellishment. His characters lend an ironic edge to his works just in the same way that the deities and fantastic creatures do when they make an appearance in the otherwise realistic situations, blurring the line between the real and the surreal.
As he said: "...they strike heroic poses and break into loud dialogue and action, between these village boys and the mythical stereotypes a new reality is born. Mixing the normal with the hieratic, the worldly with the unworldly..."
Krishen Khanna
Lot 46 is Krishen Khanna's portrait of a bandwallah from his epic series. Khanna wanted to put the spotlight on individuals who often belonged to society and contributed in small humble ways and the bandwallah was one entity. Bordering on the narrative, Khanna's work captures moments in history, much like photographs do, but the artist's technique is far from photo-realist. Khanna transfers his observations onto the canvas with spontaneity and exuberance, keeping the representational elements of his subject matter intact. The artist's use of colour and his expressionist brushwork make the mundane rise to the challenge of the creative.
Gaitonde
Lot 107 is Gaitonde's 1965 work. He called his work "non-objective" and believed that "there is no such thing as abstract art." Gaitonde's paintings, evocative of subliminal depths, are known for their spiritual quality and characteristic silence that is as meditative as it is eternal and momentous. The plain, large surfaces of layered paint possess an inherent quality of light making the work look more like a painted prayer.
Rina Banerjee
Rina Banerjee's Lot 149, Tamarind Dreams-Tamarind Girls and boys will play -1, is delightful. Rina has always created works and titles that celebrate allegories of literature and art. The artist takes on the role of a narrator and leads us through a world of stories and forms, in this case the tamarind, where memory and narrative of the exotic creates an unreal yet warped reality – a world perhaps not unlike our own. The artist has, in earlier works, expressed a sincere political concern. Beneath the playful colours and flowing, organic forms are profound critiques of modern globalisation.
As an artist split between two worlds, Rina Banerjee questions both Anglo-Saxon and Indian ways of life. The superficial way, in which the western world regards foreign cultures and reduces them to shallow theme worlds, is a statement that can be read in many of the works. The stretching of identities in the modern culture – assimilating world mirrors the extending and yearning forms the artist uses in her pieces. "Identity politics are redirected in the post-colonial time," says Rina whose works are open to many interpretations. The tension and complexity between diversities is, however, a running thread through her pieces and this work is an ethos of that reality.
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