An image by one of India's foremost modern artists Jehangir Sabavala led a strong selection of works by major South Asian artists at Bonhams annual summer sale of Modern and Contemporary South Asian art on 7 June in New Bond Street, London. Sold at £253,650, the artwork set new world records for South Asian contemporary art sale. The artwork was originally estimated at £100,000-150,000.
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 oeuvre. It was first exhibited at the Jehangir Art Gallery, Bombay, and then at his solo exhibition at the Commonwealth Institute, London.
"Sabavala had a lifelong fascination with monastic life, and the figures of the monk and the hermit are central to his work. Indeed, he often compared his long, solitary and disciplined hours of work in the studio with a monk's routine of study, prayer, retreat and meditation," says Ranjit Hoskote, an independent curator who was responsible for the Indian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2011.
The sale included works by well-known Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan artists such as M F Husain, Jamini Roy, B Prabha, Sadequain, Jamil Naqsh and A R Chughtai and Gulgee sourced from private collections in Europe and the US.
"We are delighted with this result for Sabavala. It is about time this artist achieved commercial success in the art market to mirror his artistic reputation," Mehreeen Rizvi, Head of Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art at Bonhams commenting after the sale, said.
The second highest price achieved in the sale was a work by M F Husain titled The Blue Lady which made £97,250 against a pre-sale estimate of £70,000-90,000. It was from the private UK collection of John Hay, having been presented to Hay's mother Elizabeth Partridge by her sister as a wedding present in India.
Having seen how beautiful Husain's paintings were, Hay's aunt resolved to purchase one of them as a wedding present for her much-loved sister. The gallery owner told her that Husain called the work The Blue Lady and that is forever how it was known within the family.
The auction also presented the largest group of works by Pakistani masters to ever come under the hammer at an international auction. Gulgee's 1965 work titled Buzkashi (£15,000-25,000), which depicts Afghanistan's national sport, was one of the highlights of this section, more than doubling its upper estimate to make £61,250. Although better known for his calligraphic compositions, during the 1950s and 60's Gulgee were the national portrait painter of Pakistan and was commissioned to paint the portraits of many figures of the Islamic world, including the Saudi Royal family.