Under the Hammer
Every summer, London’s leading auction houses go into high-octane auction mode with a series of sales to electrify collectors and art lovers. On June 7, a large number Pakistani masters came under the hammer at the sale of Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art at Bonhams of London, one of the world’s largest auctioneers of fine arts and antiques. The number of Pakistani artworks at the Bonhams auction exceeded those at world-renowned fine art auctioneers Sotheby’s, whose Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art, including Indian Miniature Paintings’s auction was on June 8, as well as Christie’s South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art auction that followed on June 11.
Bonham’s received several above-estimates for the Pakistani collection; the top price sales were Ismail Gulgee’s ‘Buzkashi’ at £61,250, Sadequain’s ‘Figure in a Landscape’ at £43,250, Jamil Naqsh’s ‘Untitled’ at £43,250, Sadequain’s ‘Untitled (Girl with Mirror)’ at £37,250 and A.R. Chughtai’s ‘Girl with Instrument’ at £33,650. By Lot, Bonhams sold 74% and by value they sold 94% of the Pakistani section. Also on sale were two works by long-forgotten Pakistani artist Anwar Jalal Shemza, who lived, worked and received acclaim in London in the ’60s. His oeuvre was well represented by two works that both sold well above the estimates (Shemza is currently on display at Tate Britain at a show called Migrations). Bonhams also featured Ahmed Parvez, Anwar Saeed and contemporary artists Khadim Ali and Faiza Butt. While Gulgee’s ‘Buzkushi’ received massive acclaim, a unique pen and ink piece called ‘Polo Players,’ was one of the most expensive Gulgee paper drawings to come under the hammer.
But while connoisseurs talk passionately about art and auctions, auctioneers know that reputed provenance is the key to a good sale. Bonhams purchased Chughtais from the private collection of Sheikh Asad Rahman, the son of Justice S.A. Rahman, that were gifted to him by the artist. Some of the artwork was sourced from the private collections of British and American collectors, who acquired them directly from the artist on visits to Pakistan. A unique Gulgee was obtained from the Noon family and two fantastic oils by Ustad Allah Bux from the collection of Mazhar Hayat Noon.
While almost half of Bonhams Lots were Pakistani, big Indian names also featured prominently: M.F. Hussain, India’s equivalent of Picasso, whose ‘The Blue Lady,’ sold for £97,250, Francis Newton Souza, Jamini Roy, as well as India’s foremost modern artist Jehangir Sabavala, whose important work ‘Vespers I’ was the highlight of the Bonhams’ sale. While the work was estimated to sell for £100,000-£150,000, it came under the hammer for a phenomenal £253,650. In 2007, Pakistani veteran Abdur Rahman Chughtai’s ‘Maiden Contemplating Moths at a Flame’ sold for USD 264,000 at Bonhams.
Christie’s focused more on the great modernists of Indian art – M.F. Hussain, Syed Haider Raza and Tyeb Mehta, whose ‘Untitled (Mahishahsura)’ was estimated at £1,800,00 at the high end. Pakistanis at Christie’s, this June, included Sadequain, Chughtai, Gulgee, Shemza, as well as Tassaduq Sohail. Leading contemporary Pakistani artist Rashid Rana was featured with ‘Veil III’ as were the works of neo-miniaturist, Aisha Khalid.
And at Sotheby’s this June, Francis Newton Souza’s ‘Goan Landscape’ sold for £68, 450 and out of three stunning nudes by Jamil Naqsh, one sold for £12, 500.
This article was originally published in the July issue under the headline “Under the Hammer.”
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