Christie’s make India auction debut with a Kekoo Gandhy collection in Mumbai

 India-Art/Business

 

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Madhusree Chatterjee
London

After years of previewing modern Indian art in the run-ups to international sales in global hotspots like New York, London and southeast Asia, leading British auction house will make its auction debut in India at the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai Thursday (December 19) with a grand sale of modern Indian art sourced from private collections much to the delight of the Indian and Asian art markets that have been growing steadily over the decade despite the economic meltdown and the sharp price corrections. 

The auction is the culmination of a long-standing demand by Indian and Asian collectors gallerists and institutions to host sales of Indian art in the country — providing easy access to new segment of buyers.    

In India, the art market is estimated to be approximately a little over 400 million USD annually according to recent trade estimates while it is twice the volume in China (in US dollars).       

Christie’s on Thursday (November 14) said in London that works from the personal collection of the late Kekoo and Khorshed Gandhy, Mumbai-based gallerists and among the most significant figures in the development of India’s modern art scene, will be the centerpiece of Christie’s first auction in India.

Their collection includes modern vintages by the likes of V.S. Gaitonde, Ram Kumar, S. H. Raza, Tyeb Mehta, M.F. Husain and Jamini Roy. The auction will begin with a preview exhibition at The Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi from December 7-9.

Commenting on the auction, Hugo Weihe, International Director of Asian Art at Christie’s said: “Together Kekoo and Khorshed Gandhy, initially through their framing business and later on at Gallery Chemould, prepared the framework for young artists to thrive. The value of their support and patronage to this group is reflected among the works of art in their collection – from the Husain family portrait, the view by Ram Kumar of the hills near their holiday home to the early Gaitonde landscape shown above. Each is a tribute to friendships made and the central role that they played in shaping the modern Indian art scene.”

Weihe said he would “never forget Kekoo’s vivid eye and the deep sense of humanity that he exuded, his passion for art and his openness”.

“It is hard to imagine the careers of the great names of modern art without the encouragement of the Gandhy’s and it is a measure of their vision in the early 1960s that their gallery, under the stewardship of their daughter, continues to show contemporary art today,” Weihe added.

The collectors,  Kekoo and Khorshed Gandhy, were the owners of one of the Mumbai’s oldest and the most prestigious art houses, Gallery Chemould (now known as Gallery Chemould-Prescott).  Kekoo Gandhy (1920-2012) ran a highly successful frame company, Chemould, with his Belgian business partner from premises in Princess Street, Mumbai.

Alongside the core business he used his business space to promote the works of emerging artists of the modern and progressive art movement in the city that flourished within a years after the Independence of the country. Led by the early pioneers of Indian contemporary art like V.S. Gaitonde, Ambadas Gade, K.H. Ara, F.N Souza, S.H. Raza, Ram Kumar, Krishen Khanna and M.F. Husain, the movement sought to free Indian art from the influence of European content and impressionistic styles.        

His passion for art became the main focus of his life from the late 1940s and a second shop selling frames and showcasing new art was opened in Calcutta in 1950.

In 1963, together with his wife, Khorshed, the Gallery Chemould was opened inside the Jehangir Art Gallery in south Bombay, where it is still holding exhibitions for emerging Indian artists. This marked a turning point for Kekoo as he was able to leave the running of the manufacturing business to his brother and focus on his passion – bringing people together to talk about art.

From the late 1940s Kekoo organised the Bombay Art Society Salon exhibition, held monthly, often at the Taj Mahal Palace, where Christie’s will host its first Indian art auction in India.

At the same time, Kekoo became a key advisor to the new government in India on the development of the arts. He organized the third All India Art Conference held in Bombay Town Hall in June 1948 and began writing a regular art newsletter.

Kekoo’s legacy is threefold: He established a gallery for modern artists in Bombay, spread the word about their work around India and was among the pioneers who took the best art from India to the world by organising two international travelling exhibitions and gallery shows in Europe. Many of the works were hung in the spectacular ancestral home of the Gandhy’s, where Kekoo died.

It was known as Kekee Manzil, a nickname given to him by his grandfather who built the grand villa in 1921. For many years, the mansion, located in Bandra overlooking the sea, was the gathering place for many of the modern artists represented by the Gallery.

The works of art at the Kekee mansion to feature in the auction have personal stories of enduring unique friendships or mutual admiration between the collector and the artists.

The first lot in the sale is an early landscape by Vasudeo S. Gaitonde (1924-2001) painted shortly after he left the School of Art in Bombay in 1949. Christie’s describes it as a testament to the Gandhy’s early support of modern Indian art. The Untitled (Landscape) is estimated at INR 8,00,000-12,00,000 (Lot 1 – US$13,000-19,400)

Ram Kumar (born in 1924) was introduced to Khorshed and Kekoo Gandhy by M.F. Husain and exhibited with Gallery Chemould in Bombay and Delhi through the 1960s and 1970s. The New Delhi-based artist  visited Benares for the first time in 1960 with M.F. Husain to sketch the famed holy city on the banks of the Ganges river.

 An oil painting in sale from the 1960s, “Benaras”, shows a tightly packed mass of architectural forms, etched out of the impasto background by Kumar’s bold lines, hugging a river bank. Like the austere sky above, these uninhabited structures and the river are grey and unwelcoming. It is estimated at INR 35,00,000-45,00,000  (US$57,000-72,900).

Syed Haider Raza (born in 1922) was a great personal friend of the Gandhy’s and was a regular visitor from his home in Paris. He once came for six months and set up a studio at Kekee Manzil. On one of his visits,  Raza and his wife Janine visited the Gandhy’s family home in Matheran, a hill station from 90 km Mumbai. The canvas, suitably entitled Matheran and dated 1976, was inspired by the visit.

Drenched in the characteristic red hues thrown up by the soil there, the landscape was a great inspiration for Raza and this work is included with an estimate of INR 1,00,00,000-1,50,00,000 (Lot 9 – US$162,000-243,000). 

 At the bottom of the staircase at Kekee Manzil is a striking composition of a “Falling Figure” by Tyeb Mehta (1925-2009). This subject, often revisited by Mehta, was born out of a traumatic memory from childhood when he witnessed the violent death of a man in the street during the Partition riots of 1947. Painted in 1991, this painting exhibits Mehta’s mastery of composition and economy of line and colour. The acrylic on canvas is estimated at INR 3,00,00,000-5,00,00,000 (Lot 10 – US$486,000-810,000).

Jamini Roy (1887-1972) is his Untitled (Head of a Woman), a gouache on card portrait shows Roy’s ability to strip away the superfluous and make the elegance of his composition and intense concentration on colour, the focus. It is this style of painting for which he is best known, a revolutionary re-interpretation of traditional South Asian iconography through clean, crisp, modernist lines. The work is estimated at INR 2,00,000-3,00,000  (US$8,000-11,300). An intimate Untitled (Family Portrait) of the Gandhy’s by M.F. Husain (1913-2011) might not the most valuable piece by the artist in the collection, but it is certainly the most personal. He portrays the family – Kekoo and Khorshed Gandhy with their four children– Rashna, Adil, Behroze and Shireen with Adil sitting on a horse – a playful inclusion of the animal that was so integral and iconic within his oeuvre. The oil, painted in 1967, is valued at INR25,00,000-35,00,000 (US$40,500-57,000).

The collection has works by Ganesh Pyne, Pilloo Pochkhanawala, Nalini Malani, Nasreen Mohamedi, Anju Dodiya and Arpita Singh as well.

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