Rare Painting by Tyeb Mehta Bags Top Price at Saffronart’s Summer Auction of Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art

Deepa Shrestha
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Saffronart unveiled its highly anticipated Summer Online Auction of Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art in June of 2023. It presented an impressive catalog of South Asian art, which provided an excellent opportunity for both seasoned collectors and art novices. The contemporary South Asian art canon featured a curated collection of masterpieces from the finest modernist artists from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. The sale also provided insight into the rich cultural heritage and artistic traditions of South Asia. Saffronart’s stellar reputation ensured the artworks’ authentication as investment pieces.

Bulls by Tyeb Mehta (lot #49; sold for $3,600,007). Image courtesy of Saffronart.
Bulls by Tyeb Mehta (lot #49; sold for $3,600,007). Image courtesy of Saffronart.

The lot that achieved the highest sale price was Bulls by Tyeb Mehta (lot #49; sold for USD 3,600,007). It is an acrylic on canvas created between 2005 and 2007. In this extraordinary artwork, Mehta used bold brushstrokes in his iconic style to create powerful imagery. This masterpiece represents Mehta’s exploration of themes like suffering and redemption, capturing the viewer’s attention with its raw intensity. The bull, delineated as trussed and quartered, made its first appearance as a subject in Mehta’s work in 1956. “I wanted to show the violation of man on man but didn’t want to use a literal image […] I felt that if I showed a bull about to be slaughtered, a trussed bull, it would express the fact of man’s immense potential held captive. A bull running is raw energy, and here it was trussed up for slaughter,” explained the artist.

Ram Kumar's Untitled (Two Figures) (lot #30; sold for $600,000). Image courtesy of Saffronart.
Ram Kumar’s Untitled (Two Figures) (lot #30; sold for $600,000). Image courtesy of Saffronart.

Another captivating piece was Ram Kumar’s Untitled (Two Figures), painted in 1960 (lot #30; sold for $600,000). This oil on canvas is signed and dated in Devanagari and was sold with an inscription and authentication stamp from Kumar Gallery. Kumar, a celebrated artist known for his abstract landscapes, skillfully captures the essence of India. Painted in 1960, this depiction of two figures marks the end of Kumar’s early figurative phase of abstraction. These early works are synonymous with his oeuvre. The two figures seem to be retreating slowly and hesitantly into the margins, almost merging with the dark background and shadowy outlines of dilapidated houses, a floated glimpse of city roofs, as explained by Nirmal Verma, the author of a 1996 book about Ram Kumar. The present lot is thus an amalgamation of Kumar’s past works, complete with dour figures, elongated in form and bearing the weight of despair combined with a glimpse of abstract landscapes. 

S H Raza's Bindu, (lot #39, sold for $540,000). Image courtesy of Saffronart.
S H Raza’s Bindu, (lot #39, sold for $540,000). Image courtesy of Saffronart.

S H Raza’s iconic artwork, Bindu (1980), cannot be overlooked in the recent Summer Online Auction (lot #39; sold for $540,000). Raza, considered one of India’s most prominent modern artists, explores the concept of cosmic energy in his works. Bindu is a visually stunning piece characterized by deep blues and bold geometric forms, symbolizing the eternal potential of life’s energy. A painting like this, a lavishly chromatic and ostensibly meditative geometric by Raza, reaffirms his significance as a master of modern Indian art. His mature works are characterized by the symbolic use of geometry and fueled by principles of spirituality.

The Summer Online Auction by Saffronart paid homage to the birth and evolution of Indian modernism. It brought together artworks that reflected the artists’ exploration of identity, socio-political issues, and cultural heritage. They highlighted the artistic mastery of South Asian artists and accentuated their significant contributions to the Indian art movement.

Find additional auction results, including coverage of Kimball Sterling’s recent display canes sale, on Auction Daily.

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Deepa Shrestha
Deepa Shrestha
Senior Writer and Editor

Deepa Shrestha is a writer at Auction Daily whose favorite lots range from murals to postcards. She earned her MBA in entrepreneurship and also has a background in sociology and photography. That includes five years as a photojournalist for Thomson Reuters.

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