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Husain takes a back seat at art auctions

By Surajeet Dasgupta in New Delhi
October 09, 2004 09:47 IST
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MF Husain may be synonymous with contemporary Indian art, surprisingly, his works are not the ones that fetch the highest bids at art auctions.

According to the Osian 51-Art Index, Tyeb Mehta's works are the most sought after. Since 1987, when the first art auctions took place, his canvases have sold for an average Rs 16.64 lakh (Rs 1.7 million). Mehta is followed by Raja Ravi Varma, whose works have been changing hands for an average Rs 15.28 lakh (Rs 1.5 million).

It's M F Husain @ Rs 100 crore

Other highly coveted works include those of R Chughtai {Rs 10.37 lakh Rs 1 million)}, Ustad Allah Buksh (Rs 811,000) and Hemandranath Mazumdar (Rs 793,000).

Husain is only sixth on the list, with his canvases netting an average of Rs 718,000. He is followed by VS Gaitonde, Rameshwar Broota, NS Bendre and Akbar Padamse.

According to auction house Osian, which has made public prices of modern and contemporary Indian art for the first time, the highest price ever paid for an Indian painting is Rs 1.53 crore (Rs 15 .3 million) for a Tyeb Mehta canvas.

Next in line is Francis Newton Souza. One of his paintings went under the gavel for Rs 68.95 lakh (Rs 6.9 million). The other top names include Raja Ravi Varma -- one of his paintings fetched Rs 54.87 lakh (Rs 5.5 million).

The highest a Husain has fetched at a public auction is Rs 52.16 lakh (Rs 5.2 million). (However, industry experts say Husain's paintings have breached the Rs 1 crore mark in private deals not reported in the auction data).

Others like Gaitonde have commanded prices of Rs 46.64 lakh (Rs 4.7 million) for a single work. The highest a Chughtai painting has sold for is Rs 24.04 lakh (Rs 2.4 million).

But in terms of sheer output, there's no denying that Husain is far ahead of his contemporaries (this is also one of the reasons why his average price is lower than many others).

Husain's works constituted nearly 21 per cent of the total value of transactions of paintings in auctions between 1987 and 2004, compared to Mehta's 6.24 per cent and Chughtai's 6.04 per cent.

Husain and Souza are the two artists whose works are both highly saleable and which frequently come up at auctions. Between January and August 2004, 45 per cent of the money at art auctions was spent on paintings by them.

The index has been compiled from sales of paintings around the world at auctions conducted by it as well as Bowrings, Bonhams, Christie's, HEART, Saffronart.com and Sotheby's between December 1987 and August 2004. It also includes details of gallery sales and charity auctions.
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Surajeet Dasgupta in New Delhi
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