Amrita Sher-Gil’s The Story Teller fetched a record ₹61.80 crore, or about $7.44 million, over the weekend at an auction that shattered multiple records.
The oil-on-canvas painting by the Hungarian-Indian, who died at the age of 28 in 1941, claimed the title of the highest-valued piece of Indian art ever sold at an auction, beating Sayed Haider Raza’s Gestation that was sold for ₹51.75 crore just last month.
The Story Teller is a significant piece from a key phase in Sher-Gil’s career, where her European and Indian influences converged into a distinct artistic language.
It is one of the few works that she created en plein air, or outdoors, and held personal importance to Sher-Gil herself, as evident in her correspondence.
The painting captures a scene of women leisurely gathered in an open setting, each engrossed in her own individual pursuits.
Dinesh Vazirani, chief executive officer and co-founder of Saffronart, a prominent auction house that specializes in Indian art, jewellery, collectibles, and prime properties, said the sale was a testament to Sher-Gil’s immense skill and enduring legacy.
“The work is among her most honest and expressive figurative compositions, from a pivotal time in her brief oeuvre, and we are honoured to have played a part in creating a new benchmark for Sher-Gil with this auction,” he said.
The auction featured childhood works by Sher-Gil that hinted at her extraordinary talent and acute power of observation even from a young age.
“Untitled” (lot 16) fetched ₹90 lakh ($108,434), nearly doubling its higher estimate. “Untitled” (lot 14) fetched $86,747, more than twice its higher estimate, while “Untitled” (lot 15) sold for $60,723, surpassing its higher estimate as well.
Artworks by renowned artists such as M.F. Husain, V.S. Gaitonde, Jamini Roy, and F.S. Souza were also showcased in the auction that featured over 70 art pieces.
Born on 30 January 1913 in Budapest to an Indian father and a Hungarian mother, Sher-Gil gained recognition as one of the most exceptional avant-garde women artists for her body of work.
The sale marked a momentous occasion with numerous record-breaking prices and the establishment of several artist records. Remarkably, 97% of the lots found new owners, resulting in a total sales value of INR 143.58 crores (USD 17.29 million).
Other significant highlights from the auction included S. H. Raza’s monumental piece “Earth” from 1986, which achieved a sale price of Rs 19.2 crores (USD 2.31 million).
Additionally, an early Expressionist artwork by Tyeb Mehta from the 1950s, “Red Figure” fetched Rs 9 crores (USD 1.08 million).
A rare creation by Jamini Roy, evoking the essence of Tibetan thangka paintings and titled “Untitled” (lot 5), sold for Rs 1.68 crores (USD 202,410), nearly three times its higher estimate.
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