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Landmark canvas by artist Manjit Bawa fetches $2.3 million at Sotheby’s auction

The auction brought in $9.9 million in total sales, almost double the pre-sale estimate

Landmark canvas by artist Manjit Bawa fetches $2.3 million at Sotheby’s auction
[Source photo: Sotheby's]

Indian artist Manjit Bawa’s untitled work depicting the Hindu deity Shiva was sold for a whopping $2.3 million at Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art auction in London on Tuesday. 

The auction, offering rare artworks from the South Asian region spanning the 20th and 21st centuries, brought in $9.9 million in total sales, almost double the pre-sale estimate, with over 88% of the lots offered surpassing their upper cap. 

All but one of the 77 lots offered in the auction found a buyer.

Paintings, prints, and sculptures from across India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka were on view during the auction and the sale was led by two rare artworks by Manjit Bawa and Bhupen Khakhar, neither of which have ever been offered at auction previously, according to Sotheby’s. 

Manjit Bawa was born in Dhuri, Punjab in 1941 and studied serigraphy at the London School of Printing, Essex and worked in London as a printmaker from 1967 to 1971. He returned to India and created his own figural form, distinct from the work of other artists. He died in Delhi in December 2008 and left behind a prolific legacy of artwork.   

Bawa is known for his dedication to experimentation and practice in art, along with his skills as a painter and his draftsmanship. These qualities rank him among the greatest masters of South Asian art, said Sotheby’s. 

The untitled artwork, painted in 1995, was acquired from a private collection in Mumbai and portrays Lord Shiva as Dakshinamurti, which is an aspect of the god as a teacher of yoga, music, and wisdom. 

[Photo source: Sotheby’s]

The artwork illustrates Shiva in a sitting posture and stays true to Bawa’s anatomical language of weightless and free-form depictions of figures. 

Bawa’s oeuvre delves into the themes of harmonious coexistence between humans and animals. In this particular artwork, a slender snake gently entwines itself around Shiva’s arm, imbuing the scene with a sense of companionship rather than the usual intense energy the serpent typically symbolizes. 

“Bawa’s painted world hosted a vast procession of forms; his goal as an artist was to capture the play of forms, not for any emotional or intellectual purpose, but simply for its own sake,” said Susan S. Bean, board chair of the Art & Archaeology Center of the American Institute of Indian Studies. 

Bhupen Khakhar’s artwork fetches $1.8 million

[Photo source: Sotheby’s]

Another rare artwork by the Indian artist Bhupen Khakhar, titled People at Mosque was sold for $1.8 million and features the quintessential neo-miniaturist details that came to define Khakhar’s artistic charm. The artwork, painted in 1967, follows Khakhar’s early days as an artist and marks the beginning of his artistic forays in collage art, according to Sotheby’s.

This vibrant composition is characterized by its vivid color palette and the absence of depth in its perspective, appearing two-dimensional. In the foreground, we find 23 standing figures set against a riverside backdrop, anchored by the mosque’s courtyard, domes, and archways. 

In many respects, it can be seen as a contemporary take on traditional Indian miniature art, drawing from the meticulously detailed works perfected by highly skilled courtly masters.

Khakhar intentionally leaves the geographical context of the scene ambiguous, alluding to various locations and monuments that share the same architectural style. 

Khakhar was a part of the prominent Baroda Group that called upon artists with an experimental background.  Born in Bombay in 1934, Khakhar was a self-trained artist whose work centered around the representation of the human figure within a local context. A recipient of the Indian government’s Padma Shri award, among other accolades, he passed away in 2003. 

[Photo source: Sotheby’s]

The auction observed another record for the revered artist Rabindranath Tagore, as one of his untitled masterworks from his late period, painted just a few years before his death, fetched $772,382. 

By portraying musicians alongside their instruments, Rabindranath merged his creative endeavors of poetry, painting, and composition into a single image like the true polymath he was. 


Shireen Khan is a Senior Correspondent at Press Insider. She covers lifestyle, culture, and health. More

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