Under the Hammer: Auction Houses
PHOTOS COURTESY: CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2011, SOTHEBY’S, SAFFRONART
If you are a connoisseur of rare, exclusive, and timeless masterpieces of art and an ardent art patron, we give you the lowdown on the high stake bids that have gone under the hammer at the most promising auction houses in 2011.
Last year was good for auction houses. Several valuable and highly prized items went under the hammer and were sold for record amounts. Masterpieces were auctioned in all categories, right from modern art to photography, and jewellery. Despite the international interest in contemporary and modern art, works by old masters auctioned well. The works of renowned artists such as Picasso and Andy Warhol went under the hammer with items of historic prominence and outstanding quality. The Indian auction scene crossed milestones, with Indian artists auctioning at high values, internationally and in the domestic market. Here we pick some of the biggest auction houses in the world to see some of the most prominent works of art that set records last year.
The Christie’s Top Ten for 2011 features two renowned pop art masters, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, on top. Says Menaka Kumari Shah, Director and Country Head — India, Christie’s, “Lichtenstein’s iconic pop artwork, I Can See the Whole Room!...and There's Nobody in it! (1961) sold for a record $43.2 million. Warhol’s four-panelled self-portrait (1963-64) sold for $38.4 million. Another of Warhol’s self-portraits (1986) sold for $27.2 million.” Other contemporary artworks also sold for significant amounts. “Two works by Francis Bacon feature in our 2011 Top Ten. Study for a Portrait (1953) sold for £17.9 million, and Three Studies for Self-Portrait (1974) sold for $25.2 million,” reveals Menaka. Works by old masters were snapped up as well. Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, with a Trainer, a Stable-Lad, and a Jockey painted oil on canvas by old master George Stubbs, A.R.A (172401806), sold for £22.4 million. Indian artists too had a good year. “These are all considered masterpieces in their own right, for reasons such as provenance, quality and rarity,” says Menaka. Tyeb Mehta’s Untitled (Figure on Rickshaw) sold for $3.2 million, creasing a world auction record for the artist. Sold at the same auction were Atul Dodiya’s Father, Jitish Kallat’s Untitled (Eclipse) 3, FN Souza’s Untitled (French Doors) and Jehangir Sabavala’s Whispered Intimations.
2011 was a stellar year for Sotheby’s, with several prominent and rare pieces auctioned at record prices. Says Maithili Parekh, Director, Sotheby’s, “We sold a highly exquisite rare and royal emerald and diamond tiara composed of 11 exceptional Colombian emeralds in pearshaped drops, weighing over 500 carats totally. The piece sold for $12.7 million, the highest price ever achieved for a tiara at an auction. The Sun-Drop Diamond, at 110.03 carats, has been graded Fancy Vivid Yellow, the highest colour grading for a yellow diamond, by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). This exceptional stone ranks as the largest known pear-shaped fancy vivid yellow diamond in the world. The diamond went under the hammer for $12.3 million.” On the Indian art front, “The biggest highlight was one of the seminal works by Indian modern master, Akbar Padamsee, Untitled (Reclining Nude) from 1960, which fetched a record for the artist when it sold for $1.4 million,” says Maithili. There were records notched up in other categories too. In Hong Kong, the two-day April wine sale of The Ultimate Cellar brought a total of $12.4 million, the second-highest at any Sotheby’s wine sale.
For Saffronart, a global art auction company with deep Indian roots, last year was significant. "We are now conducting online auctions on Saffronart.com once or twice each month, for Indian and Western art, jewellery, watches and collectibles," shares Nish Bhutani, COO, Saffronart. The spring auction notched up a total value of `13.7 crore with prominent artworks of several Indian greats going under the hammer. "The spring auction saw the sale of SH Raza's Tanava for `1.85 crores and FN Souza's The King for Rs. 96.14 lakh," reveals Nish. Two famed works by Tyeb Mehta were the highlights of the summer and autumn auctions. The total value of the autumn auction touched Rs.18.8 crore, the highest for any of the 2011 auctions by Saffronart. The highest selling lot was Tyeb Mehta's Untitled, rendered in oil on canvas, which sold for a whopping Rs. 7.19 crore. Several prominent modern masters broke the coveted Rs. 1 crore price point, reflecting that the Indian auction buyer is increasingly willing to put money on the table for highgrade works of top quality. Apart from Tyeb Mehta, G Ravinder Reddy and Manjit Bawa both sold for over Rs. 1 crore at the summer auction. MF Hussain, FN Souza and SH Raza all crossed the Rs. 1 crore barrier at the winter auction.
Several interesting articles went under the hammer in 2011, courtesy Bonhams. Rock star Eric Clapton raised $2.15 million with the sale of 75 guitars and 55 amplifiers in New York at an auction organised by Bonhams. All proceeds.more than triple the presale expectations.went to charity. An interesting icon of the days of Indian royalty was sold by Bonhams in August last year. The article was a blazing red Rolls-Royce, owned by the erstwhile Maharaja of Kota, Umed Singh II. Referred to as the 'Tiger Car', the vehicle was customised to help the Maharaja on his huntingm excursions. The only remaining copy of Charlie Chaplin's film Zepped went under the hammer at Bonham's sale of Entertainment Memorabilia. The seven-minute film features some of the earliest animation in film history.
Phillips de Pury & Company
Among the highlights for Phillips de Pury & Company was the sale of several prominent examples of the Pop Art movement. Andy Warhol’s Liz #5—inspired by Elizabeth Taylor and a magnificent testament to Warhol’s fascination with celebrities and the media—was auctioned just two months after the Hollywood icon’s death,throwing collectors into a tizzy. Other Warhol works auctioned through the course of the year include Flowers (1964), a reflection of a society in transition, and Mao (Mao 10), a portrait of the Chinese leader. The iconic ‘Beatles Portfolio’ photograph by Richard Avadon, originally published on the cover of Look magazine in 1968, was auctioned as well. This piece of memorabilia represents the psychedelic vibrancy of the times. Indian art was represented by the auction of Subodh Gupta’s Feast for Hundred and Eight Gods (2005). This installation piece represents universal issues of identity and home.
Tips For Buying at an Auction
- Educate yourself by visiting exhibitions, both commercial and cultural. “The websites of auction houses and art critics can be useful guides for art education and will help you identify artists with established reputations,” says Nish from Saffronart.
- Help is always at hand. Maithili, from Sotheby's, says, “Auction house professionals are always present to answer questions about the work. I encourage new buyers to use this resource. Additionally, the catalogue note accompanying the object to be sold at the auction is often very informative and shares the history of ownership, or provenance of the work. A collector must also check the condition report provided by the auction house, outlining the condition of the work, mentioning even small tears and chipping of colour.”
- As a first-timer, you must purchase from a credible auction house or gallery. “Reputed auction houses have verified the work’s provenance (i.e. trail of ownership), authenticity and compiled a detailed condition report. “Start with something that attracts you or challenges you, even if it’s something small; and having asked a few questions about the artist, the artwork, and how the auction works, take the plunge,” signs off Nish.
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