Glenbarra Art Museum’s Gaitonde work sets new record for Indian art

An untitled 1969 oil on canvas by VS Gaitonde sold for Rs 42 crore on Thursday evening, making it the highest price achieved for a modern or contemporary Indian artwork in the world.

The painting was among 57 lots that went under the hammer at Pundole’s auction house in Mumbai.

The works of other Indian artists – Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee, Arpita Singh, Somnath Hore and Jagdish Swaminathan – have also made records for the artists.

Gaitonde’s bluish painting, reminiscent of large expanses of sky or sea, comes from the collection of Masanori Fukuoka, a Japanese businessman specializing in fish processing. Fukuoka established the Glenbarra Art Museum in Himeji, Japan in 1991 with works by 60 Indian artists.

The extensive collection includes significant works by artists such as Gaitonde, Tyeb Mehta, KK Hebbar, MF Husain, Jogen Chowdhury, Ganesh Pyne and Arpita Singh. The auction catalog pays tribute to the collector, including many images of Fukuoka with the artists and works of art he collected.

The museum regularly alienates (removes and sells) works from its collection. These works, as art critic Ranjit Hoskote notes in the catalog, embody “highlights and turning points” in the artists’ careers. Prior to alienation, Fukuoka is known to carefully consider options by exhibiting works for a period of time to see which ones appeal to him.

Dadiba Pundole, Owner of Pundole’s, said, “The depth of bidding at the sale fulfilled Masanori’s dream of bringing a wide range of Indian artists into the sphere of international prominence and recognition. The sale witnessed an encouraging level of bidding from international institutions which reaffirms a growing interest in Indian art worldwide.

The auction also saw intense bidding for three works by Tyeb Mehta – a sculpture, a drawing and a painting, all themed around a bovine figure. The painting, Mahishasura (1995), is part of the artist’s Mahisha series from the late 1990s. Mehta uses the legendary battle between the goddess Durga and the shape-shifting buffalo demon Mahishasura as a starting point to create a remarkable work for simultaneously transmit the fight and the embrace. Now among India’s finest artworks, Mahishasura sold for Rs 32 crore, breaking the artist’s previous record of Kali (1989) in 2018.

Jagdish Swaminathan doubled his record with the triptych, titled “The Altar”, from 1988, which sold for Rs 22 crore. A bronze sculpture by Somnath Hore, ‘Wild Boar’, sold for Rs 1.6 crore, and a painting by Arpita Singh, ‘My Lily Pond’ (2009), sold for Rs 9 crore setting records for both artists .

Previously, in 2020, a similar auction of works from the Glenbarra collection at Pundole set a record for Gaitonde. An untitled work from 1974 sold for Rs 32 crore, then the best-selling Indian artwork in the world.

Gaitonde has consistently broken records in recent years. Art consultant Farah Siddiqui Khan said this particular 1969 work is “exceptional” because of its provenance, rarity and early auction market appearance. She said: “Gaitonde’s work has, over a significant period of time, increased in value. But that’s no surprise as he is considered a pioneering modern master. His work was subtle and abstract, which also resonates greatly globally.

She added: “Furthermore, it shows that on a day when the world is in chaos and global markets are in panic, the premium art offerings still have collectors.