Bid & Hammer returns after five years with online auction, to lead with Husain’s horses


NEW DELHI, Nov 7:Horses have been a recurrent motif in Maqbool Fida Husain’s expansive oeuvre, sometimes representing power and passion and other times symbolising vitality and self-renewal.

Not surprising then that one of Husain’s iconic horse paintings—a couple of white horses on grey canvas – created in 1977 leads Bangalore-based auction house Bid and Hammer’s comeback sale after five years.

The ‘Traditional, Modern and Contemporary Indian Art’ online auction, which also features works by Francis Newton Souza, Ram Kumar, Bharat Thakur and a series of Tanjore paintings among many others, is being held on Thursday and Friday.

Acquired from the collection of a family in Hyderabad, Husain’s acrylic on canvas work is rare in its use of the thick impasto (a layered painting technique).

“It was created in 1977, when he was at the peak of his prowess. Thick impasto is a very rare occurrence in Husain’s work…it is not that easily available,” Bid & Hammer director Ankush Dadha told PTI.

With the majestic horses’ heads thrown back and mouths open in a silent neigh, the painting emanates a sense of absolute power.

It is estimated at Rs 1-1.5 crore, which Dadha said was “kind of reasonable” for a Husain.

Bid & Hammer’s last auction, ‘Significant Indian Art’ sale in 2014, got mired in controversy following allegations of counterfeits in the collection.

“Competitors tried creating that controversy and we took them to task…we took them to court and we have won several of the cases. Some are pending, and on the verge of finishing,” Dadha said.

The auction house also took this break to launch the B&H shop—their online store for affordable art and collectibles, developing their mobile application, and focusing on private treaty sales, that is, helping transact art that didn’t work in auctions between sellers and buyers without being in the public glare.

The sale also boasts of Souza’s rare ink and charcoal works. The untitled portraits of a lady and a gentleman were created in the 1950s, the sketches for which feature in the artist’s book “Words & Lines” published in 1959.

“The medium by itself is rare,” Dadha said, adding that the works were acquired by the collector from Souza at the behest of Husain.

Souza’s jute illustrations are estimated at Rs 20-40 lakh.

Another member of the Bombay Progressive Movement featuring in the sale is Ram Kumar. A 2006 cityscape from Kumar’s Varanasi series is striking in its colour scheme of magnificent greens and blues that make up the horizon, below which in muddy white is the urban architecture.

“This work is comparable to what he did in the 60s and 70s. Sometimes when you age you go back and rediscover your basics. It’s like a flash… it happens to everyone in their lives,” Dadha said.

The work is expected to fetch Rs 30-50 lakh.

A close observation of the collection reveals the strong presence of religious figures.

There’s an oil-on-board portrait of Portuguese Saint Gonsalo Garcia, attributed to Raja Ravi Varma. Believed to be one of the first saints in India, he lived in the 1700s and was of half Konkan descent from his mother’s side, which is why he is revered by Malayali Christians.

“The work is unsigned, so in all probability it was done by Ravi Varma, so we have attributed it to him. That is why the price points are much lesser that what Ravi Varma would be for these days,” Dadha said.

There is also a series of Tanjore paintings featuring Hindu gods Ganesha, Shiva, and Hanuman, as well as paintings of goddesses Durga and Kali among others.

A Company School painting, a school of art that flourished with the advent of the British in India, depicting a street scene at the time, also captures the spirit of secularism.

To the side is what is ostensibly a church, implying a strong Christian presence. Also seen is a Brahmin man and a child, as well as a few apparently Muslim youths who approach them with open and friendly expressions, showcasing a confluence of cultures that the Indian society has always upheld.

The watercolour work is estimated at Rs 1.5-2 lakh.

“We realised that (the auction portrayed the secularism in India) while we were putting it together, as the works kept coming in,” Dadha said.

Among the contemporary works that stand out in the collection are two abstract paintings by Bharat Thakur, who has used the medium of acrylic in many layers of washes, to reveal what seems like a face.

The paintings are estimated at Rs 8-10 lakh.

Other artists whose works are featured in the sale include Ramkinkar Baij, Baren Basu, Manjit Bawa, N S Bendre, G R Iranna, S G Vasudev, Rakha Rao, Jamini Roy, Laxman Pai, and K K Hebbar. (PTI)