The Collection Of William And Mildred Archer at Sotheby’s Indian Art Sale

Collection will be included in the sale of Indian Art at Sotheby’s on Friday May 2 and will offer exceptionally rare works with unrivalled provenance by Rabindranath Tagore, Jamini Roy, George Keyt and Avinash Chandra.

Sotherby’s is delighted to announce that its annual sale of Indian Art in London on Friday, May 2, 2008 will be led by a highly important and discerning group of Modern Indian paintings from the collection of the late William and Mildred Archer, two remarkable scholars who played a key role in bringing Indian Art to the fore and raising its profile on the international stage. The eleven exquisite works on offer are a tribute to the Archers’ long and happy relationship with the Indian subcontinent and their sale is set to offer both museums and collectors a unique opportunity to acquire works of the highest merit and provenance, which have been both widely exhibited and published and which are now rarely seen on the open market. The group, which is estimated to realise in excess of £80,000, will include noteworthy and exceptional examples by the leading names of Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), Jamini Roy (1887-1972), George Keyt (1901-1993) and Avinash Chandra (1931-1991).

William George Archer (1907-1979) – more commonly known as Bill Archer – and his wife Mildred Agnes Bell – more commonly known as Tim Archer – (1911-2005) found inspiration for their life-long studies in India, where they lived for more than a decade before Indian Independence in 1947 while William was working for the Indian Civil Service. They shared a great passion for the richness of Indian daily life, particularly that in Bihar in central eastern India, where they spent of most of their time and where they discovered the hidden folk painting traditions of Madhubani and also started to explore and write on the culture and literature of the Uraon, Santal and other tribal communities. Together they developed a love affair with Indian art and they assembled an impressive collection of Pahari paintings.

On returning to England in 1948 the Archers pursued their parallel careers; William took charge of the Indian Department at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London where he remained for 18 years while Mildred catalogued Indian paintings at the India Office Library for some 25 years. Their combined careers significantly helped to shape the general understanding and appreciation of artistic activity in and on India between the late 18th to the early 20th century and their rare blend of enthusiasm, scholarly encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject and expert eye resulted in them further building their truly remarkable private collection to include Indian paintings, drawings and prints. Although William and Mildred are best known for their interest in Indian Miniatures and Anglo-Indian paintings they also studied and wrote about the work of Modern Indian and Sri Lankan artists and they formed many close associations with the artists of this era.

One of the highlights of the property on offer from the Archers’ collection will be a pen and coloured ink work by the Bengali artist and poet, Rabindranath Tagore, entitled Bird. The Archers purchased this work directly from Rabindranath at Santiniketan – where Rabindranath lived and produced many of his paintings and writings – in October 1932. They subsequently went on to loan the work to the Victoria and Albert Museum between 1954 and 1956, the Commonwealth Institute and India House in 1961 and The Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1980. Bird is estimated to fetch £10,000-15,000 and it is sure to be highly sought after. A second work by Tagore, entitled Death Scene, is expected to fetch £15,000-20,000.

Kolkata-born Jamini Roy is well represented in the collection by three works, which are each estimated at £8,000-12,000: Santal Drummers was purchased directly from the artist in Kolkata in 1941 and according to the Archers’ records it was executed circa 1936; Santal Couple dates from 1934 and was a gift from John Irwin in 1953; and Christ with the Cross was bought from the artist in 1941. Roy first achieved success as a portrait painter but later changed his style to incorporate elements of peasant art. The artist spent most of his life living and working in Kolkata and his underlying quest through his art was to capture the deep-rooted simplicity of the life of folk people, to make art accessible to a wider audience and to give Indian Art its own unique identity.

George Keyt is widely considered to be Sri Lanka’s most distinguished and important modern painter, and also poet. Originating from Indo-Dutch origins, the young Keyt was captivated by painting and books from an early age and turning his back on the stifling values of the westernised milieu of the world into which he was born, he explored Hindu mythology and Indian literature which resulted in him developing close ties with the cultural life of India. His works show influences of Cubism, Henri Matisse and Tagore, the latter of whom he met in Sri Lanka in the 1930s. Two oil studies by Keyt will be presented for sale and these are entitled Prema and Reverie. The former is estimated at £10,000-15,000 and was commissioned by Bill Archer in 1955 while the latter is expected to fetch £6,000-8,000 and dates from 1944. Finally, four works by Simla-born Avinash Chandra will also be offered and two of these were purchased directly by the Archers from the artist in the early 1960s while a third was presented to Bill Archer on his birthday with the inscription “To Bill. Happy Birthday. Love Avinash.” The four works are entitled Philosophers, Green Head, City of Churches (Red) / Happy Birthday and Reclining Nude and they all have an estimate of £4,000-6,000.

* Pre-sale estimates do not include buyer’s premium

The property from the collection of William and Mildred Archer will be on view at Sotheby’s London on:

Sunday 27 April (12noon – 4pm)

Monday 28 April (9am – 4.30pm)

Tuesday 29 April (9am – 4.30pm)

Wednesday 30 April (9am – 4.30-pm)

Thursday 1 May (9am – 4.30pm)