Sotheby’s Spring Sale of Indian & Southeast Asian Art

Sotheby’s New York auction of Indian and Southeast Asian Art will be held on March 18th, 2009, during the Spring Asia Week sales. The sale consists of 120 lots, including fine examples of Modern and Contemporary painting and photography, Indian Miniatures, and ancient Himalayan and Indian Works of Art of the highest quality. The sale is expected to bring in excess of $2.7 million.

The sale will feature M.F. Husain’s Horses (est. $100/150,000), a fine example of the subject that the artist returned to repeatedly in his work. In classical Indian art and myth horses are symbols of the sun itself, of time and of knowledge, and of fertility. For Husain, too, they are symbols of life-sustaining forces. As in the present work, his horses are wild, symbols of immense raw power, the raised hooves and heaving flank all suggestive of their pent-up primal energy, becoming a symbol that Husain makes uniquely his own.

Another Modern highlight is Akbar Padamsee’s Nude, 1960, painted at the peak of his short-lived gray period (est. $200/300,000). At this time, the artist worked with an almost ascetic restraint renouncing all color, confining himself to the rigor of working with this monochromatic palette of gray. The nude is a recurring theme in Padamsee’s work, and provides a fascinating insight into the development of his visual language and creative process. Throughout his career the artist has been preoccupied with mapping the human form and capturing its emotive qualities. Most are isolated figures who have aged, endured sadness and whose bodies have witnessed the ravages of time. Their central theme is the solitary figure, defined by a sense of vulnerability and loneliness. In this early nude, he balances a dream-like quality with dynamic energy using textural and compositional juxtapositions, creating a form that suggests a ‘landscape’ of the body. The sale’s Modern section will also include an important work by F.N. Souza.

Contemporary works will feature an untitled work by T.V. Santhosh (est. $150/200,00) and photography offerings will include Vivek Vilasini’s Ambassadors, a print on archival paper (est. $10/15,000). Sotheby’s was the first to offer this artist at auction in September 2008, with another work (The Last Supper) from this series inspired by Renaissance paintings.

The section of outstanding Indian Miniatures include 30 lots, among them An Illustration from the Sunder Shringar: Radha with her Attendant, India Kangar or Guler, circa 1780, (est. $15/20,000), from a private German collection. The Sunder Shringar, a poem detailing the moods of love, was composed in the midseventeenth century by the poet Sunder Kavi, and depicts Radha and Krishna as the ideal lovers – their romance epitomizes the idealized notions of courtship which are celebrated in the poem. Here, Radha’s attendant seems to be lost in a trance a she listens to Radha’s vivid description of the beauty of her lover. The delicate style and exquisite palette of the painting is closely related to the Tehri Garhwal Gita Govinda album, another epic poem on the divinity of love. The refinement of the present work suggests that the artist was at least aware of the other series, and may have even worked in that court atelier during the same period. Also included are 18th century miniatures from a Nepalese manuscript, and important Mughal miniatures, from two private American collections.

The Works of Art section of the sale is highlighted by a Mandala of Manjushri and The Pancharaksha, distemper on cloth, Nepal or Tibet, 14th century (est. $150/200,000). This rare mandala painting has been compared stylistically by Dr. Amy Heller with a renowned and important Nepalese Vasudhara mandala dated 1365 or 1367. She posits that certain characteristics of the palace architecture seen here are found in Nepalese mandala rather than Tibetan examples of the period. It is thus likely that the mandala was painted by a Nepalese or one schooled in the Nepalese traditions. There is, however, no inclusion of a Vajracharya puja scene at the left of the lower register that normally accompanies a painting commissioned for ritual practice in Nepal. While the style of drawing and architectural layout of the present mandala are clearly inspired by Nepalese traditions, a fragmentary inscription in Tibetan on the reverse may indicate that it was commissioned for ritual use in Tibet.

Also featured is a pair of very rare Shaiva Manuscript Covers, polychrome wood, Nepal (est. $100/120,000). These delightful works, with covers painted with scenes from the Exaltation of Shiva, embody the spirit of Nepalese painting in the 11th and early 12th century, with vibrant use of color in an unbounded composition where the gods are imbued with charm and animation. Very few Shaivite manuscript covers have survived from this period, where the majority of the corpus is painted with Buddhist themes.