Bhupen Khakhar’s ‘Krishna Hotel’ sets auction record in London

Bhupen Khakhar’s ‘Krishna Hotel’ sets auction record in London
Courtesy: Sotheby’s London

A rediscovered painting by one of India’s most beloved artists, Bhupen Khakhar, titled ‘Krishna Hotel’ sold for £1.2 million, six times the pre-auction estimate of £200,000-400,000, at Sotheby’s auction house in London.

‘Krishna Hotel’ was sold this week at the Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art sale by the American architect Christopher Benninger, who had acquired the painting in the early 1970s at an auction to support Bangladeshi refugees in Ahmedabad, at the New Order bookshop. At the time, Khakhar was still an unknown artist, but he was friends with Benninger through mutual friends at the Baroda School of Art.

“In 1972 I saw this painting as a radical break away from the dull lifeless, often geometric modernism sweeping the world,” said Benninger.

“This painting was a new start and I wanted to keep that positive energy near to me in my home. I am saying goodbye to this important, iconic piece of art in order to use the proceeds to create a non-profit foundation here that will support art and artists across South Asia,” he said.

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Scenes from daily lives

The painting, signed and dated in Gujarati, itself hasn’t been seen in public since that auction in 1971. It marks the inception of Khakhar’s beloved ‘Tradesmen’ series of paintings that show scenes of normal people going about their daily lives in half-westernised, half-urbanised modern India.

“I believe that this particular painting has immense importance as it marks the beginning of Bhupen’s ‘Tradesmen Series’ of paintings, and the point where his greatness as an interpreter of the Indian ethos seen in everyday people in everyday situations begins. It is a landmark piece,” added Benninger.

In the same sale, a second important rediscovered work by Goa-born F.N. Souza sold for £922,500, three times its pre-sale estimate of £300,000-500,000. Bought for just $100 in Detroit in the 1980s, the painting had not been seen in 40 years. Unaware of the value of the painting they had hanging on their wall, the current owners submitted details of the work for valuation through Sotheby’s Online Pricing Platform. They were soon contacted by Sotheby’s specialists who were able to reveal the importance of Souza’s ‘Landscape (Red Building)’ from 1955.

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Fresh to the market

Altogether, the Sotheby’s auction this week of more than 100 paintings, drawings and sculptures made £5.4 million, with 44 per cent buyers from India.

“This season’s results reflect the continued strength and health of the South Asian market and follow on from the exceptional results we saw in our most recent New York auction in March,” said Ishrat Kanga, Head of Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art at Sotheby’s London.

“They demonstrate the ever-present demand from collectors to acquire South Asian Art, especially the rare, fresh to the market works that we were able to offer this season. Collectors living in India were especially active, acquiring 70 per cent of the overall value of the auction and showing the truly global reach of Sotheby’s South Asian Art sales, attracting bidders from across Europe, the States, South Asia and East Asia,” she said.

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