Like Sotheby’s and Christie’s, Bonhams organized a growing number of these cross-departmental sales, including The Male Form and Blazing A Trail: Modern British Women (see GTA No 2514), both of which will be repeated later this year.
While it is difficult to assess the difference these themed auctions make in terms of the prices obtained for individual items, they are often seen as a good platform to promote the category and, to some extent, allow place the works in a relevant artistic and historical context. the context.
That was probably the idea behind the most recent sale – although it may also have been about giving spendthrift Indian buyers the chance to view a range of lots all at once rather than having to tap in various catalogs. This meant that the June 7 auction had an even wider reach than other recent themed sales.
Some of the best action came from the 28 images, all of which yielded one of the top 10 prizes.
come out ahead
The offering included both Indian images by indigenous artists and depictions of the country by Westerners – which typically appear in Orientalist sales. One such work led the day by some margin: an elegant view of the Golden Temple in the city of Amritsar in Punjab by Edwin Lord Weeks (1849-1903).
Along with Frederick Arthur Bridgman (1847-1928), Weeks is considered the foremost American Orientalist. While works appear on the market fairly regularly, high quality examples depicting famous landmarks such as this rarely emerge.
The artist, who in his youth studied under Léon Bonnat and Jean-Léon Gérôme in Paris, traveled extensively in the Orient and is known to have visited the Golden Temple in the 1890s, most likely several times occasions.
A visit in 1893 is particularly well documented and was mentioned in his 1896 publication From the Black Sea through Persia and India. He wrote that the temple had “the impression of a sparkling jewel, or a rare ancient Byzantine coffin enamelled and studded with precious stones”. He continued, “It has a glamor of unreality at first glance, like an opium vision of De Quincey, or ‘Kubla Khan’s pleasure dome’.”
Weeks painted the temple many times in a number of formats, ranging from simple grisaille illustrations to one of the most monumental paintings he ever produced: a work measuring over 3m wide which now stands at the Annmary Brown Memorial in Rhode Island.
This signed 20¼ x 2 ft 6 in (52 x 77 cm) oil on canvas at Bonhams shared many of the same characteristics as this larger work, including the same perspective and similar composition with a figure in the foreground as well as the reflection of the temple in the water and the overhanging tree. It therefore seems likely that the two works were painted around the same time.
Bonhams had contacted Edward S Levin, who helped compile the artist’s catalog raisonné, and he confirmed the authenticity of the work. The auction house settled on an estimate of £100,000-150,000, which was in line with prices for works of this size.
However, a number of key factors have elevated this image above regular fare. The work not only demonstrated a distinct combination of precise drawing and a free, painterly style that is characteristic of Weeks’ best work, but it also exhibited a tactile skill in dealing with light and shadow.
Apart from depicting the pre-eminent Sikh spiritual site, the painting’s commercial rarity meant that Bonhams was fully justified in describing it in the catalog as “a beautiful and important work of the artist’s later period of Indian paintings”. .
After arousing great interest, it fetched £400,000 – a sum representing the fifth highest for weeks at auction. Bonhams said no information was available on who placed the winning bid.
Two large historical panoramas by Indian artists also added notable amounts to the bottom line.
One measuring 8.15m x 67cm (26ft 8in x 2ft 3in) depicted the royal procession of the Maharajah of Alwar in the early 20th century. Painted in six parts, the gouache and gold gouache on thick paper were signed by R Sahai (fl. early 20th century)the state painter of Alwar from c.1903-09.
Reflecting the Mughal tradition of recording these grand royal processions as wall paintings, the artist executed finely detailed depictions of the important figures, horses, elephants and carriages with Maharaja Jai Singh himself shown on the royal carriage in ceremonial dress.
It came to auction having been part of a New York collection in the 1980s. The ambitious treatment and scale of the panorama led to an estimate of £200,000-300,000.
Although it was knocked down on low estimate, it fetched a notable sum for an artist who, despite being employed by the Maharajahs, has almost no other recorded works published or referenced.
Attracting slightly more demand against a lower price of £120,000-150,000 was an impressive view of the city of Lahore from around 1840-45. Painted by a local artist, it reflected the very detailed topographical surveys carried out during the late Mughal rule and included identifying Persian inscriptions on the painted surface.
Some of these works found their way to Europe, such as those acquired by Austrian physician Johann Martin Honigberger who was in Lahore at the Sikh court between 1829-33 and then again from 1839-49.
Measuring 9½ inches x 7 feet 9 inches (24 cm x 2.35 m), Bonhams’ watercolor was executed on 11 separate attached sheets of paper.
Other examples of these panoramas have already emerged at auction. One of similar size and date appeared at Christie’s in October 2011, fetching £49,000, while a smaller example of a similar view again fetched £16,000 at Christie’s the following year.
But with the market having moved considerably since then, this one was offered for up to £140,000, when it was knocked down over the phone by a British private collector.
As for the small works on offer, a number of lots showed the growing demand for Indian miniatures. These tend to be more manageable for many buyers and are more prevalent in the market due to greater supply.
A 10½ x 8¾ inch (27 x 22 cm) gouache and gold on paper depicting Bharpur Singh, Rajah of Nabha in Punjab who reigned from 1847 to 1863, with an attendant, was an example. The keeper had aided the British during the mutiny of 1857 and was rewarded with the allocation of the Baval and Kanti divisions.
The photo, which showed the rajah circa 1858, was painted by the Delhi artist Shahrukh Beg (fl. mid-19th century). In many respects he followed the traditional formal style and technique of portraiture produced by his most famous uncle, Ghulam ‘Ali Khan (fl. c.1817-55).
The image came up for auction with attractive provenance having been presented to George Carnac Barnes, the governor of the Cis-Sutlej States in northwestern India after 1860, and had since descended into the same British private collection. Estimated between £10,000 and £15,000, it cost £45,000, being sold to a British private collector in the coin. Ten years ago, such an image would have commanded less than half that amount.
Another miniature from the same source showing the Rajah of Jind (reg. 1834-64) seated on a terrace in a European-style chair took a top estimate of £12,000, again a decent price and no doubt helped by favorable source.
strong at the top
Overall, the Bonhams sale brought in £1.19m with 47 of the 102 lots sold (46%). Despite the high unsold rate per lot, the sale rate by value was 99.5%, indicating that the sale was a bit heavy, with the majority of the top lots doing well, but significant losses being found more low in the price scale.
Bonhams has not yet made a formal decision on whether the India in Art sale will repeat, but a spokesperson for the auction house said “history suggests it is likely”.