Guest blog from one of our preferred valuation partners, Doerr Dallas Valuations.

Author: Laura Williams, Indian Art Specialist.

Nobody anticipated the extreme highs of the past few weeks. Particularly in what may potentially be the worst recession of our lifetime. In Mumbai, the room was devoid of clients but that did not alter the fact that the most expensive artwork by an Indian artist had just been sold. There must have been a smile underneath the masks of Dadiba & Khorshed Pundole. The owners of Pundole’s Auction House had just sold a painting by V S Gaitonde on the hammer, for just over £3.6 million pounds. Years of hard work paid off. The record had been set.

With hardly time for the world-record Gaitonde to be taken off its nail, down the road and hot on its heels, Mumbai’s other leading auction house Saffronart was putting up its remarkably similar work, again by V S Gaitonde. Celebrating twenty years of Auctioneering, the Vaziranis pulled out all the stops and without a single-owner collection had pulled together a strong selection of works by leading practitioners. The hammer at Saffronart, like an echo across the City, came down on the Gaitonde, just short of the recent record. Those used to the big-buck rooms of the International art world may give a conciliatory nod to these figures. But consider that in 2013 the same Gaitonde artwork could have been picked up for around £500k and in 1980 it may have cost a modest £500. Oh, how collectors of South-Asian art, like all aficionados, must wish for a time-machine.

For a few years the name Gaitonde has been like dangling a golden carrot in front of the noses of collectors. Equally exhilarating, at the same sale at Pundole’s was the sale price of close to £1million pounds for a work by J S Swaminathan. And it has been the same story for the past few, lockdown, months. The Insta feeds of the auction houses flash at almost the same speed as the rise of the announced prizes, declaring, ‘The highest price achieved for the artist’. The party we are invited to appears to be getting bigger and the list of names added to its celebrity artist list is expanding.

When India embraces an idea, it does so with full gusto. Particularly when it comes to investment potential. ‘I know a great street-food chef’ can transform in the blink-of-aneye into, ‘Business Woman Launches her 200th Food Truck!’ Likewise, a Zarina print can quickly morph from a £10,000 estimate into a £50,000 artwork – as seen at the recent sales. According to Rob Dean, Director of Pundole’s, ”The market may currently be inflated due to worldwide lockdowns but do I think the South-Asian art market is set to be one of the biggest markets in years to come? Yes, I do”.

You could have heard the proverbial pin drop at this week’s Sotheby’s sale of Modern and Contemporary South-Asian Art in London. Lot 40 by Indian artist Bhupen Khakhar made a dazzling £2 million pounds (inc premium) against a suggested price of £250,000 – £450,000. The wide-ranging estimate, a great pointer to the fact that even the experts are not quite sure where the star pupils sit. But the sound of the hammer sadly sounded hollow, just a few lots later, when the stunning oil on canvas, a 1969 work by the much loved V S Gaitonde, failed to sell. The story was the same earlier in the month, when a similar canvas by the same artist also failed to get off the starting block at Christies in New York. The significance of right place, right time and knowing the difference, for each artwork, is evidently crucial.

What does this tell us? The primarily domestic, South-Asian, art market is clearly happier spending its rupees than its pounds or dollars. Perhaps most encouraging, is that a discerning eye appears to be coming into play. Take a tale of two paintings by the respected artist N S Bendre. Two poor examples appeared in Sotheby’s sale, one scrapping past its low estimate of £15,000, the other fai led to sell. Whilst two canvases, of a similar size and year, strong works, sailed past their estimates to achieve around £110,000 and £148,000 each, including premium, at the Saffronart

Auction two weeks earlier in Mumbai. Let’s hope this throws the ridiculous priceper-inch calculator that dealers of South-Asian Art are so fond of, well and truly out of the window and that buyers are understanding that not every Husain is a good Husain.

So, cheers for some and commiserations for others in what appears to be a market that is at last finding its feet. But in this growing arena whilst knowledge of the current sales will be of importance to the UK Insurance industry, this rising market will also mean that many owners of artworks from South-Asia are probably significantly underinsured. Art as a commodity can be tricky. We understand the process of valuation. But it is never as simple as it seems. Finding a valuer for many can be an unknown entity or simple not top of the to do list.

It is a new part of the same old story; we buy art because we love it, for investment and often secretly for both. Artworks get passed down through families, normally with a tale to tell about how Grandpa picked up the sculpture when he was in the East.

Sometimes these are cherished pieces, often tastes differ through the generations. The painting gets put on top of the wardrobe. We have all seen the faces of the owners of such artworks on the TV, being told by the expert that it is probably worth a couple of hundreds of pounds. But not so in the South-Asian, particularly the Indian, art context.

Here the roles are reversed. Pieces thought to be worth a few pounds are often valued in the thousands and beyond.

For those expats and non-resident Indians who bought artwork on their travels, it may be worth looking up from this article and scrutinising the artwork hanging above the desk, in the same place it has been for the past thirty years. Unlike our other assets we let value hide in our homes as it is the easiest option. It is rare that those left a house in a will would take a tour, exclaim its beauty, then lock the door and walk away. Like houses, art has value. In some cases, it can even exceed the value of the wall it sits on.

To arrange a confidential review of your personal insurance including art collections, high value home building and contents, wine collections, high value performance and classic cars, please contact our Private Clients Manager, Kim Shergold, on 020 8681 4994


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