In the heart of Paris, an imposing mid-19th century private mansion and artists' hangout curiously called Hotel Dassault is getting a quick Indian makeover. For a good reason: it will host the largest auction of Indian art in over half-a-century in continental Europe.
On December 19, art lovers and buyers will flock the Dassault to sample and bid for nearly 50 objets d'art, mostly mid-19th century paintings and some furniture and antiques from the Mughal period. Sultans and Maharajahs, as the auction is aptly called, puts under the hammer collections by two unusual and exotic art lovers: Naguib Abdallah, a jet-setting prince and a direct descendant of the former ruling family of Egypt, and an unidentified member of a French aristocratic family. The French collector obtained most of his items in the '60s and '70s when he travelled frequently to India.
High on the list of showpieces is a gigantic 1821 painting of Maharaja Balwant Singh of Bharatpur painted by Govindram Udayram at Jaipur, which is the most expensive piece at the auction. In typical Rajasthani style, the painting shows the bejewelled Maharaja relaxing in his palace balcony. There's also a stunning 1853 portrait of Maharaja Jaswant Singh of Bharatpur by William Carpenter, the famous British painter. Also on auction are some 20 beautiful miniatures, most of them from Rajasthan and in the Rajputana style. That's not all. The auction will feature some antiques too: a Mughal-era glass hookah flask with floral designs, a six-seater table made of silver mounted on a wooden frame, an ivory chair and a silver throne.
Base prices for the exhibits are low by western standards, possibly because of the absence of a market for Indian art in France. The classic paintings are expected to fetch between 30,000 and 40,000 Euros each (Rs 15 to Rs 20 lakh). The silver table is expected to fetch about 20,000 Euros (Rs 10 lakh) and the hookah a mere 5,000 Euros (Rs 2.5 lakh). The auction house estimates that each miniature will fetch between 500 and 1,000 Euros, a pittance compared to what vintage Indian art fetches in, say, the US or UK. But Anne Kerkorian, an art expert handling the auction, is upbeat: "I have been following this market for a long time. Yet I do not remember having seen an auction in France where so many Indian objects, of such diversity and high quality, featured."
Now that's a good beginning indeed.
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