Two collectors have become the cynosure of eyes at the South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art Sale of Christie's in London. And their roots go back to Calcutta and India's first modernist master Jamini Roy. Eight works by Jamini Roy will go under the hammer on 26 May 2016. They were bought in Calcutta by collectors who not only became primary patrons of Jamini Roy but were passionate supporters of the artist in other ways as well. It is the relationship of artist and patron that underlies the beauty of the seven Jamini Roys in this sale. We also glimpse the fact that Calcutta was an important city in the blooming of art sales in Indian contemporary art.
It is the relationship of artist and patron that underlies the beauty of the seven Jamini Roys in this sale.
Lots 6-9 belong to Pramila Le Hunte, the daughter of Chandrakala Lal who was both patron and friend to Jamini Roy during the 1950s when she lived in Calcutta with her husband Shiv Lal. Mr. Lal's main company produced and exported iron ore to Europe and Asia. When his many trade partners and diplomats and dignitaries from all around the world visited the Lal family in Calcutta, Mrs. Lal would personally take them to Jamini Roy's studio and buy them each a painting by Jamini Roy as a gift.
Mrs. Lal recalls bringing her teenage daughter, Pramila, along on her regular visits to Jamini Roy in his studio early on in his career. Other than purchasing paintings and supporting him financially, Mrs. Lal brought the artist food, art supplies and even medicine on their frequent visits to his small studio, a simple house with a modest courtyard in the back, where the artist would sit on the ground and paint.
This quartet of paintings represents not only the sum of each carefully selected artwork, but the time-honoured friendship between patron and artist. The paintings, acquired directly from Jamini Roy in the 1950s and early 1960s, a seminal period for the artist, include representations of the key religious themes he focused on in his oeuvre, from Christ and the Madonna to Krishna. Lot 7, the Santhal woman with flowers, was painted by the artist as a gift of thankfulness to Mrs. Lal; to commemorate the beauty and grace in their friendship. Indeed Mrs. Lal was a veritable maternal figure.
The Santhal woman with flowers was painted by the artist as a gift of thankfulness to Mrs. Lal; to commemorate the beauty and grace in their friendship.
The paintings travelled from India to Surrey in the United Kingdom in 1968 when the family moved. However, the family remained friends and patrons of the artist until Roy's death in 1972. Among the four works it is the Madonna which is a rare, unseen masterpiece. Detailed in the classic Byzantine style with pointillist dots and treated like a European church's stained glass window, this work is a testimony to Jamini Roy's felicity and fecundity with the power of the contour. While the Madonna's face is a curious doll-like round-shaped visage it is the drapes of her folds with a suggestion of a printed material which entices. The Christ has been done on bamboo mat and belongs to the same period of the 1950s and 60s. The Santhal woman picking flowers is a model mirroring of the grace and feminine symbolism of flowers that have been nestled with love on the branches as well as in her hands and in her hair. The works came to daughter Premila Hente as an inheritance.
The next three works belong to the collector Lilavati Häger (née Devi) who was a leading exponent of Indian dance. Her husband Bengt was one of the most important European dance impresarios of his day. Bengt Häger (1916-2011) was born and brought up in Malmö in southern Sweden. Following his studies at the University in Stockholm, Bengt went on to found and manage the Swedish Dance Museum and the University College of Dance and Circus in Stockholm.
The significance of provenance and the Calcutta connection is crucial--it speaks about how authenticity can never be doubted when you procure a work directly from an artist.
Lilavati Devi first came to Sweden in 1949 as a principal performer and it is here that she met Bengt Häger. Within a few years they were married and the couple became ambassadors for Indian classical dance in Scandinavia where they lived. The couple became a fundamental force in international dance, working with major international performers and choreographers of the last century.
Mrs. Häger was heavily involved with cross-cultural projects between Sweden and India, playing a vital role in the founding of the Festival of India in Sweden. She went on to write about Indian dance, music and crafts. Her cross-cultural contributions were recognised by the King of Sweden, and she was awarded the prestigious Medal of Karl Gustav. Lilavati Häger regularly travelled back to India in the 1950s and 60s to perform, and it was during one such visit that these exceptional works by Jamini Roy (lots 38-41) were acquired. The 'Three Women' and the 'Sita and Ravana', and the eternal 'Krishna and the Cow' are works that personify Jamini Roy's love for the Puranas and the Mahabharata. The significance of provenance and the Calcutta connection is crucial--it speaks about how authenticity can never be doubted when you procure a work directly from an artist.
Images have been provided by Christie's, London.
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