5 Most Expensive Paintings by Indian Artists Ever Sold at an Auction

Updated: Feb 18

Ever found yourself wondering how much the paintings of some of our most esteemed homegrown artists have sold for? It’s truly fascinating to study not only the intricacy of the artworks, but rather view the works as a set of eyes to peer into the artist, their experiences, and their beliefs.

1. VS Gaitonde: 'Untitled', 1995

Medium: Oil on canvas

Year of sale: 2015

Price: £3.1 million

The painter’s image in the media was that of a recluse, a man who kept to himself and whose work was influenced by Zen Buddhism. Once he told an interviewer, “Everything starts from silence. The silence of the brush. The silence of the canvas. The silence of the painting knife.” In 1947 he joined the Progressive Artist’s Group(PAG) and to date is hailed as one of the most progressive Indian painters who took a bold step by choosing abstract art form, a road less traveled.

Despite being noted as a “genius” by the likes of MF Husain, he died in relative obscurity in 2001. Over a decade after his death, his untitled minimalist landscape was sold at a whopping £3.1 million at Christie’s India auction, setting a record for one of the highest selling Indian artwork in modern and contemporary art. This painting was one of the last completed paintings of Gaitonde in his small baarsati (terrace studio) in Nizamuddin, Delhi before he shifted to Gurgaon in 1996.

VS Gaitonde: Untitled, 1995, Image credit: BBC U.K.

2. Francis Newton Souza: 'Birth', 1955

Medium: Oil on board

Year of sale: 2015

Price: £2.9 million

Born in Portuguese-controlled Goa and being brought up in a Portuguese Catholic colony had major impact on his works. It was here that he encountered religious iconography, which informed a major part of his artistic vocabulary. He was rebellious in nature and was expelled from school for drawing pornographic images in the school lavatories and was suspended from Sir J.J. School of Art in Bombay for joining Gandhi’s Quit India movement. Female nudes, religion and the city are recurrent themes in his works. His work ‘Birth’ was sold at £2.9 million in 2015 at Christie’s. This oil painting depicts a pregnant reclining nude woman with hairpins, a man in a priest’s tunic, a still life on the window ledge and, beyond the window, a townscape with buildings and tall towers.

Francis Newton Souza: 'Birth', 1955, Image Credit: Indian Art Ideas

3. Tyeb Mehta: ‘Kali’, 1989

Medium: Conté on paper

Year of sale: 2018

Price: £2.8 million

A slow and meticulous painter, Tyeb Mehta was a ruthless self-editor who destroyed many more paintings than he ever let out of his studio. He grew up in an orthodox Shiite Muslim community in Mumbai. His family was in the movie business and he took to film editing and continued making films long after he became a painter. He also won the Filmfare Critics Award for his 1970 documentary ‘Koodal’, which was shot in a slaughterhouse. Most of his works show reflections of his childhood recollection of violence in post-independent India. This painting of goddess Kali with a gauche red mouth, tackling the buffalo demon, earned a record-breaking price of £2.8 million at Saffron Art’s 'Milestone 200th Auction' in 2018.

Tyeb Mehta: ‘Kali’, 1989, Image Credit: Vogue

4. Raja Ravi Varma: 'Radha In The Moonlight', 1890

Medium: Oil on canvas

Year of sale: 2016

Price: £2.6 million

He was the first Indian artist to cast the Indian gods and mythological characters in natural earthy surroundings using a European realism. He was also the first painter of Indian origin to make lithographs of his paintings affordable and easily accessible, bringing fine arts to the masses. His style of painting is featured heavily and also shaped Indian ‘calendar art’. The fame of his artistry reached far and wide and his birthplace (the small town of Kilimanoor) had to open a post-office to receive letters and requests for paintings that came for Varma from all across the country. In 1873, Ravi Varma won the first prize at the Madras painting exhibition and achieved worldwide acclaim after he won an award for an exhibition of his paintings at Vienna in 1873.

His popularity is astonishing and a crater on Mercury was named in his honor in 2013. Pundole’s auctioned the painting in 2016 and it was sold at a whopping price of £2.6 million dollars. According to Pundole's, “This particular Radha is conceivably one of the most beautiful of Ravi Varma's "uttama nayikas", the high-minded women of many virtues and qualities that are intrinsic to goddesses and women in classical Indian literature...Varma subsequently painted other canvases of Radha in varying moods and emotions.”

Raja Ravi Varma: Radha In The Moonlight, 1890, Image Credit: Pundoles

5. Akbar Padamsee: ‘Greek Landscape’, 1960

Medium: Plastic emulsion on canvas

Year of Sale: 2016

Price: £2 million

Padamsee’s pioneering spirit can be sensed in his will to experiment with a wide range of media, from oil on canvas to photography and digital printmaking and also in the themes of his works. They all reflect a command he has over space, form, and colour. He took to reading at a very early age and in an interview with the MINT, he said: “I have a deep fascination for the science of art—the Hindu iconography, Chinese writings on art, and psychoanalysis.” His works reflect the mind of a well-read man interested in Western and Eastern philosophies. He set sail for Paris in 1951 with SH Raza, who got a French government scholarship. Padamsee had his first exhibition not in India but in Paris at the Galerie Saint Placide in 1952.The same year, Andre Breton awarded him a prize on behalf of the Journale d’Art. Since then he has produced groundbreaking works. His piece ‘Greek Landscape’ went under the hammer at an outstanding price of £2 million at Saffron Art’s auction in 2016. The composition shows an imagined cityscape that was painted in a palette of varying intensities of grey. The artwork was first exhibited at the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai, where it received great praise for its revolutionary approach and monumental scale.

Akbar Padamsee: ‘Greek Landscape’, 1960, Image credit: Christie's

The recognition that Indian art continues to receive is immense and we are sure that the upcoming artists will reach the same, if not better heights.

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