Francis Newton Souza’s epic painting titled Birth set a new record at international auction house Christie’s New York auction on Thursday when it sold for $4,085,000. This is a 63% increase over the same painting’s previous record of $2.5 million achieved at Christie’s in 2008, when it was bought by Tina Ambani, wife of Anil Ambani.
Thursday’s sale makes Birth the most expensive work sold at any south Asian art.
Souza painted the masterpiece in 1955, the same year of his seminal solo exhibition at Gallery One in London. This monumental painting represents the pinnacle of all the artists’ paintings of 1950s. The painting comprises all the subjects to be found in Souza’s early practice; the pregnant outstretched nude with hairpins, the autobiographical man in priest’s tunic, a still life on the window ledge and beyond the window, a townscape with corniced buildings and tall steeples.
The estimates for the painting were between $2.2 million and $2.8 million.
Another Souza work titled Man and Woman Laughing fetched approximately $2.59 million in a recent Saffronart sale held in New Delhi on September 10 this year.
The previous record for the most expensive work by an Indian artist was held by VS Gaitonde whose luminous painting had sold for $3.79 million at Christie’s inaugural India auction in Mumbai in 2013.
Another oil-on-canvas by Souza, Still Life with Bread and Fish went under the hammer for $233,000 at Christie’s auction in New York, which posted total sales of $8,770,062 (including buyer’s premium).
At the same auction, SH Raza’s oil-on-canvas Red Sun sold for $365,000, Akbar Padamse’s untitled (Cityscape) oil-on paper went for $239,000. Gaitonde’s Untitled watercolor and ink fetched $197,000.
Ram Kumar’s untitled (Street Urchins) realised $197,000. Jehangir Sabavala’s oil on canvas Fisher-folk Madh island sold for $155,000 while Rameshwar Broota’s oil canvas Havaldar went for $149,000. Seven works by late painter MF Husain also sold in the New York auction.
Contemporary artist Bharti Kher’s trademark bindi artwork titled Rugged Terrain fetched $100,000.
Also, Qalandar by Sadequain, one of Pakistan’s most celebrated artists, was sold for $173,000. So also Abdur Rahman Chugtai’s ink and watercolour untitled work Lady with Bird realised a sale price of $50,000 in the auction.