Lines, Canvas, Auction by Vandana Kalra

Source: Express India

A hoary figure, the loins covered in a red cloth, the mouth a charcoal-black O, lies helplessly against a bleak backdrop of grey and darkness. A red line is drawn like a slash across his forehead, as a pair of yellow limbs scampers away. The acrylic on canvas is

MF Husain's Safdar Hashmi, the artist's reaction to the fatal attack on Hashmi while the latter was performing the street play Halla Bol. It is also the first Indian painting to cross the Rs 10 lakh mark — at Sotheby's Delhi auction in 1989.

Nineteen years later, when Safdar Hashmi goes under the hammer at the Emami Chisel Art Auction in Kolkata on February 23, its base price will be Rs 2-2.5 crore. "Just don't ask how I managed to get hold of the painting," chuckled Vikram Bachhawat, director of the art house, as he proudly introduced the work at a preview in Delhi on Saturday. Since there will be an online auction too, you can log on to and place your bids from February 16.

Husain's is not the only celebrated work in the extraordinary collection assembled by Bachhawat for the first auction by the Kolkata-based organisation that was established last year. The other notables in the 89 lots include Tyeb Mehta's oil Kali III (estimated price Rs 5 crore), SH Raza's Landscape (Rs 1 crore), Bikash Bhattacharjee's Over The Dark Clouds (Rs 50 lakh) and Amrita Sher-Gil's untitled work with a base price of Rs 16 lakh. "We wanted a variety of paintings and worked hard to get some of the best creations," said Bachhawat. They also introduced the concept of lock-in period, according to which works of young artists need to be at least three years old, and those by senior artists, five. Also, no artwork that has been sold in an auction over the past seven years is accepted, and the provenance of each creation is listed in the information provided to prospective bidders. Said Bachhawat: "These steps are aimed at creating transparency. The lock-in period ensures that the works have some history." Artist Kanchan Chander noted, "It is certainly one of the best collection that I've seen at an auction in the recent past. The regulations will help drive away several ills, including fakes."

Apart from the regulars on the art circuit — Satish Gujral and Dharmendra Rathore, gallery owners Arun Vadhera, Ashish Anand and Bhavna Kakar and art critics Ina Puri, Alka Raghuvanshi and Prayag Shukla — Bengali actor Rituparna Sengupta played her part as Emami's brand ambassador as she sashayed around the hall, posing before every canvas. "I sketched and painted often as a kid, then acting took over. But I hope to play the role of an artist in a movie one day," she smiled.

Artists Chatrapati Dutta, Sekhar Roy and Samindranath Majumdar, meanwhile, introduced their works at the do. Dutta's work Glorious City may have raked in Rs 7.5 lakh at the recent Christie's auction in Kolkata, but he wasn't vocal about his expectations at the forthcoming sale. "One can never tell," he said. Bachhawat, on the other hand, was confident. "We are looking at Rs 16-20 crore," said the entrepreneur, who also hoped to benefit from the fact that unlike other cities, Kolkata does not levy 12.5 per cent VAT on art. "That saves the collectors a lot of money," he said.

Bachhawat already has plans for the rest of the year. "There will be an auction of contemporary and modern works, and another comprising art collectables like toys by Husain," he said. Will a preview be hosted in Delhi? "Most probably," he said. The collector base in the city can't possibly be ignored.
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