M.F. Husain remains highest earning Indian artist in art auctions


New Delhi: M. F. Husain, who died in self-imposed exile, remains the highest-earning Indian artist in auction close to six years after his passing.

A report by Delhi-based art market intelligence firm Artery India, puts Husain’s career earnings from art auctions at Rs674.1 crore.

Artery India has compiled a list of the top 50 Indian artists on the basis of the highest realized prices from the sale of their works in auction globally since 1965.

According to the firm’s founder and CEO Arvind Vijaymohan, this is the “world’s first and only precise ranking of the most powerful Indian modern and contemporary artists, based on verifiable performances”. Having earlier suffered losses because of inflated pricing by art funds in the mid 2000s, he says that collectors now want to make informed decisions while buying art in a market on the path to “slow, but stable growth”.

Gaurav Bhatia, managing director, Sotheby’s India, agrees that there is growing confidence in the Indian art market, with private initiatives such as the India Art Fair and the Kochi-Muziris Biennale creating an ecosystem to invigorate and shape collectors’ minds.

Vijaymohan points out that the year 2015-16 was an especially strong one in terms of value of the artwork, with prices achieved for top works increasing significantly. While in 2005, the price realized for the 50 most expensive works was Rs238.2 crore, this rose to Rs423.1 crore in 2010 and to Rs630.08 crore in 2015.

Husain died in June 2011 in London at the age of 95. He lived in exile since 2006 after being charged with hurting public sentiments with his paintings of Indian deities.

In the Artery list of Top 50 Artists, Husain is followed in the rankings by two other members of the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group, F.N. Souza and S.H. Raza, with the three alone recording a collective sale of Rs1,920.5 crore. Modernists, including Progressive artists, dominate the list, with 29 of them featuring in the top 50.

“Over the past decade, we have seen individual works by master artists reach new record prices. So that means a single buyer is willing to spend close to $3-5 million on a given work,” says Yamini Mehta, international head of South Asian Art at Sotheby’s.

In an interview with Mint on the eve of auction house Saffronart’s autumn sale in September 2016, co-founder Dinesh Vazirani pointed out that with private museums beginning to purchase significant works by modern painters, fewer works were now available for sale, thus steeply raising their prices.

While the prices realized by modern artists overshadow sales of works by other artists at auction, it’s reassuring to observe that as many as 16 contemporary artists feature among the top 50. Subodh Gupta, with auction sales that have reached Rs214.4 crore, is the top-performing living contemporary Indian artist. Atul Dodiya, T.V. Santhosh, Bharti Kher and Jitish Kallat are among the others.

Artery India recently also made public data it had put together of the 500 most expensive works of art by Indian artists.