In Memoriam: S H Raza


S H Raza (1922 – 2016)

“My attempt is to create an art which goes beyond time and place.”
—Syed Haider Raza (22 February 1922 – 23 July 2016)

S H Raza, one of India’s leading Modernists, passed away on 23 July 2016 at the age of 94.

Raza was, like his beloved Bindu, a vibrant and essential part of modern art in India. A founding member of the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group, he redefined the notion of Modernism with his deeply spiritual and intellectual quest for artistic expression.

Haut de Cagnes 1951

S H Raza, Haut De Cagnes, 1951

Le Village 1956

S H Raza, Le Village, 1956

In his formative years, Raza painted landscapes and cityscapes, influenced by his time in France. Frequent visits to India drew him to the vibrant colours of Rajasthan and the forests of his childhood in Madhya Pradesh, both of which he transformed onto his canvases in the form of gestural abstraction.

Untitled 1971

S H Raza, Untitled, 1971

Oasis 1975

S H Raza, Oasis, 1975

In the 1970s, Raza changed direction to focus on purely geometric forms, symbolizing myriad aspects of Hindu philosophy. Crucial to these metaphysical paintings was the recurring Bindu – the seed from which all life forms emerge. For Raza, the act of painting itself was a meditative experience, and spirituality was always the core of his art.

Encountre 1985

S H Raza, Encountre, 1985

Surya Namaskar 1993

S H Raza, Surya-Namaskar, 1993

Saffronart joins the extended art community in mourning the loss of the master. For more tributes, please see:

Bose Krishnamachari, Times of India: “He understood colour, darkness, light, line, thinness and thickness of layers. He was friends with poets, writers and youngsters and admired by everyone. He led a life of precision.”

Krishen Khanna, Hindustan Times: “One cannot pedal on one pedal for your entire life… Raza always kept reinventing. Every painting he created was a breath of fresh air.”

Ashok Vajpeyi, ET Panache: “Along with his contemporaries, Raza created an alternative spiritual modernism, not built of dissonance or tension but consonance and harmony… In the end, for Raza, the distance between life and work had disappeared. He lived to paint and he painted so he could live on.”

Horizon 1979

S H Raza, Horizon, 1979

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K G Subramanyan (1924 – 2016): A Tribute to the Master Artist

Meera Godbole-Krishnamurthy, our Editor-in-Chief, collates some tributes to the artist.

K G Subramanyan

Artist K G Subramanyan in front of a painting commissioned for Saffronart’s exhibition, Ode to the Monumental, in 2014. Photo courtesy of Krishen Khanna

The Saffronart Team mourns the demise of K G Subramanyan, who passed away on 29 June 2016 in Vadodara, at the age of 92. In tribute, we quote from his poem The Circle:

 “To stoop down and kiss the earth.

Between the skyward sprouts

And the leaves that fall to earth

Revolves the endless tale

Of birth and life and death.”

Tributes to the master artist have been extensive, as friends, fellow-artists and students remember him and his contributions to the art world.

In Daily O, Mumbai-based writer Gayatri Jayaraman writes, “Drawing from nature, he yet rarely drew nature, focusing on the deconstructed gesture of the human form. This philosophy of coexistence of separate intellectual strands was to be an influence that would forever etch murals into his oeuvre.”

In an article for the Indian Express, fellow-artist Gulammohammed Sheikh from Vadodara, speaks of Subramanyan’s approach to his art: “In this prolific output, there is an ambitious endeavour to grasp and encompass the entire gamut of lived life… We all dearly hold on to the hand-drawings he sent to friends as greetings. They are part of our memories.”

Scroll presents an excerpt from an interview of  Subramanyan with R Siva Kumar, who has authored monographs on the artist, with the sub-heading : “Startlingly modern and intrinsically Indian, his work was both deeply engaging and vastly influential. More than an era passes with his death.”

Spirits, gouache on board, was exhibited in Subramanyan’s most recent show in 2015 – 16. From Saffronart’s Summer Online Auction, 10 – 12 June 2015

Spirits, gouache on board, was exhibited in Subramanyan’s most recent show in 2015 – 16. From Saffronart’s Summer Online Auction, 10 – 12 June 2015

Born in Kerala on 15 February 1924, Subramanyan was one of the leading artists who was part of India’s post-Independence search for identity through art. He completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the Presidency College in Chennai. In 1948, he graduated from Kala Bhavan in Santiniketan, where he studied under the tutelage of Benode Behari Mukherjee, Nandalal Bose and Ramkinkar Baij. In 1955, he received a British Council Research Fellowship to the Slade School of Art at the University of London.

A writer, scholar, teacher and art historian, Subramanyan was prolific in his art, spanning the spectrum of mediums from painting to pottery, weaving, and glass painting. He believed in the value of Indian traditions and incorporated folklore, myth and local techniques and stories into his work. He was an inspiration to generations of students as a member of the Baroda M S Fine Arts Faculty. His focus there in later years was on terracotta and pottery.

In a career spanning nearly seven decades, Subramanyan’s work has been exhibited in over fifty solo shows, including an extensive 2015-2016 exhibition by the Seagull Foundation for the Arts in collaboration with the Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, and the Harrington Street Arts Centre, Kolkata.

A set of two works on paper From Saffronart’s Works on Paper Online Auction, 19 – 20 March 2015

A set of two works on paper. From Saffronart’s Works on Paper Online Auction, 19 – 20 March 2015

K G Subramanyan leaves behind a rich legacy of art and writing which will be cherished by generations of artists, critics and art connoisseurs.

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Art and Activism at Broad Art Museum

Amit Kumar Jain reflects on The Artist as Activist, a joint exhibition by Bangladeshi artists Tayeba Begum Lipi and Mahbubur Rahman

The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum opened a landmark exhibition on two leading Bangladeshi artists, Mahbubur Rahman and Tayeba Begum Lipi, earlier this month. Considered as the forerunners of contemporary art practice in Bangladesh, Rahman and Lipi are also well-known for having co-founded, and currently running, the Britto Arts Trust, a non-profit organisation supporting young artists, since 2002. Their first major museum exhibition, The Artist as Activist brings together an extensive body of the duo’s collective work under one roof, which has “emerged from their shared journey as a husband and wife, and reflect their continual interchange of ideas and pursuit of like-minded themes,” according to curator Caitlin Doherty.


The Eli and Edythe Broad Museum, Michigan, USA. Image courtesy: Amit Kumar Jain

Doherty transforms the museum space effectively, by dedicating a gallery to each artist and showcasing works from various periods of their career. Lipi’s section is designed as a quiet, intimate and personal space, making the viewer look inwards to the role of the women in the Bangladeshi society. Her works look at the domestic, and how the woman negotiates the constant tussle of her personal ambitions and societal demands. As one moves through the gallery, one moves through her body, culminating in a womb-like, protective environment, where she secludes her innermost desires and emotions from the taxing outer world. This is the space where My Daughter’s Cot, an empty cradle made of stainless steel razors, signifies the vast contradiction between the personal and the societal, and gives a sense of longing in what is supposed to be a beautiful, but threatening symbol of motherhood.


My Daughter’s Cot, Tayeba Begum Lipi, 2012. Image courtesy: Amit Kumar Jain

Contrary to Lipi’s gallery, Rahman’s artworks speak for the abject, dissatisfied man, beginning with a self-portrait series of charcoal drawings that depict the artist screaming in frustration, in response to his own helplessness and inability to fight the political and social failure of his country. He approaches activism through social commentary, highlighting the plight of the indigo farmer through an ongoing performance piece titled Transformations. In Sounds from Nowhere-8, Rahman symbolically captures the pain and the loss that followed the collapse of the eight-storied Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, which caused death and injury to thousands of garment factory workers. He navigates his own identity in the contemporary political history of Bangladesh, a nation still recovering from two wars. Rahman’s gallery becomes more vocal and versatile as he adapts to multiple mediums in highlighting the struggles he shares with his fellow citizens in a postcolonial, developing country.


Charcoal drawings by Mahbubur Rahman. Image courtesy: Amit Kumar Jain

The last gallery brings together the works of Lipi and Mahbub under a common endeavour. Through their non-profit organisation, they initiated a project to work with the transgender community in Dhaka. Reversal Reality, a solo project by Lipi, compares the living realities of the artist and co-collaborator Anonnya, a transgender woman, while focussing on the struggles of the latter. While Lipi’s project takes on the individual, Rahman’s video project Time in a Limbo looks at the transgender community through their rituals, dialogues and practices. The museum has proposed to use this gallery with the LGBT community of East Lansing, and hopes to bring Anonnya to the United States to share her experience.

The Artist as Activist is the first major exhibition from South Asia at the Broad Art Museum, and will continue till 7 August 2016. Previously, the museum had showcased a project by Mithu Sen and an exhibition of works by Imran Qureshi and Naiza Khan.

—Amit Kumar Jain, Curatorial Consultant for The Artist as Activist


Exhibition details:
The Artist as Activist
Featuring: Tayeba Begum Lipi and Mahbubur Rahman

5 March – 7 August 2016

Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum
Michigan State University
547 East Circle Drive
East Lansing, MI 48824





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Brick by brick: Noor Ali Chagani (and more)

Hussain Khanbhai reviews recent works by Noor Ali Chagani and Aditi Singh

If you haven’t had your fill of South Asian art at the India Art Week and the Dhaka Art Summit last month, then New York has some in store for you. For those in the Big Apple, this is the last week to check out works by Pakistani artist Noor Ali Chagani and Indian artist Aditi Singh.

House of Bricks is Chagani’s first solo exhibition, on view at Leila Heller Gallery from 14 January – 13 February 2016, displaying fifteen new works that include sculpture, paintings and installations. The core of Chagani’s exhibition centres on the quintessential South Asian politics of identity, home and belonging.

In true postcolonial fashion, Chagani reappropriates an ancient art practice—Miniature painting—to create modern-day works of art that thematically explore his vision. The artist’s early training in Miniature art from the National College of Arts, Lahore, takes a three-dimensional, physical form in this exhibition, actualised through the unusual medium of bricks. Chagani builds small-scale structures that include floors, walls, stairs, pillars and even a roof—the basic foundations of a house, constructed out of tiny clay bricks.

Noor Ali Chagani 2

NOOR ALI CHAGANI, Home, 2015, Terracotta. Image courtesy of Leila Heller Gallery, New York.

“The brick is a unit that is used repetitively; it is a unit of strength, power and support. It talks about land ownership and possession. It shows a constant struggle between retaining one’s identity and yet blending with the masses. It also communicates the need to be a part of a strong organization,” he says.

Chagani’s inspiration comes from his homeland, Pakistan, where bricks were the basic component with which houses were built. Through his brick-laden artworks, each furnished with painstaking brush strokes, Chagani refers to his own longing for a stable home, the pinnacle of an individual’s struggles and aspirations: “We spend our lives developing our own house. It’s partly the greatest dream of one’s life. All the struggles, efforts, and savings are to accomplish this wish of building one’s own house.”

In New Infinity Wall, 2015, the exhibition’s largest work, Chagani has constructed a free-standing wall that blends in seamlessly with the gallery’s, save for its two brick-lined ends. Within each terracotta surface is a peep hole, turning the viewer into voyeur. The wall’s inner structure is revealed to be a corridor of many smaller dilapidated brick walls, a ravaged but mesmerizing back alleyway. The decay of the wall’s innards despite its unobtrusive white-washed exterior, remains a potent metaphor—one one that resonates in all the works on view.

Noor Ali Chagani

NOOR ALI CHAGANI, New Infinity Wall, 2016 (detail), Terracotta. Image courtesy of Leila Heller Gallery.

In contrast to Chagani’s structural composition are Aditi Singh’s abstract works at Thomas Erben Gallery. Visually amorphous, they strike one as cathartic, the result of process driven creation. On sensitively plotted surfaces of paper, Singh utilises a mixed medium of ink, charcoal and graphite. Densely rendered, the works result from the rhythmical application of materials that settle in forms both abstract and corporeal. The artist’s leitmotif, the poppy flower, a recurring symbol in many of her previous works, has the appearance of a vivid stain here, while still retaining its essence and piercing red hue.

Aditi Singh 1

ADITI SINGH, All that is left behind, 2016 (installation view). Image courtesy of Thomas Erben Gallery, New York.

Flowers form an allegory for life and death in the artist’s work. Similar experiments are evident in this series, in shades of icy blue and deep indigo. These settle like residue on the paper’s puckered surface, an allusion perhaps to the transient state of all living things.

Aditi Singh 2

ADITI SINGH, Untitled, 2015, Ink on washi paper. Image courtesy of Thomas Erben Gallery, New York.


Singh cites the “transcendental quality of Yoga and art” as her impetus, drawing parallels between the cathartic function that both practices stand to serve, lending the exhibition its title, All that is left behind.



Noor Ali Chagani, House of Bricks, 14 January – 13 February 2016
Leila Heller Gallery, 568 West 25th Street, New York, NY 10001
Gallery hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 10 am – 6 pm

Aditi Singh, All that is left behind, 7 January – 13 February 2016
Thomas Erben Gallery, 526 West 26th Street, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10001
Gallery hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 10 am – 6 pm

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Work in Progress: St+art India’s Street Art Festival

Rashmi Rajgopal on the ongoing St+art Festival in New Delhi, sponsored by The Saffronart Foundation

St+art India’s “Work in Progress” is the fourth edition of the St+art Festival in India, organised by the St+art India Foundation. The two-month long street festival opened on 31 January with live music performances and curated shows at Okhla, where crowds were dwarfed by massive shipping containers displaying the works of 25 artists from India and around the world.

WIP_opening_Photo by Hanif Kureshi

The opening of “Work in Progress”. Photograph by Hanif Kureshi

A spokesperson for St+art India said, “The festival aims to change the city’s landscape with art in public spaces through mediums such as murals, installations, performances, workshops, talks, screenings. It provides a collaborative platform for street artists from India and around the world and focuses on the idea of ‘art for everyone’ with the prime objective of having a positive impact on the society and also reaching out to wider audiences.”

Nevercrew from Switzerland at work. Photo by Shijo George

Nevercrew from Switzerland at work. Photo by Shijo George

The festival’s focus this year is Lodhi Colony, New Delhi, where invited artists continue to work on the containers. The St+art India Foundation has partnered with The Ministry of Urban Development in supporting its Swachh Bharat Mission, to transform Lodhi Colony into the country’s first public art district. “Through the creation of India’s first public art district we hope to work with the government on more projects to create an alternate and sustainable approach towards the Swachh Bharat Mission,” said Arjun Bahl, Co-Founder and Director of the St+Art India Festival.

Gond artist Rakesh Memrot working on his mural at Lodhi Colony. Photo by Akshat Nauriyal

Gond artist Rakesh Memrot’s mural at Lodhi Colony. Photo by Akshat Nauriyal

Rakesh Memrot's mural at Lodhi Colony.

Gond artist Rakesh Memrot’s mural at Lodhi Colony

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Displaying their creations at the venue are artists from India, Iran, Japan, Spain, Italy, France, Poland, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Australia, Uruguay, Mexico, and the United States. Through the course of the show, group tours can be pre-booked for Thursdays on the St+art India website. The containers will remain painted after the exhibition closes, and will travel across India as transportation.

The exhibition closes on Sunday, 28 February. For the schedule and more details, visit the St+Art India website.

All images provided by St+Art India Foundation

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Let’s Take Five

Eesha Patkar highlights the five revered gemstones from Saffronart’s upcoming jewellery auction

Last month was a milestone for Saffronart. We held our most successful sale ever in our 15 year journey as an auction house. We achieved world records for four important Indian artists, both Modern and Contemporary. We made headlines. And we basically raised the bar.

Even as we pat ourselves on the back—just the tiniest bit—we are already preparing for our next auction. This time, we’re adding some sparkle in the dry days of October. Not to mention, a bit of polish.

Coming up is our Online Auction of Fine Jewels and Silver on 28 – 29 October on From traditional Indian jewellery that draws on centuries of craftsmanship, to peculiar sounding jewels that are as rare, as they are beautiful—we have it all.

For the next few weeks, we will cover some of the highlights of our auction in a series of blog posts. Today, we look at the Big Five: pearls, diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and rubies. They’re part of an important order of nine gemstones—or navaratna—in Indian gemmology, and highly valued.

History is littered with stories, gruesome to romantic, that involve these prized jewels. And our auction features a bunch of them. They’re guaranteed to invite looks of envy. After all, as Harry Winston famously said, “People will stare. Make it worth their while.”

You can’t cry on a diamond’s shoulder, and diamonds won’t keep you warm at night. But they’re sure fun when the sun shines.” —Elizabeth Taylor

An Important Diamond Necklace

An Important Diamond Necklace (on auction)

DIAMONDS have a long history in India, which was the world’s first and only source for this precious gemstone for more than 2000 years, until the discovery of diamond mines in Brazil in 1729.

The Venetian explorer Marco Polo, who travelled to India in the 13th century, narrates an exotic — and exaggerated — tale about the unapproachable diamond valleys of Golconda inhabited by deadly, venomous snakes and eagles who fed upon them, and the arduous manner in which the diamond seekers got their prize.

Maharajas, Mughal courts and royal families collected vast quantities of loose diamonds both, for their treasuries as well as for jewellery. These diamond crystals were rarely cut, so as to retain their original size and weight, and flaws were only camouflaged with small facets.

Of the many ways a diamond could be cut, the rose-cut—the flat-backed, domed and faceted top, as seen in the three-tiered diamond necklace on auction—was attributed to Indian lapidaries. Mughal jewellers used this technique to make the best use of irregular, flat type of rough diamonds.


The lot on auction is a modern version of diamond necklaces favoured by royalty. It is significant for its use of unusually large, rose-cut diamonds, inverted, with a nod to the flat-cut diamonds used in traditional Jadau jewellery. The use of spacers with peacock motif as a harness is a subtle nod to traditional Indian design, while maintaining a modern minimalism which allows for a focus on the stone rather than the setting.

Fact: In 1947, King George VI—the last Emperor of India—inherited 239 loose diamond collets, believed to be from India, among other Crown heirlooms. He had a diamond necklace commissioned for his daughter, Princess Elizabeth, using 105 of these stones, set in a style similar to those in the necklace on auction. The resulting piece was named the Queen’s Festoon Necklace. After her ascension to the throne, the Festoon Necklace has adorned Queen Elizabeth II at various state dinners and galas in 1957, 1958 and 1962 and later.

Pearls are always appropriate.” —Jackie Kennedy Onassis

A Fve Strand Natural Pearl Necklace

A Five Strand Natural Pearl Necklace (on auction)

PEARLS are classic. They have been admired since antiquity, appearing in all kinds of variations in traditional Indian jewellery. In the navaratna order, they’re associated with the moon (the celestial deity Chandra) for their soft radiance and satin sheen.

In the Mughal era, pearls were ubiquitous among the ruling class. Emperor Akbar was frequently depicted wearing multi-strand pearl necklaces. Later portraits and accounts of the Maharajas of post-Mughal India—which depicted them decked head-to-toe in jewellery worth their weight—show an abundant display of pearls in necklaces, turban ornaments and other sartorial accessories. According to historian Oppi Untracht, the natural pearls owned by the Maharaja of Patiala were considered to be among the world’s finest.

Most natural beds of pearl-bearing oysters ran dry due to over-harvesting in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, natural pearls are extremely rare and expensive. By the early 20th century, cultured pearls—grown under tightly controlled conditions through a technique perfected in Japan—came into mass production, and were widely used in the jewellery trade.

The five-strand magnificent pearl necklace on auction bears a setting seen quite commonly in traditional Indian jewellery—pierced and strung as beads. Pearl stringing was an art, requiring experience and judgment, and a great way to determine the value of a necklace by its arrangement.


The lot on auction is a striking example of the sharp graduation style of pearls, where the focus is on the size and lustre of the central pearls. The design is further enhanced because all five strands end with larger sized pearls which connect to the clasp, as opposed to the more conventional way of stringing pearls according to size. This style of sharp graduation was popular among royal families all over India.

Fact: In medieval Europe, only royalty and high nobility were allowed pearls. Queen Elizabeth I, although abhorrent of them initially, came to love pearls so much in her later life that she had them sewn on to her wigs and dresses.

Girls can wear pearls, but it takes a woman to wear serious emeralds.” —Hettie Judah

EMERALDS have a powerful place in the world of gemstones as the most famous members of the Beryl family. Ancient myths credit this brilliant green stone with magical properties, from the ability to predict the future, to detecting falsehoods. Emeralds were even worn as protective talismans and were believed to cure fatal diseases.

In Hindu texts, the emerald was one of the navaratna stones, representing the planet Mercury. In Persian culture they symbolised goodness and purity. But it was in medieval Europe—where jewels held symbolic importance in political circles—that this gemstone was perhaps considered the most sacrosanct. According to Hettie Judah, “Sumptuary laws of Byzantium, and many from medieval Europe, forbade the wearing of gemstones such as emeralds by those outside the circles of the court; money alone could not purchase the right to wear jewels.”

The earliest known emerald mines were in Egypt, dating as far back as 330 BC, and functioned well into the 1700s. The Egyptian queen Cleopatra was known for her love of emeralds, often using it in her royal wardrobe. In the 1500s, the Spanish conquistadors discovered emerald mines in Colombia, which produced infinitely finer emeralds in terms of colour, clarity and size.

The quality of an emerald is largely assessed on the basis of its colour. For the longest time, Colombian emeralds have led the market, as they are “blessed with near-perfect colour chemistry”, according to Jonathan Self, author of Emerald: Twenty-one Centuries of Jewelled Opulence and Power.

A Colombian Emerald and Diamond Pendant (on auction)

A Colombian Emerald and Diamond Pendant (on auction)

Microscopic inclusions in a Colombian emerald can cause the light penetrating the stone to scatter, giving rise to a rich “green fire” that is widely recognised by experts and desired by collectors, who consider Colombian emeralds as undisputedly the best. The pendant on auction contains a step-cut emerald from Colombia, weighing 24.11 carats.

Fact: India became acquainted with emeralds through Portuguese traders, who brought it through the ports in Goa and Deccan. One of the largest emeralds, dating back to 1695, is believed to have come from the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb, the last of the Mughal rulers. The Mogul Emerald, as it is known, weighs 217.80 carats and is about 10 cm high, with one side inscribed with Islamic prayers and the other with flower ornaments. In 2001, it sold in auction for a cool $2.2 million.

A kiss on the hand may feel very, very good, but a diamond and sapphire bracelet lasts forever.” ―Anita Loos

A Burmese Sapphire and Diamond Ring (on auction)

A Burmese Sapphire and Diamond Ring (on auction)

A bracelet it’s not, but the Burmese Sapphire and Diamond Ring lot on auction not only feels good, and is one to last for eternity. The blue sapphire—(yes, sapphire comes in a range of colours, besides blue)—belongs to a translucent, dark-blue variety of the mineral species corundum.

From 1880 to 1920, Kashmiri sapphires had attracted a lot of attention, found after a landslide hit the region at an altitude of 16,000 feet. The pure, intense blue with the subtle undertone of violet—mined heavily for over eight years—is still considered the holy grail of the sapphire groups. This prized sapphire is rare and coveted now, given that the region was completed depleted of its sapphire sources.

In the last few years, fine Burmese sapphires from the Baw Mar area of Mogok have gained recognition in the market. After the Kashmiri sapphire, the Burmese colour is regarded as highly valuable—ranging from a rich, full royal blue to a deep cornflower blue. The ring on auction has at its centre an oval-shaped natural Burmese sapphire cabochon of vivid blue colour, with no indications of heat treatment.

In Sri Lanka, once known as Ceylon, mining for gemstones began since antiquity, and the oldest sapphires are found there. Sri Lankan sapphires are recognised for their luminosity—colours range from light to mid-blue.

Today, most blue sapphires come from Australia or from Thailand.

While a lot of Indians treat the sapphire with superstition and wear it with great caution—due its association with the unpopular Saturn (Shani) planet in Hindu mythology—many other cultures enjoy its cool, spirituality-invoking colour. The visual allusion to blue skies and the infinite universe is an easy one to make. Those who adopt gem therapy believe the sapphire brings about tranquillity and better concentration, and can cure rheumatic aches, ulcers and eye problems.


Fact: The world’s most famous sapphire and diamond ring is as engagement ring worn by Kate Middleton, wife of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge. It was once worn by Princess Diana during her engagement to Prince Charles, Prince William’s father, and has a great resemblance to the ring on auction.

Rubies do not age. The fire that was locked in their hearts millions of years ago still burns, even after the emperors and empires that fought for them have crumbled to dust and ashes.” —Fire and Blood: Rubies in Myth, Magic, and History

An Impressive Pair of Ruby and Diamond Ear Pendants

An Impressive Pair of Ruby and Diamond Ear Pendants (on auction)

Rubies have been called the Ratnaraj, or “The Emperor of Gems,” in Sanskrit. In Hindu mythology, the Ratna Pariksha describes the demon Vala, who was dismembered for a sacrifice. Each of his body parts turned into a brilliant gemstone as it fell to earth, the ruby being one of them. Rubies were believed to treat heart and blood diseases, and to bless the wearer with longevity and excellent health. A Burmese legend mentions that warriors embedding rubies in their flesh to remain invincible in battle. Whether it was the allure of its brilliant red or its reputation as an amulet, many sought their claim to this lyrical gem.

The ruby has a rich genealogy. Rubies are related to sapphires and belong to the corundum family. They earn their fiery red colour from the presence of chromium. Rubies vary in colour, and are assigned value accordingly. Until recently, Burmese rubies dominated the colour valuation with their pigeon-blood red colour.

The discovery of ruby mines in Montepuez, Mozambique, however, has had many turn their attention to Mozambique as a significant source of fire-red rubies. Mozambique rubies are distinct for their rich, deep, red colour, which is highly coveted today. The price of Mozambique rubies is still a steal for the quality of colour and value they provide.

The cushion shaped rubies in the ear pendants and bracelet on auction are Mozambican in origin.

A Ruby and Diamond Bracelet

A Ruby and Diamond Bracelet (on auction)

Fact: The ruby ear pendants on auction were worn by Mila Kunis, the brand ambassador for Gemfields—a gemstone mining company headquartered in the United Kingdom—at an event by Burberry, held at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, earlier this year.

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An Evening with Krishen Khanna

Vidhita Raina reports on Krishen Khanna’s lecture on “The Progressives” at London’s Courtauld Institute

Krishen Khanna (centre), Prof. Deborah Swallow (right) and Zehra Jumabhoy (left). Credits: Grosvenor Gallery, London.

Krishen Khanna (centre), Prof. Deborah Swallow (right) and Zehra Jumabhoy (left). Credits: Grosvenor Gallery, London.

“Is the artist only interested in being a unique individual? If I had considered my work to be unique, then I would have continued trying to be unique… and that is not what art is about,” said Krishen Khanna at a talk held at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London on June 8, 2015. This sagacious insight into his artistic motivations was one of the many gemstones that Khanna—a leading Indian Modernist painter—showered upon a rapt audience, eager in attendance to witness one of the stalwarts of Indian art reminiscing about its heydays.

With Deborah Swallow and Zehra Jumabhoy from the Courtauld Institute, and Conor Macklin from Grosvenor Gallery also on the panel, this debate was conducted as part of the “Contemporaneity in South Asian Art” seminar series.

The symposium was full of anecdotes as Khanna brought out his personal archive of letters exchanged between him and his many associates. Khanna’s nostalgic stories about his Bombay Progressive peers were unequivocally the highlights; particularly those involving his erstwhile roommate and one of the most celebrated Indian artists, the late Maqbool Fida Husain. It is common knowledge that Husain introduced Khanna into the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group (or “PAG”, as they were generally called). But the evening revealed one more nugget of information—Husain, during one of his visits to Khanna’s then home in Churchgate, Mumbai, borrowed his copy of the English art critic Clive Bell’s 1914 seminal text Art, only to eventually lose it. This incident, according to Khanna, was a result of “certain forces which operate at the right time”.

Khanna’s association with the PAG, which was formed right on the heels of India’s independence in 1947, led to several accomplishments in his trajectory as an artist. He held major exhibitions in Mumbai and New Delhi in the late ’50s. The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research showed great interest in his work, and its founding director—the esteemed nuclear physicist Dr. Homi Bhabha—bought his very first painting. In 1960, Khanna had his first solo show with Leicester Galleries of London. Here Khanna drew upon a letter written by renowned British art historian, Sir Kenneth Clark, gloriously calling one of his major abstract artworks a “masterpiece”.

Khanna spoke at length about Francis Newton Souza’s role as the driving force behind the PAG, including calling the group as “Progressives”. However, the term was subsequently dropped as many of its members—which also included artists like S.H. Raza, Akbar Padamsee, Tyeb Mehta, V.S. Gaitonde, Ram Kumar, K.H. Ara, among others—felt that it had political connotations. It was a suggestion that rankled with Khanna, as the PAG never saw itself as a political group.

But even as the PAG was beginning to emerge as a new wave of artists in post-independent India unfettered by their political climate—and dissociating themselves from the nationalist spirit of the preceding Bengal School artists in the process—their art, Khanna’s in particular, couldn’t avoid resonating with social, economic and political undertones of a changing nation state.

Born in the city of Lyallpur (now Faisalabad of modern day Pakistan) in 1925, Khanna was, and is, no stranger to political turmoil. Following the Partition of India in 1947, his family moved to Shimla in northern India. Khanna himself accepted a job at Grindlays Bank in Bombay, a position he would hold for 14 years, before finally resigning to focus on his art completely.

Krishen Khanna on the 'Progressives' at the Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre, The Courtauld Institute of Art. Credits: Grosvenor Gallery, London.

Krishen Khanna on the ‘Progressives’ at the Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre, The Courtauld Institute of Art. Credits: Grosvenor Gallery, London.

A self-taught artist, Khanna created works that showed a strong preoccupation with the historical background of his time. For him, the humanistic element in a painting was a paramount. Khanna was deeply concerned with the condition of the individual. It’s an artistic anxiety highly evident in his paintings of tired workers piled in trucks, dhaba owners in twilight moments, and the uniformed “bandwallas”—the last vestiges of long-dead British imperial legacy. In her biography Krishen Khanna: The Embrace of Love, critic Gayatri Sinha has said: “the paintings constitute a powerful psychological engagement, one that also serves as a document of the passage of time in modern India.”

Another aspect of the debate, raised by Conor Macklin and Zehra Jumabhoy, was India’s relationship with Britain, and the impact of the European Avant-garde Movement on the PAG. Just as the modern art of Europe rose from the trenches of the World War I, the trauma resulting from the Partition of India also stimulated a new language of art production in its wake. In an effort to locate a new identity and language for Indian art, many of the modern artists such as Souza, Raza, and Padamsee—having studied or spent time in Paris—inevitably found themselves looking towards Western styles of art.

Khanna himself was a well-travelled and worldly artist: he was the first Indian painter to be awarded the Rockefeller Fellowship by New York’s prestigious Rockefeller Foundation in1962. As part of this fellowship, Khanna spent time in Japan where he found inspiration in the Sumi-e (Suibokuga) calligraphic style of paintings, practiced by Zen Buddhists during the 14th century. This led to a number of experiments in abstraction during the ’60s and ’70s, which Khanna reflected upon as “a series of events which formulate or assist in formulating the kind of action you have to take”. In the following year, he was invited as the artist-in-residence at the American University, Washington D.C., and exhibited at various museums and galleries throughout the United States.

Besides being a riveting trip down memory lane, the symposium was mainly a precursor to Krishen Khanna’s ongoing retrospective at the Grosvenor Gallery titled “when the band began to play he packed up his troubles and marched away”. A certain homage was paid to the presence of the seminar being held at the Kenneth Clark lecture theatre, named after the eponymous art historian and an old associate of the artist.

Khanna’s talk was one for the history books—significant moments during the early Indian Modernist phase were brought up, including when artist Bal Chhabda opened Gallery 59. It was Mumbai’s first, short-lived art gallery to showcase artworks by the PAG members in 1959. The group may be long gone, but they left an undeniable legacy for India and the world to treasure.

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A Brief History of Indian Art

We’ve put together a very, very concise guide on Modern and Contemporary Indian Art for our StoryLTD customers

If you’ve visited our sister site, StoryLTD by Saffronart, and spent hours (or minutes, for the impatient) sifting through our pages, this might come as some handy information for you. We’ve introduced succinct essays on most of our categories, going by genre and medium, to guide you on what each category has to offer. If you find yourself fancying some of the folk and tribal art paintings, or any of the landscapes for sale, browse through our collection and scroll to the bottom to learn more about them.

Here, we’ve summed up the Modern and Contemporary art movements, talking about the circumstances that shaped each generation’s approach to art.

An Overview of Modern Indian Art

We cover a broad spectrum of prints of Modern Indian paintings by Raja Ravi Varma, Sakti Burman, S. H. Raza, M. F. Husain, and other artists active in the early-to-mid 20th century.

During the early and mid 1900s, the dilemma for many artists centred around interrogating Western influences on artistic expression, establishing a distinct identity and idiom for Indian art, and engaging with the role and function of the artist in a country like India. The British encouraged a Western approach to art; a realistic, trompe l’oeil work was more valued than the practices previously favoured. As a knee-jerk reaction, different schools of thought, such as the Bengal School, cropped up to check colonialism and Western ideals.

Following India’s independence, artists addressed themes ranging from the everyday and trivial to the social and political, from the late forties through succeeding decades. Sculptors also experimented with different materials and techniques to lend a more personal and reflective quality to their work. By the 1970s, a number of social and political events unfolding across the country left an impression on artists. The role of the artist in a developing country and the need for social responsiveness were interrogated by these practitioners. This decade also saw many more women artists come forward on the artistic scene, the majority of them delineating a point of view that combined the feminist and the subjective.

Contemporary Paintings

Indian Contemporary art has come to include art made from the mid-80s onwards. Our section on StoryLTD features original paintings by contemporary artists for sale.

The modernism of the preceding decades set the tone of Indian artistic practice in the late eighties and nineties. The new generation had long moved on from the concerns that plagued artists in the earlier half of the century. During the 1990s, a pluralist and fragmentative mood dominated the creation of contemporary art. Artists had to respond to a plethora of stimuli, trying to address a new age of information, and the emergence and novel concerns of the ‘global Indian’. The Indian art market has ever since opened up abroad. Art galleries within the country have increased in number, and the Indian artist is now faced with the challenge of speaking to a more diffuse audience.

Today, the work of artists from the Indian diaspora, the blurring of design and art, and the videos, installations and digital spaces of an even younger generation of artists have all added new dimensions to Indian contemporary art, a vague and undefined concept ever-receptive to growth and change.

To buy Indian paintings and prints online, visit

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Art, Politics and The Nose: William Kentridge

Eesha Patkar takes a look at one of South Africa’s foremost artists and filmmakers

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE - RETROSPECTIVE at Johannesburg Art Gallery (3 July - 23 October 2005), Exhibition Poster

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE – RETROSPECTIVE at Johannesburg Art Gallery (3 July – 23 October 2005), Exhibition Poster

William Kentridge, one of South Africa’s leading artists and authorities on the subject of apartheid, has made his way to StoryLTD. For the next few weeks, we are featuring prints and posters from his art shows around the world.

Our collection of posters shows Kentridge’s continued presence in his hometown of Johannesburg where he exhibited steadily at the Goodman Gallery, but internationally as well, at Annandale Galleries in Sydney, Australia, and K20 Grabbeplatz in Düsseldorf, Germany. These are, of course, mere hints of the entire breadth of Kentridge’s achievements.

Between the mid-1970s to the late 1980s, Kentridge started and developed a reputation as a charcoal artist and printmaker. In the ’90s, he produced the first of his many animated films—Monument (1990), Sobriety, Obesity & Growing Old (1991), Felix in Exile (1994), to name a few—a series of nine films that he eventually exhibited together as the “9 Drawings for Projection.” You can find the poster for this exhibit here.

9 FILMS - WILLIAM KENTRIDGE 9 DRAWINGS FOR PROJECTION, Old Fort, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, 22 -24 March 2004, Exhibition Poster

9 FILMS – WILLIAM KENTRIDGE 9 DRAWINGS FOR PROJECTION, Old Fort, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, 22 -24 March 2004, Exhibition Poster

Among others, we also have two posters that were once part of a limited edition triptych series. The posters themselves are designs for Kentridge’s six minute short film A Lifetime of Enthusiasm that was part of the installation “Telegrams from the Nose” at the Annandale Galleries in 2008. The third one remains elusive as of now, but those intent on possessing it and completing their collection can make a quest of it.

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE - A LIFETIME OF ENTHUSIASM, Annandale Galleries Poster for Telegrams From The Nose, 11 June to 17 July, 2008.

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE – A LIFETIME OF ENTHUSIASM, Annandale Galleries Poster for Telegrams From The Nose, 11 June to 17 July, 2008.

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE - A LIFETIME OF ENTHUSIASM, Annandale Galleries Poster for Telegrams From The Nose, 11 June to 17 July, 2008

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE – A LIFETIME OF ENTHUSIASM, Annandale Galleries Poster for Telegrams From The Nose, 11 June to 17 July, 2008

Kentridge’s works were hardly ever standalone pieces: when he focused on a project, he created a cornucopia of art work that he abhorred to waste. It all became part of his narrative somehow, either in the original piece that he was designing it for, or a retrospective afterwards. For instance, the 2005 poster “Preparing the Flute” was designed for the exhibition celebrating Kentridge’s operatic production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte/The Magic Flute that opened earlier that year at the La Monnaie theatre in Brussels, Belgium.

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE - PREPARING THE FLUTE, The Goodman Gallery Johannesburg, South Africa, 4th June to 16th July, Exhibition Poster

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE – PREPARING THE FLUTE, The Goodman Gallery Johannesburg, South Africa, 4th June to 16th July, Exhibition Poster

Likewise, with this poster designed for the 16th Sydney Biennale in 2008, featuring one of Kentridge’s famous collaborative pieces “Telegrams from the Nose.” The exhibit at Cockatoo Island, during which he worked with composer Francois Sarhan, consisted of a multi-projection film titled I Am Not Me, The Horse Is Not Mine (2008) and referred to a future production of an opera that he directed for the Metropolitan Opera of New York at the time.

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE - TELEGRAMS FROM THE NOSE, 16th Biennale of Sydney, 2008, Exhibition Poster

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE – TELEGRAMS FROM THE NOSE, 16th Biennale of Sydney, 2008, Exhibition Poster

The opera, which premiered in 2010, was a re-adaptation of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s 1930 opera The Nose, originally borrowed from the short story by the famous Nikolai Gogol.

I first read Gogol’s The Nose sometime in 2010 myself—in tandem with Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis—both stories evoking the feeling of absurd, a genre that was particularly relevant and heavily employed in literature, theatre and arts of early 20th century, post-war Europe. Of course, Gogol wrote The Nose much earlier in 1836, to be revived by Shostakovich a century later. There have been several reappropriations of the story over time, but it has never been more consistently experimented on and beautifully explored than in the works and art of Kentridge.

Kentridge, already well-known for his politically inflected work, sought to incorporate the absurdity of The Nose into a series of palimpsestic works of art that defied any clear medium. His charcoal drawings became stop-action animated films that turned into highly interactive multimedia installations. And practically everything that he worked on during 2007 and 2010 was gearing towards the grand pièce de résistance, the final opera.

Gogol wrote The Nose, like most of his short stories (The Overcoat), as a satirical device poking fun at the egotistical excesses of Russian politics during his time. In it, a barber named Ivan Yakovlevich finds a pale nose in the bread he’s about to eat for breakfast. It belongs to Kovalyov—“Major Kovalyov” as he pompously deigns himself—a member of the Municipal Committee. Afraid to be seen with a bureaucrat’s appendage, the barber throws it off the Isaac bridge in the Neva river below. Meanwhile, the Major has just woken up without his nose attached to his face, and proceeds to spend the rest of his day trying to find it and commandeering the local police to catch it for him.

Ludicrous in narrative, yet clever in form, Gogol transforms the nose as a metaphorical and synecdochical arc to puncture the flatulent grandiose of not just the Major, but his peers and superiors as well. The value of a socially acceptable and dignified appearance, given importance through sartorial mentions of uniforms, coats, and cloaks—or lack thereof, in case of the barber—is particularly striking. The Major’s appearance is marred (“flat as a pancake”) without his nose, leaving him impotent and unable to “snub his nose” at those he encounters daily. But I find the Indian idiom “naak kat gayi”—literary translated as “nose cut off”—far more apt here. To find one’s nose (figuratively) cut off, is to be humiliated, ashamed and beaten even. Which is exactly what happens to the Major: he hides, blusters in shame and doesn’t regain his confidence until his nose is returned to its rightful place. Of course, he fails to find any humility in the process and continues in his megalomaniac ways, reaffirming the story for the satire it truly is.

During his work on the opera, Kentridge saw parallels between the politics of Russian bureaucracy and South African socio-economic politics of his own homeland. He found the Absurd as a perfect vehicle for expressing and exploring this dynamic: “(t)he extraordinary nonsense hierarchy of apartheid in South Africa made one understand the absurd not as a peripheral mistake at the edge of a society, but at the central point of construction. So the absurd always, for me, is a species of realism rather than a species of joke or fun. And that’s why one can take the joke of The Nose very seriously.”

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE - WHAT WILL COME, The Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa, 10th November to 14th Decemver 2007, Exhibition Poster

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE – WHAT WILL COME, The Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa, 10th November to 14th December 2007, Exhibition Poster

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE - K20, 27 March - 31 May, 2004, Exhibition Poster

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE – K20, 27 March – 31 May, 2004, Exhibition Poster

Kentridge was a genius. Whether he was deconstructing three dimensional reality through mirrored cylinders in installations such as “What Will Come” at the Goodman gallery, or reflecting on identity and individual choices in a politically conflicted landscape as he did through his films at the K20 exhibit—at the heart of it was always the voice of an artist striving to inform, interrogate and possibly change the world.

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The World through the eyes of Mario Miranda

Lani McGuinness on prints by one of India’s most beloved cartoonists 

Mario Mario Miranda

Mario Miranda…by Mario Miranda

If you frequent Cafe Mondegar in Colaba, with its enticing smells and animated crowds, you would perhaps agree that the cafe would not be complete without its iconic Mario Miranda cartoons sprawled across the walls. Widely recognised as one of India’s most popular and gifted cartoonists, Mario Miranda (1926 – 2011) infused a razor-sharp sense of humour in the humdrum. His work featured regularly in many noteworthy Indian newspapers, including the Times of India and the Economic Times.

StoryLTD is celebrating his life and work through four online collections, where a wide range of Mario Miranda prints and drawings are available to buy. Our Limited Edition Prints and Open Edition Prints span his travels across the United States, Europe, China and India, and also cover his interpretations of historical moments as they occurred. Works like “The Barber’s Shop” and “The Street Where I Live” wittily condense scenes that we see unfold around us, with a timely sense of humour. Not all are caricatures, however. Works such as “Colonial Portuguese Architecture” and “Street in Fontainhas” appear inspired by places where he might have been physically present.  Many of his ink and pen caricatures of office and day-today life, and politics, are compiled in our collection of Mario Miranda Originals. Some among you may recollect the Jazz Yatra festivals held between 1980 and 2003; Yatra…and all that Jazz… is a selection of pen, ink, and watercolour sketches that capture the moods of these festivals.

“The Street Where I Live” by Mario Miranda Digital print on paper

“The Street Where I Live”
Digital print on paper

“The Barber’s Shop” by Mario Miranda Digital print on paper

“The Barber’s Shop” 
Digital print on paper

“Street in Fontainhas” by Mario Miranda Digital print on paper

“Street in Fontainhas” 
Digital print on paper

“Colonial Portuguese Architecture” by Mario Miranda Digital print on paper

“Colonial Portuguese Architecture” 
Digital print on paper

Although he never received formal art training, Mario Miranda’s talent was recognised by his friends while he was studying architecture after receiving a B.A. in History. What started as a sideline to make extra money from his friends spiralled into a full-fledged career as a cartoonist. He first gained nationwide popularity through his work in The Illustrated Weekly of India. Through this and other Mumbai-based newspapers, his work grew in popularity. The five years that he lived in England allowed him to travel around Europe extensively, and his work was featured in magazines including Lilliput, Mad and Punch.

A 1980 pen and ink on paper by Mario Miranda From the collection “Mario Miranda, Originals”

A 1980 pen and ink on paper 
From the collection “Mario Miranda, Originals”

A 1970s pen and ink on paper by Mario Miranda From the collection “Mario Miranda, Originals”

A 1970s pen and ink on paper
From the collection “Mario Miranda, Originals”

\“Herbie Mann”, from the collection Yatra...And All That Jazz... Pen and ink on paper

“Herbie Mann”, from the collection Yatra…And All That Jazz… Pen and ink on paper

“Kenny Barron at the Piano”, from the collection Yatra...And All That Jazz... Watercolour, pen and ink on paper

“Kenny Barron at the Piano”, from the collection Yatra…And All That Jazz… Watercolour, pen and ink on paper

In 1974, at the invitation of the United States Information Service, Mario Miranda travelled to the United States to promote his work and meet other cartoonists, including Charles M. Shultz, the creator of the popular comic series “Peanuts”. Yet, despite all his travels, Mario Miranda retained a distinctly Indian flavour. Be it his caricatures or vignettes of the villages of his birthplace Goa and sub-Indian cultures, Miranda’s work reflects his experiences of modern India; frenetic lines and curvaceous women populate almost all his prints and paintings.

Mario Miranda has been recognised internationally with a number of solo exhibitions in many countries, including Japan, Germany, the USA, Spain and France.

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