2021: A Year in Review

A historic year of record-breaking sales, powered by a thriving art market and a resilient and unified art community, 2021 has turned out to be one of the most exciting and spirited years we’ve seen at Saffronart. As we turn the page on 2021, we would like to take a moment to review a monumental year wherein Saffronart has consistently taken on a leadership role through the challenges thrown by the ongoing pandemic.  

For Saffronart, one of the highlights of 2021 has been the increased interest in modern Indian art globally. The record-breaking sales which led each major Saffronart auction have underscored the tremendous interest for Indian art on a global platform. These auctions dramatically expanded our reach as we shifted to a live hybrid auction format that seamlessly incorporated state-of-the-art technology, expanded access, and an enhanced experience for art collectors and bidders from around the world.

Artworks from our Winter Auction 2021 on display at our gallery in Mumbai

With the heightened demand for Indian art and our updated auction format, we now reach twice as many bidders with four times the number of auctions in 2021 than we did in pre-pandemic 2019. In particular, the total number of auctions that take place on StoryLTD has gone up by nearly 500% during the same period, with a significantly higher percentage of lots sold in 2021. Along with this, we have also been able to expand the range of categories offered through StoryLTD to include jewellery, fine art, rare books, prints, photography, vintage cameras, ceramics, silverware, folk and tribal art, experiences, and other collectibles. These exciting new directions have taken shape through our new dynamic gallery space in Mumbai, featuring innovative displays and walkthroughs for art enthusiasts and collectors.

This year also bore witness to a dramatic increase in the number of top-value artworks being sold. In 2021, the number of artworks which sold for over INR 20 crores were four times that of the previous year.

V S Gaitonde, Untitled, 1961, Oil on canvas, Sold for INR 39.98 crores (USD 5.5 million) at our Spring Live Auction in March 2021

2021 also showed us some of the most historic, record-breaking sales of modern Indian art, which included the sale of V S Gaitonde’s Untitled, 1961 at Saffronart’s Spring Live Auction in March 2021 for the price of INR 39.98 crores (USD 5.5 million), making it the highest value achieved for a work of Indian art in auction worldwide, as well as Amrita Sher-Gil’s In the Ladies’ Enclosure, 1938 at Saffronart’s Summer Live Auction in July 2021 for INR 37.8 crores (USD 5.14 million), making it the highest value achieved by the artist in auction and the second-most expensive work of Indian art sold globally.

Amrita Sher-Gil, In the Ladies’ Enclosure, 1938, Oil on canvas, Sold for INR 37.8 crores (USD 5.14 million) at our Summer Live Auction in July 2021

That’s not all. We’ve had a year that’s seen record prices being hammered down for the works of Jamini Roy (Untitled for INR 4.32 crores (USD 583,784)), C Raja Raja Varma (Baby and Princess, 1887 for INR 3 crores (USD 402,685)), and Rama Varma (Untitled, 1914 for INR 2.16 crores (USD 289,933)). In our sales, about 40% of the works sold at prices that were well above the higher estimate.

2021 was also a year where Saffronart hosted two successful online auctions for fine jewellery, silver and luxury watches, as well as contemporary furniture, handwoven rugs and rare books. The jewellery auction featured a unique turban ornament designed by the late renowned jewellery designer Munnu Kasliwal, which sold for over INR 90 lakhs (USD 123,000).

A Majestic Diamond and Pearl Sarpech or Turban Ornament by Munnu Kasliwal sold for INR 90.9 lakhs (USD 122,848) at our Fine Jewels, Silver and Watches auction in October 2021

While we were fortunate to have been in a position to innovate and adapt in a manner that helped us navigate the turbulent waters of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was also an opportunity for us to give back when it was most needed. We hosted fundraising auctions through 2021 in partnership with arts, cultural and charitable organisations in order to support organisations working on the front lines to help those with the greatest need. This included Art Rises for India, a COVID-19 fundraiser auction, supported by artists, galleries, and members of the Indian art community, which saw a successful sale of 100% of the lots leading to a sum of INR 2 crores being raised through the auction; the Times Art Fest Auction that raised INR 1.26 crores; the Young Presidents’ Organisation Charity Auction that saw a sale of INR 1.3 crores, which was approximately four times above the lower estimated price; and the India for Artisans fundraiser auction, organised in collaboration with 200 Million Artisans and Creative Dignity, that raised over INR 23 lakhs to aid in the economic recovery of artisan communities across the country. In addition, we have conducted multiple single owner sales on StoryLTD with the proceeds going to various charitable organisations.

As the market leader for modern and contemporary Indian art for the last six years, Saffronart works consistently towards presenting strong works by leading artists. Having led the Indian art market through 2021 with over 35% of the market share, we remain committed to developing and growing the art market in the years to come. We thank you for your support and feedback through this year and look forward to sharing our new directions and innovations with you in 2022.

2000 Years of Indian Art

The Indian subcontinent has nurtured some of the oldest human settlements and civilisations in the world. Having hosted countless cultural awakenings, innovations and exchanges since prehistoric times, the region boasts a rich and fascinating artistic history that continues to influence aesthetic movements and captivate spectators even today.

Beginning with the sculptural masterpieces of Buddhist and Hindu art from the first millennium to the ground-breaking modernist art of the 20th century, here we explore India’s captivating art history through a selection of works from Saffronart’s upcoming Winter Live Auction this December.

Early Buddhist Art

Some of the earliest records of artistic experimentation in Northern India during the Common Era can be traced to the Kushan Empire, which, during its peak, extended from Ujjain, Mathura and Sarnath, across the Hindu-Kush to Afghanistan and Bactria. Under Kanishka, their fifth and most famous ruler, the empire witnessed a period of great wealth and flourishing visual arts traditions. The Kushans are credited with some of the earliest depictions of Buddha in sculptural form, which includes the 2nd century red sandstone sculpture below.

(L-R) Head of Buddha, 2nd century, Red sandstone, Estimate: Rs 1.5 – 2 lakhs ($2,055 – 2,740);
Ganga, 8th century, Sandstone, Estimate: Rs 10 – 15 lakhs ($13,700 – 20,550)

Medieval Indian Art

From the 4th to 6th century AD, a large portion of northern India was conquered and ruled by the Gupta Empire, who produced some of the most recognised and celebrated works of sculpture and architecture in Indian history. The incredible developments in technology, literature, religion and visual arts during this period went on to shape the artistic productions of the many smaller dynasties that emerged in the following centuries.

One of the most significant characteristics of art produced during the medieval period, i.e., the 7th to 14th century AD, is the influence of religion and religious texts. As evident in the above 8th century sandstone carving depicting Ganga, the river goddess in Hinduism, the representation of religious figures, storylines and even philosophies through sculpture grew to become a significant practice. This tradition is noticeable even in the sculptures of kingdoms of southern India, especially the Hoysala Dynasty. As observed in the 12th century grey schist sculpture of Lord Ganesha, the sculptures produced under the Hoysala Empire showcase a classical style that is distinct to that of the northern schools.

(L-R) Uma-Maheshwara, 12th century, Bronze, Estimate: Rs 12 – 15 lakhs ($16,440 – 20,550);
Standing Vishnu, 14th century, Bronze, Estimate: Rs 9 – 12 lakhs ($12,330 – 16,440)

Along with stone, bronze was another prominent medium in the sculptures of medieval India. While stone sculpturing was often practised on temple walls and similar architecture, bronze works were smaller in size and relatively easier to transport – giving them a prominent role in the diffusion of Indian philosophies, practices and religion, especially Buddhism, in Southeast Asia. The 12th century Pala sculpture of Uma-Maheshwara, and the 14th century Kulu sculpture depicting Vaikunta Vishnu from our collection showcases that bronze sculpturing thrived not only in the realm of artistic innovations, but also in transmitting cultural discoveries and tradition.

Painting Courts and Indigenous Art

Kalighat Pat, Circa 1860s, Estimate: Rs 8 – 12 lakhs ($10,960 – 16,440)

Following the golden age of Indian sculpturing was a period that saw the development of a diverse range of painting schools including Mughal, Rajputi, Deccani and Pahari courts. The period also saw the resurgence of age-old indigenous art practices such as Pat or scroll painting. Developed in then-Calcutta, Kalighat Pat is a scroll-painting technique that gained momentum in Bengal during the 19th century as the port city transformed into a thriving industrial and commercial centre. As seen in the above Kalighat Pat from the 1860s, practitioners of the Kalighat art form traditionally depicted scenes from the life of Lord Krishna as well as other narratives from Hindu mythology.

Early Bengal School

The presence of British and European trading companies and governing bodies in India during the 18th and 19th century led to the creation of a new school of art known as the Company School. The school depicted Indian people, sceneries and subjects in a traditional Royal Academy-style of painting, thus recording life in Colonial India from a foreign perspective.

Untitled (Radha in Jamuna), Estimate: Rs 12 – 18 lakhs ($16,440 – 24,660)

The Early Bengal School of Art was launched as a response to the increasing prominence of the Company School. Artists of the Early Bengal School, who remain largely anonymous till date, combined the artistic styles of the East and West to forge a direction that was vastly different from any other artistic movement prevalent during this time.

Pre-Independence

The final phase of colonial rule in India saw many attempts by artists to merge the artistic traditions of European schools with the age-old traditions, themes and practices of Indian art. One of the most significant artists from this time, Raja Ravi Varma was known for incorporating oil as a medium and adopting European naturalism and realism to portray distinctly Indian mythological themes.

Raja Ravi Varma, Music Hath Charms (Kadambari), Circa 1900s, Estimate: Rs 12 – 15 crores ($1.64 – 2.05 million)

The movement towards India’s independence from colonial rule urged artists to launch a new style of art that accommodated the changing social, political and cultural conditions of the country. For Jamini Roy, this meant seeking a new aesthetic style that reflected his cultural roots and fulfilled his need for a more personal artistic identity. He went on to introduce a new style of modern painting that celebrated and preserved the country’s regional artistic traditions, particularly Kalighat patuas, while simultaneously reconceptualising them to adapt to the changing times.

Modern Art in Independent India

The year 1947, when India gained her independence, also welcomed the launch of one of the most influential artistic alliances in India: the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group. Initiated by artists S H Raza, F N Souza, K H Ara, M F Husain, H A Gade and S K Bakre, the group went on to lead the modern art movement in India. Although most of these artists began with a formal training in traditional realistic painting, capturing urban scenes, landscapes and still life through their art, the post-Independence era encouraged them to reach beyond the scope of European Realism and the Revivalist movements of the early 20th century. While the immediate response to their entry in the art world was shock and aversion, their presence was met with national and international respect, recognition and admiration in the years that followed.

K H Ara, Untitled, Estimate: Rs 30 – 40 lakhs ($41,100 – 54,795)

The 1960s

The 1960s were a period of great artistic experimentation and discovery. Increased exposure to European and American modern art movements, as well as a renewed interest in the imagery of classical and regional Indian art, aided the artists of modern India – such as Ram Kumar, Prabhakhar Barwe, M F Husain, S H Raza as well as the other Progressives – to develop their own independent styles that eventually came to define their careers.

Ram Kumar, Untitled, 1962, Estimate: Rs 70 – 90 lakhs ($95,895 – 123,290)

During this period, artist Ram Kumar moved from figurative works to an increasingly abstract renderings of cities and landscapes, whereas M F Husain developed an artistic style that efficiently brought together European modern art traditions and classical Indian forms, subjects and motifs. For S H Raza, the ‘60s were a key period of experimentation, aided by his exposure to the works of American Abstract Expressionists, whereas for Prabhakar Barwe, it was a period when he delved into the genres of Pop Art as well as Tantric philosophy and its imagery.

While many of the modernists were settling into their own unique artistic style and identity, artists such as Jagdish Swaminathan and Bhupen Khakhar were still in the early stages of their career during the ‘60s. Swaminathan, who was concerned with the creation of a truly Indian modern art that was developed by turning inward, explored and adopted the symbology of ancient cave paintings and the nation’s age-old indigenous art during this period. Meanwhile, Khakhar, who had just moved to Baroda from Bombay, would create an iconic style that featured elements of Hindu symbolism and elements of the Baroda School in formats that were inspired by Western Pop Art.   

Late 20th Century

The latter half of the 20th century saw Indian artists experimenting with diverse mediums, techniques and disciplines, as one can see in the works of Himmat Shah whose sculptures were made from materials as wide as brick, cement, plaster as well as terracotta and bronze. Despite their differences in medium, the majority of art produced in this period of Indian history were connected by a similar purpose – an examination of life in the modern age.

From exploring the aftermaths of the Partition of India to examining the contemporary struggles of migrants, refugees and the destitute, art became deeply relevant, conceptual and heavy in metaphors alluding to matters of social significance. These qualities are demonstrated in Krishen Khanna’s bandwallah series as well as Zarina Hashmi’s semi-abstract woodcut and intaglio prints.

Zarina Hashmi, Debris of Destruction, 2016, Estimate: 40 – 60 lakhs ($54,795 – 82,195)

“The history of art is the history of revivals.” These words by British novelist Samuel Butler powerfully resonate with the evolution of Indian art. Since its ancient beginnings, a plethora of artistic traditions and movements have prospered in the subcontinent, each reflecting the distinctive and diverse political, cultural and social influences of the period from which they were conceived. Nevertheless, as seen in this brief journey through India’s rich artistic past, these multiple independent aesthetic movements bear many similarities despite their differences in time, geographic origins, and socio-political circumstances. From the influence of the Ajanta frescoes and Mughal miniature on the Early Bengal School of Art, to Himmat Shah’s sculptures that were inspired by the prehistoric masterpieces of the Indus Valley Civilisation, Indian art has frequently touched upon the past when directing the future.

Inside Amrita Sher-Gil’s Ladies’ Enclosure

The Indian art world has, over the years, seen various artists making significant and often path-breaking contributions through their craft. But there are few artists who are as fascinating and brilliant as Amrita Sher-Gil. 

Considered to be a pioneer of modernism in India, Sher-Gil’s short but highly fruitful career established her as an eminent artist with an aesthetic sensibility that blended European and Indian elements skilfully. Through her work, Sher-Gil captured the lives and experiences of women in early 20th century India. Her paintings are lauded for their timeless themes and qualities that powerfully resonate with women’s narratives even today.

Amrita in her studio in Simla, 1937 | Photo: Umrao Singh Sher-Gil
Image courtesy: Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Archive, New Delhi

Sher-Gil was born in 1913 to a Marie Antoinette Gottesmann, Hungarian-Jewish opera singer and Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Majithia, a Sikh aristocrat, scholar and photographer. After her promising young talent was discovered at a really young age, Sher-Gil received formal training in art from reputable schools and tutors. In 1929, upon the recommendation of her uncle, Sher-Gil went on to study art at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. The following years marked the beginning of her success as an artist. Nonetheless, a newfound appreciation and longing for Indian art as well as a desire to be closer to her Indian ancestry prompted Sher-Gil to relocate to India.

Sher-Gil’s return to India in 1934 saw a change in her artistic practice. Along with a transformed colour palette that reflected earthy Indian tones, the subjects of her paintings also became increasingly representative of her surroundings.

Amrita painting In the Ladies’ Enclosure, Saraya, Gorakhpur, 1938 | Image courtesy: Vivan Sundaram

The oil on canvas masterpiece In the Ladies’ Enclosure was painted in 1938, a few years after her return to India. This seminal work of art marks the zenith of Sher-Gil’s evolution as an artist and is the outcome of her years spent in training and developing her talent. 

Painted at her family’s estate in Saraya, Gorakhpur, the work depicts a group of women gathered in a field. Notable artist, and Sher-Gil’s nephew, Vivan Sundaram explains that the female subjects present in this painting are, in fact, people known to Sher-Gil – including members of the Majithia family who had been living in the estate at Saraya over long periods of time.

Bride’s Toilet, 1937

The painting offers an arrangement of subjects that is similar to her earlier work Bride’s Toilet, 1937. In both paintings, the main subject is a young woman positioned in the centre with an older woman dressing her hair. However, both paintings, even though executed just a year apart, showcase varied painting styles and techniques.

A striking characteristic of In the Ladies’ Enclosure is the composition’s flat relief, indicating a further departure from realism. As noted by Sundaram, “The bride’s profiled features are drawn schematically: on a pale pink skin colour, four notational lines for the eye and a tiny dot for the pupil. This is to de-romanticize the face – modern art’s agenda to get rid of the shackles of realist painting. Amrita’s flat application of paint and minimal drawing gives this person a remote presence, a quiet austerity.” (Vivan Sundaram, Amrita Sher-Gil: In the Ladies’ Enclosure: A Close Reading and a Walk Through the Enclosure, Mumbai: Saffronart, 2021)

In the Ladies’ Enclosure, 1938, Oil on canvas, 21.5 x 31.5 in | Estimate: Rs 30 – 40 crores ($4.2 – 5.6 million)

In the painting, Sher-Gil uses a palette that is charged with vibrant and essentially Indian hues. The central figure dressed in a vermillion salwar-kameez and the reddish-brown sari-clad figure standing next to her are both connected by their vastly different shades of red. The small girl in a magenta kurta and the hibiscus flowers further diversify the reddish tones in the foreground. Accompanying the reds are the starkly different, yet complementing, blue and green tones of the land, hedge and sky. Art historian Yashodhara Dalmia explains that Sher-Gil’s choice of colours is perhaps an attempt to “bring out the contrast between the hot reds and the greens, one finds in the early Rajput miniatures” (Yashodhara Dalmia, Amrita Sher-Gil: A Life, New Delhi: Penguin, 2006, pp. 106-107)

While working on this composition, Sher-Gil was also attempting plein air painting, incorporating the rich stylistic features of Rajput and Pahari miniatures. “In these she freely ignored the actual landscapes but used them in part in her compositions and colour organizations. Nor were the landscapes a motif for the foreground but were an integral part of the composition.” (Dalmia, p. 107)

Sher-Gil painted In the Ladies’ Enclosure in the final years of her brief but prodigious life. After her death in 1941, a portfolio of twelve of her most important works, chosen by Sher-Gil prior to her passing away, was posthumously published. In the Ladies’ Enclosure was one of the twelve.


Watch Saffronart CEO Dinesh Vazirani as he takes us through the legendary Amrita Sher-Gil’s life and artistic journey, culminating in In the Ladies’ Enclosure.

Read the essay by Vivan Sundaram to find out more about the artist’s unique application of colour and who the subjects in the painting are.

Bid on Sher-Gil’s works at Saffronart’s Summer Live Auction on 13 July 2021.

The Art of Jangarh Singh Shyam

Gond art is among the most popular and well-known indigenous art traditions of India. Taking its name after the tribe which practices it, Gond art is mainly centred in Madhya Pradesh. Within this form, there is a wide spectrum of artistic styles, primarily connected to certain painters and their practices. The tribe’s strong tradition of oral narrative—often focussing on their gods who corresponded to elements of nature—transposes to their paintings as well.

These indigenous art forms have now evolved in their social and cultural roles. Efforts by art historians and the government have helped push them to prominence and artists themselves have painstakingly modified a centuries-old ethos to contemporary demand. At the forefront of giving the folk and tribal arts the recognition they deserved, was Jangarh Singh Shyam, famed for his Gond paintings and for popularising the art form abroad.

Jangarh Singh Shyam at his studio in Bharat Bhavan | Wikimedia Commons

Shyam is synonymous with this art form, so much so, that Udayan Vajpeyi, in his essay, “From Music to Painting” proposes that the art be called Jangarh kalam, or Jangarh style. (Sathyapal ed., Native Art of India, Thrissur: Kerala Lalithakala Akademi, 2011, p. 33) Hailing from the Gond tribe in Madhya Pradesh, Jangarh Singh Shyam lived in the jungles of Mandla until a chance encounter with the modern artist Jagdish Swaminathan in the 1980s. Swaminathan, who was leading an Indian collective on a study tour with the aim of creating a collection of tribal art in Bhopal, came across Shyam’s house, whose walls were adorned with his art. Upon enquiring, they met Shyam—only a teenager at the time, but with a striking style of painting.

Jagdish Swaminathan with Jangarh Singh Shyam and his wife at Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal, 1987 | © Jyoti Bhatt

Swaminathan took Shyam on as his protege, bringing him to the Roopankar Museum in Bhopal, where he learned to transfer his art from walls to paper. He created a series of works on paper and canvas which are displayed at Bharat Bhavan today. “His first large works on paper from the start of the 1980s contain highly expressive forms of great simplicity redolent of primitivism.” (Herve Perdriolle, Indian Art: Contemporary, One Word, Several Worlds, Milan: 5 Continents Editions, p. 61)

Shiv – Many-headed or Shesh Nag snake, trident and lingayoni (Gond Art), 1989, Gouache on paper, 19.5 x 25.5 in, Estimate: Rs 6 – 8 lakhs ($8,220 – 10,960)

In typical Gond tradition, Shyam’s art is based on the deities and divinities of the Gond tribe, and the animist culture of worship surrounding them. Suspended in space, he renders them like silhouettes creating the effect of shadow puppets, with bright colours, dots and hatched lines. The inspiration for using fine dots comes from the tribe itself, where shamans go into a trance and imagine that the particles of their bodies disperse into space to join with those of spirits to form other beings. The intricacy and control in his dot-based designs is seen in the works of all Gond artists, as are his most common subjects – the tree of life and various animals.

Sher (Gond Art), 1990, Ink on paper, 14 x 11 in and Gughawa Pakshee (Gond Art), 1993, Ink on paper, 21.5 x 14.5 in, Estimates: Rs 3 – 4 lakhs ($4,110 – 5,480) and Rs 5 – 6 lakhs ($6,850 – 8,220)

In 2010, the Muse du quai Branly in Paris held an exhibition called Other Masters of India, which carried large works on paper by Shyam from the late 1980s and early 1990s, which according to Perdriolle, “reveal a development in the direction of a profusion of psychedelic colors and more elaborated forms. The second half of the 1990s was marked by an unusual refinement, pictorial maturity, and graphic mastery that resulted in some of his best works.” (Perdriolle, p. 61)

Birds (Gond Art), 1996, Ink on paper, 11 x 13.75 in, Estimate: Rs 4 – 5 lakhs ($5,480 – 6,850)

Shyam worked with several mediums throughout his career, including drawing and silkscreen painting, rediscovering a new style and representation every time. As he achieved fame, Shyam encouraged other artists in his community to paint, giving them access into the mainstream. His house was the studio, where he provided his students with paper, canvas and paint, encouraging them to find their own expression through new mediums.

Shyam passed away in Japan in 2001. He was in his early forties. The artist’s memory is preserved in his body of work, including the large murals he created for the Parliament building in Bhopal, and continued by the members of his family trained by him, including his wife Nankusia, daughter Japani, and son Mayank. In a short-lived but exceptional career, he left behind a powerful and dynamic legacy which reached for the new while preserving the roots of the Gond artistic tradition.


Saffronart’s Winter Online Auction features four works by the artist, and will be on auction on 9 – 10 December 2020 on saffronart.com.

IN MEMORIAM: ANJUM SINGH (1967 – 2020)

Saffronart is saddened by the loss of artist Anjum Singh, who passed away on 17 November 2020. A passionate and dedicated artist, Singh will be remembered for the indelible mark that she left on the Indian art community.

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