4 “Blue” Chip Works of Art

In our forthcoming Evening Sale, four renowned Modernists explore the potential of the colour blue—each envisioning an imagined, real or metaphorical landscape—in their own unique way.

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“This sale includes works of exceptional quality and rarity, which offer new possibilities for reflection and dialogue. Consider the juxtaposition of the magical blue Gaitonde with a hazy blue mountain landscape by Roerich, the sea by Padamsee, or of a peninsula by Khakhar. Many works are of unique historical significance, and are milestone achievements for the artists.” —Hugo Weihe, CEO, Saffronart


V S Gaitonde, Untitled, 1963

“There is a kind of metamorphosis in every canvas, and the metamorphosis never ends.” 
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Leading the sale at an estimate of INR 10 – 15 crores, this expansive blue canvas by Gaitonde evokes an image of a horizon separating a dark night sky from a tempestuous sea—although his work was never quite that literal. “I never draw things as I see them,” he had once said.

This midnight blue canvas has an inky blackness across the top half, and smaller swatches of black at the bottom—most likely achieved through the use of rollers, the artist’s preferred technique. At the centre is an impasto laden streak, with thick flecks of turquoise and black peppered across it. Gaitonde was experimenting with the very idea of painting, using various pigments and creating unconventional textures to produce works that demanded reflection.

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V S Gaitonde. Image courtesy of Kishori Das. Published in Meera Menezes, Vasudeo Santu Gaitonde: Sonata of Solitude, Mumbai: Bodhana Arts and Research Foundation, 2016

Gaitonde’s paintings, variously described as lyrical, meditative, abstract, expressionist and non-objective, possess an intangible, ephemeral quality that defines them. His work through the 1960s reveals an introspective artist whose creations have enduring and universal appeal. This is borne out by the consistent increase in price and record-breaking sales witnessed at auctions in recent years. This painting on auction was once part of the collection of Carole Nimmo Bourne, a philanthropist from New York.


Nicholas Roerich, Himalayas, 1940

“Where can one have such joy as when the sun is upon the Himalayas, when the blue is more intense than sapphires, when from the far distance, the glaciers glitter as incomparable gems!”
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Nicholas Roerich’s paintings from the late 1930s through the early part of 1940 depict the glorious subtleties reflected in the myriad tones and hues of the Himalayan landscape. Himalayas is dominated by a nuanced blue palette. Roerich masterfully captures the way the sun paints certain facets of the icy mountains in bright light, while enshrouding its neighbouring terrain in varying degrees of darkness. The inclusions of light pink and purple tones indicate a soft, twilight presence, suggesting that this particular moody scene is one of many visions the Himalayas has to offer. This expert execution of the interplay between light and shadow, and the faithful representation—without being completely realistic—of his beloved subject, earned Roerich the honoured title of the “Master of Mountains.”

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Nicholas Roerich, Naggar, 1932-33. Image courtesy of Nicholas Roerich Museum, New York

A writer, theosophist and prolific Russian artist, Roerich had made India his home. His contribution to Indian art was so great that he is the only artist of foreign origin whose works have been declared national art treasures. Himalayas was painted during his final years when he resided in Naggar, a village in the Kullu Valley of Himachal Pradesh, and captures the essence of his oeuvre.

The artist was recently the subject of the exhibition, Nicholas Roerich: In Search of the Mystic World, organised by the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai. Estimated at INR 1.2 – 1.8 crores, this is the first time Saffronart will auction a painting by the “wizard of eastern landscapes.”


Bhupen Khakhar, Untitled

“Human beings in their local environment, climate, provincial society; this should be the ultimate goal of the artist.”

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In this painting, Khakhar depicts an imagined landscape, portraying its entire topography as a linear map, with land, sky and water body all merging into one plane. At the centre is a cluster of temples, connecting to individual households and private scenes—narrative vignettes that Khakhar often utilised in his paintings. Similarly, floating figures in the air and river are figurative elements typical of Khakhar’s later works.

It is an unusual work by the artist with an architectural focus on bringing the life of the city to the fore. Built forms such as buildings and bridges are treated on equal par with natural elements such as trees and the river. The combination of fluid paint and linear detailing makes this a rare work in Khakhar’s oeuvre.

Estimated at INR 2.5 – 3.5 crores, it once belonged in the personal collection of the renowned architect, Dr. Balkrishna Doshi, who was struck by how the artist “had transformed the well-structured traditional narration of the traditional Nathadwara pichhwai style of painting into a free-wheeling architectural landscape. I saw, in it, a young-newly married couple flying in the sky, overlooking the countryside: a village with temples, canteens, houses and meandering streets surrounded by river and a bridge… Though freely dispersed, they appear to connect around their motherland, narrating stories, associations of timeless, ongoing life.


Akbar Padamsee, Untitled, 1970

“Blue is not only the colour of the sky, but can be made to project itself forward…”
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Akbar Padamsee in his studio, Mumbai

The only seascape that Akbar Padamsee painted, this vast canvas of a stormy sea was originally commissioned by prominent Mumbai lawyer Naval Vakil, who was an important collector and patron to many Indian Modernists. Painted in 1970, this painting has its origins in the view of the Arabian Sea as seen from Vakil’s Napean Sea Road home.

Padamsee captures the turbulence of the sea through variations of blue, black and grey. Brushstrokes change direction capturing the fluidity and movement of the waves, simulating the churning of the ocean. Swatches of black and blue mirror the night sky, echoing the dark depths of the sea and evoking an immense solitude. His interpretation of the sea, while vast and lonely, is also imbued with an internal emotional content. This ability to balance solitude and intellect with energy and feeling, is the key to why Padamsee’s paintings are uniquely situated in the landscape of Indian modernism.

The scale of the work and largely monochromatic palette recall Padamsee’s iconic Grey Works from the previous decade, which explored tonality and structure in a similar vein­­—such as the Greek Landscape that sold for a record breaking price of INR 19.19 crores at Saffronart’s Evening Sale last year.

For more blue palette works, browse through our catalogue. The Evening Sale will take place in New Delhi on 21 September 2017.

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