Looking Back, Looking Forward: A Reflection on 2012

Amy Lin of Saffronart looks back on some of the highlights for Saffronart and the art world in 2012


New York: As 2012 winds down, we reflect upon the good, the bad and the peculiarities of the year. 2012 has been an exciting year for all of us here at Saffronart. We pursued uncharted territories and ventured in many new and different directions, Marco Polo style.

In February, we held our first Impressionist and Modern Art Auction, which also happened to be the first Western art auction in India. At the previews and talks in Mumbai and Delhi, collectors and enthusiasts got a chance to see and learn about original artworks by Van Gogh, Pissaro, Matisse, Picasso, Dufy, Cezanne, Dali, Miro and Warhol. Later, we shone a spotlight on India’s tribal communities and curated the world’s first Indian Folk and Tribal Auction. In November, we shared Pakistan’s rich artistic heritage with some beautifully detailed pieces dealing with gender and political issues among others. In jewelry and collectibles, our first Art Deco Sale was a big hit in Mumbai, and helped rediscover the city’s forgotten Art Deco past.

Our most recent project is The Story, a new website offering curated collections of unique objects for sale every day. These would make fine holiday presents for your girlfriend, grandmother and practically anyone else. Also, this very blog was launched in April, and what an incredible journey it has been. Thank you all for your support and appreciation! Last but not least, our new gallery in New York is finally open to the public after months of hard work and dedication. We welcome all of you to visit us here!

Our friends in the art world had a busy year as well. Here are some of my favorite stories, events and oddities from this year:

The Ecce Homo IncidentDoc1-page-001

This one needs no introduction. We all heard of the sweet but misguided little old Spanish lady who took it upon her herself to “restore” the Ecce Homo fresco at her church this August. Instead of being saluted as a fine work of art, Cecelia Gilmenz was accused of vandalism and creating a “Beast Jesus”, and sparked off an internet sensation across the world. Today, she is selling her art on Ebay!

Ai Weiwei and Anish Kapoor’s Gangnam Style

Our favorite contemporary artists come together to promote free speech. After Weiwei posted his parody of Psy’s Gangnam Style, Kapoor and other artists responded with a video of their own to advocate for freedom of expression around the world.

Kochi Biennale

Kochi is home to India’s first international biennale, which was kicked off this month with contributions from big names such as Ai Weiwei, Atul Dodiya, Subodh Gupta and others. Internationally renowned singer M.I.A. rocked the opening when she performed in the country for the very first time.

Vandalism for Art’s Sake

Vladimir Umanets vandalized Mark Rotho’s 1959 Black on Maroon painting at the Tate Modern in London in the name of Yellowism, a movement that deems all artistic expressions to be equal. He scribbled, “Vladimir Umanets ’12 / A Potential Piece of Yellowism” on the painting, worth several millions of dollars, and calmly walked out of the museum. Days later, he was arrested and sentenced to two years in prison. Apparently, the judges did not see his act of vandalism as part of an art movement.

New York, New York

Finally, I have to tip my hat to this amazing city. Despite Hurricane Sandy, where close to half of the galleries in Chelsea sustained serious damaged, the city pulled together and remained strong and uncompromising as the art capital of the world. Artists and creative minds are still flocking to New York to discover all it has to offer. We wish them and all of you the best of luck in 2013 for the challenges ahead!

Art Deco and India’s Royal Families

Nishad Avari of Saffronart on the status of Art Deco in India’s royal collections 

Mumbai: In the nineteenth century, first under the East India Company and then as part of the British Empire when Queen Victoria assumed the title of Empress of India, not only did the Indian princes find themselves “…increasingly having to accommodate and entertain Europeans on equal terms,” but they also started developing a taste for the Western luxury goods and standards of living they now had a chance to experience.

By the 1920s, “Within one generation of western education the lifestyle of India’s princes were transformed and they began to wear western clothes, engage in western games and eat western food…those princes who could afford it abandoned their traditional residences for new, substantial palaces principally designed by western architects…[and] were built to accommodate western-style living, with its specific rooms for dining, sleeping, socializing, sport and recreation. The western-style elevated furniture and domestic articles needed to outfit these new vast palaces were readily supplied by British firms such as Maple & Co. and Waring & Gillow, both of which had showrooms in India… For Western firms making luxury goods, be it F & C Osler, Baccarat, Cartier, Boucheron, Louis Vuitton, Holland & Holland or Rolls Royce, Indian princes proved to be substantial clients and at certain times, such as during the Great Depression, were the mainstay of business” (Amin Jaffar, Made for Maharajas, Lustre Press/Roli Books, Mumbai, 2007, p. 15. 18).

Many of the items created by these firms for Indian royals between the 1920s and 1940s were crafted in the Art Deco style that had taken Europe by storm at the time. As a result, members of India’s royal families came to be regarded as some of the greatest patrons of Art Deco architecture, interiors, jewelry and accessories were.

From entire palaces constructed in the style, most notably in Morvi, Jodhpur and Indore, to highly customised jewelry, furniture and accessories purchased from European firms like Cartier, Boucheron and Louis Vuitton, India’s maharajas were captivated by the glamour, elegance and modernity that Art Deco represented as these were all principles central to their lifestyles.

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To read more about the history of the Art Deco movement, click here.

Learn more about our Art Deco Auction auction.

An Introduction to Art Deco

Kumud Sikand on the history of the Art Deco movement

“Art Deco’s ultimate aim was to end the old conflict between art and industry, the old snobbish distinction between artist and artisan, partly by making artists adept at crafts, but still more by adapting design to the requirements of mass production” – Bevis Hillier

Few people who have any knowledge of or interest in fashion or the decorative arts, are unaware of the term – ART DECO; a retrospective term coined by the English art historian Bevis Hillier in 1968, which prior to this was called Style Moderne. The movement denotes a sharper, classier, modernity reflected and defined through a variety of mediums – architecture, the decorative arts, graphics, jewelry, sculpture and fashion that existed from 1909 – 39.  It was not a singular style but a culmination of a number of design ideas and influences that came together and reached its zenith in the interwar period.

    Chrysler building, Manhattan, New York

But how was it and is it defined?

Most of us can probably identify an example of the style of the period.  Architectural icons such as the Chrysler building in New York, The New India Assurance Building in Mumbai, The Metro Cinema Hall in Kolkata, the De la Warr pavilion in Britain and the quintessential “flapper” dresses and cloche hats popular in America and Europe are all excellent examples of Art Deco style.  The roots of Art Deco however lie in the late nineteenth century movement of Art Nouveau, a decadent, stylized art form to which avant-garde groups of artists and designers reacted. The move towards cleaner, classical lines and less decorative craft designs was the preference. ”Art Deco is characterized by a linear, hard edge or angular composition, often with a vertical emphasis and highlighted with stylized decoration” (Blumenson 77). Style Moderne/Art Deco married luxury and function in a versatile design and its widespread applications proved its appeal was based on more than simple visual allure.  Other art movements like Cubism, Expressionism and Fauvism influenced the style. The Russian Ballet, ancient Egypt and American Indian art were also some of the other influences.

The pivotal moment for the style was the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris in 1925, a high profile event, to present the evolution of design. In many ways from this exposition emerged, the whole notion of a complete design ethos, not just for the elite as in previous generations but for most of the middle classes. Indeed as the epoch drew to its close at the outbreak of the Second World War, most people had access to Art Deco design whether it was in ready-to-wear fashion, rail or ocean travel or cinema design. Graphics and fine arts however were the two disciplines that not only seemed to encapsulate the Art Deco style but were also the medium for promoting its aesthetic. There is no finer expression of the language of Art Deco in fine art than the paintings of Tamara de Lempicka. Her work expressed many of the design qualities of the era, such as striking hard lines and bold color. She illustrates the new woman of the Art Deco era, independent, emancipated and confident. Worth, Patou and Poiret fashion designers of the time were instrumental in promoting the new look of the shorter length skirts and slim fitting clothes without the stiff corset or pre war bustier. The new freedom of travel by car, plane or ocean liner demanded clothes that would fit the modern lifestyle. The Russian artist and fashion designer Erte, whose delicate and fantastical illustrations for stage costumes and sets did much to promote the Art Deco look in fashion and recapture the intensity and passion of the Ballet Russes.


Portrait of Madame Boucard, 1931
Tamara de Lempicka
Image credit: http://www.museumsyndicate.com

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s (1864-1901), sensational poster depictions of cabaret at the Moulin Rouge in Paris was also the beginnings of the graphic art movement of this period. Linotype and Monotype typefaces corresponded with the emergence of the Art Deco style and graphic posters became the established new way for advertisement.

Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann’s veneered furniture was considered by many to be the highlight of the Exposition 1925. He used rare and decorative woods and veneers to create furniture with bold straight lines and high gloss finished.  A totally different design approach than had been seen before.  The leather goods company Gaston-Louis Vuitton, the silversmith and goldsmith Christofle and the glassmaker Renee Lalique were all exhibitors at the Exposition 1925 and distinctive contributors to the Art Deco style.

With the stock market crash of 1929, the Great Depression began to spread throughout the globe. Although it would be a few more years before the average family began to feel the effect of the economic downturn, the optimism of the 20’s was beginning to be replaced with somberness. By the mid 1930’s the world had been badly bruised by the Depression and Art Deco was being derided as gaudy and presenting a false image of luxury. With the threat of another world war looming, Art Deco was looked upon more vehemently, and with the outbreak of WWII in 1939, Art Deco was dead.

The 1960’s revival was short lived and the term Art Deco is now once again associated with the original, brilliantly vibrant style which spread from northern Europe to the rest of the world.

Kumud Sikand is an artist and an avid art collector. She received a bachelor’s degree from Moore College of Fine Art, Philadelphia and a diploma in art history from University of Hong Kong. Her works have been exhibited in Indonesia, Hong Kong and Philadelphia. She is a guest contributor on our blog.

View the Saffronart Art Deco Auction Catalogue here.

My Introduction to Art Deco

Medha Kapur of Saffronart responds to some of the lots coming up in our Art Deco Auction

Mumbai: It seems these days that all sorts of old styles are coming back into fashion! The design style known as Art Deco began in Paris in the 1920s, and has made several comebacks since. These days Art Deco fashion, jewelry, and even furniture are all the subject of new trends. Working at Saffronart, I have met some very creative individuals and major fans of the Art Deco period.

Deco is a strong, beautiful style. Its typical attributes include geometric shapes, bold curves, strong lines, aerodynamic forms, and sunbursts galore. A distinct departure from previous design styles, Deco evoked elegance and modernity. It was also influenced by the increased ability to travel, inspired not only by modernism, but by the cultures of faraway places such as Egypt, China and Japan.

Saffronart is holding its inaugural Art Deco auction on October 31-November 1, 2012. The idea is to showcase the Art-Deco style, which defined South Bombay in the 1920s and 30s, and is now synonymous with its unique heritage. This auction will also help raise awareness and funds for Mumbai’s bid to nominate its Art-Deco and Victorian precincts as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Saffronart and its consignors have committed to donating 5% of the proceeds from the sale of select lots to this cause.

The auction will feature original furniture, timepieces, accessories and jewelry. I was completely floored by one of the furniture pieces in the sale, a rare lady’s vanity. What grabbed my attention was the story behind it! The piece is likely to have belonged to a distinguished Indian lady, and was probably used as a travelling dresser during long cruise-liner voyages to Europe, extended stays at summer homes in the hills, and in luxury tents during the ‘shikar’ or hunting season. Sounds quite majestic!

lady’s vanity case

lady’s vanity case

Another evocative and glamorous piece in this auction is a custom-designed bracelet watch in 18 K gold with diamond accents. This watch was made for the Princess of Jodhpur, and included as a part of the Indian traditional dowry system when she got married to the Yuvraj of Baroda. The splendid provenance of this fine wristwatch makes it a coveted acquisition, as the royal house of Baroda is synonymous with style and refinement.

Wristwatch from the estate of the late Maharani Padmavati Devi Gaekwar of Baroda.

Universal Geneve wristwatch from the estate of the late Maharani Padmavati Devi Gaekwar of Baroda.

Despite having a very specific look and feel, Art Deco objects seem to have a modernism about them that makes their appeal quite timeless. There are certain styles that will never go out of fashion, and I believe Art Deco is one them!

Indo-Deco and Viren Bhagat: A Brief Look at Art Deco in Indian Design

Amy Lin of Saffronart explores one of the facets of the role Art Deco continues to play in Indian design

New York: Contemporary jewelry designer Viren Bhagat draws on India’s past in his work and fuses Art Deco with traditional Indian designs. Recently the subject of an in-depth Vanity Fair profile, and featured in prestigious boutiques like F.D. or Fiona Druckenmiller in Manhattan, Bhagat’s pieces combine various design influences, including the clean lines of Art Deco and the dramatic flair of Mughal motifs. This enchanting diamond, ruby and natural pearl brooch for example, beautifully combines immaculate diagonals and flat diamonds with floral arabesques and a teardrop tassel.

Diamond, Ruby and Natural Pearl Brooch by Viren Bhagat
Image Credit: http://wwww.worldwatchweb.com/Picture-459-6-BROOCHES.html

In a New York Times interview, Drunkenmiller describes Mr. Bhagat’s works as “sumptuous, elegant, (and) romantic…He only uses the best stones, drawing inspiration from traditional Mogul design, but adding touches that are contemporary and uniquely his own.” But where does the idea for Bhagat’s hybrid come from?

Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan building, a fine example of the Deco-Saracenic style in Mumbai.
Image Credit: http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl2608/stories/20090424260806600.htm

As it turns out, Art Deco is an important component of India’s artistic heritage. Following Miami, Mumbai has the greatest number of Art Deco buildings in the world, located in not one, but two distinct Deco precincts. The style called Deco-Saracenic, which fuses Art Deco with Hindu and Islamic aesthetics, is unique to India. Strong, sleek lines are interwoven with sensuous curves in both architecture and the decorative arts. The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan building is a fine example of the Deco-Saracenic style, where geometric exteriors are rounded off with stylized domes. Such Deco trends in Mumbai came shortly after the First World War, when elegance and modernity became driving forces in Indian society.

A Natural Pearl and Diamond Ring, by Viren Bhagat
Image Credit: http://pinterest.com/pin/36028865739238093/

Viren Bhagat gives the idea of Deco-Saracenic a contemporary twist by applying it tojewelry. Bhagat’s one of kind ring, pictured below, dons a whimsical Mughal crown and springs to a life of its own, recalling past glories. Another pair of floral earrings, also pictured below, combines geometric shapes with ingenuity, using un-faceted diamonds.

In the coming weeks, Saffronart will also celebrate India’s jewelry and Art Deco heritages through its annual Autumn Auction of Fine Jewels and Watches and its inaugural Art Deco auction featuring furniture, silver, crystal, lighting and more.

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