Despite voices of protest in India, a set of 12 paintings by Rabindranath Tagore went under the hammer today, sold off for a whopping 1.6 million pounds at an auction house in London. The 12 art works of the Indian Nobel Laureate massively exceeded the pre-sale combined estimate of 250,000 pounds at a Sotheby's auction.One of the paintings, an untitled portrait of a woman fetched as much as 313,250 pounds, a Sotheby's spokesperson said.
The news of the auction last month had led some art lovers and politicians in India to seek intervention by the Indian government. They said the paintings were national heritage and should be brought back to the country. West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, asking him to take steps to bring the paintings back home.
Culture Ministry officials in New Delhi were tight-lipped over what role the Indian government would assume at the auction, but some officials made it clear that the government cannot officially bid for the paintings. The identity of the buyers of the paintings have not been disclosed yet. The sale of the Tagore paintings were the highlight of Sotheby's annual Indian art sale today.
The art works have been housed in the Dartington Hall Trust in Devon for 71 years, since the time Tagore gifted them to his friends -- Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst -- of Dartington Hall who have now decided to sell them.
Tagore painted some 2,000 works in the later phase of his life, 1,500 of which are housed in Shantiniketan. Sotheby's described the paintings as a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity to acquire this standout collection by the national poet. Funds raised will be used to support the Trust's ambitious new plans to expand its charitable programmes in arts, social justice and sustainability.
Responding to calls from various art organisations in India, the Indian government had tried to stop the auction of the rare works, but it is understood that the efforts have produced no results.
Sources said a senior Culture Ministry official was in London last week and met Sotheby's officials and discussed about the sale of the paintings. They said the country, however, does not have any legal rights over the paintings. The government had faced the same situation when Mahatma Gandhi's personal belongings were auctioned in New York.
Sources said by its very nature the Indian government could not directly bid for the paintings. Other highlights of this year's South Asian Art at Sotheby's included an extremely rare large scale bronze by Somnath Hore, two early figurative oils by F N Souza and two large paintings by S H Raza. PTI