• Masterpiece of Indian modernism to go under the hammer at Bonhams
• Trailblazing artist, Bhupen Khakhar, addressed everyday life with vivacity and vulnerability in equal measure
• A storyteller with an extraordinary narrative, from the back streets of Bombay to London's Tate Modern...
Bhupen Khakhar's modern masterpiece Man in Pub leads Bonhams' Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art sale on Tuesday 22 November, 101 New Bond St. Amongst the artist's most celebrated works, executed during a trip to the UK in 1979, it is estimated at £250,000-350,000.
Man in Pub comes to auction fresh from a Bhupen Khakhar retrospective at Tate Modern. The piece is a prime example of the artist's facility for presenting vulnerable intimacy with bold, colourful flair.
Born into a humble Bombay family, Khakhar's father (a heavy drinker) died young, leaving the artist to support himself. An accountant by day, artist by night, Khakhar was preoccupied with the plight of the ordinary man. This recurring subject found face in haunting portraits of withdrawn individuals, isolated in otherwise social settings – Man in Pub is a prime example.
A writer as well as artist, Khakhar was first and foremost a storyteller. Inspired by personal experience, Khakhar's paintings are often confessional narratives. Many of these make reference to his sexuality - one of the first Indian public figures to come out as homosexual, the artist developed an important gay iconography, often provocatively linking the sexual and sacred.
Khakhar visited the UK in 1979 (as artist-in-residence at Bath Academy of Art) and was introduced to British pubs by friend and advocate, the British artist Howard Hodgkin. Writing in his diary during that winter visit, Khakhar noted: 'You are not allowed to smile during this season which lasts for ten months of the year. If you are sensible then try to look as grumpy as possible. English people appreciate sulk.'
With the help of Howard Hodgkin and critic Geeta Kapur, Khakhar found fame with one man shows at institutions including Centre Pompidou (Paris), Tate (London) and later the Reina Sofia (Madrid) where Man in Pub took pride of place. With such platforms, Khakhar's work played a significant role in international 20th century painting.
Bonhams Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art specialist, Tahmina Ghaffar said, 'We are delighted to offer this hugely important and striking work by the first Indian artist to have a solo retrospective at Tate Modern. Bhupen Khakhar, until recently largely unknown outside India, has since become internationally acclaimed. This touching yet humorous piece, British in its content and Indian in its execution, is a prime example of Bhupen's narrative and colourist skill.'
OTHER WORKS INCLUDE:
'Untitled' (pre-1972), Abdul Rahman Chughtai (1897-1975, Pakistan), estimated at 18,000-22,000
Although given the accolade of the national artist of Pakistan, Chughtai's work was inspired by what he labelled 'pan-Persianism'. Indeed, even European Art Nouveau influenced his style. This watercolour, painted for sale in a 1972 exhibition at Karachi's Indus Gallery, displays this amalgamation of traditions as well as the artist's commitment to using only the finest materials.
'Untitled' (The Jester), Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941, India), estimated at £30,000-50,000
Rabaindranath Tahore was a Bengali polymath. The first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, he turned to painting late in life. His work was informed by anti-establishment leanings – influenced not by colonial aesthetics, but folk traditions and Japanese ink techniques. This example of his primitive mask like portraits comes from the descendants of the Maharaja of Santosh, a former princely state in what is now Bangladesh.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. Today, the auction house offers more sales than any of its rivals. The main salerooms are in London, New York and Hong Kong. Sales are also held in the UK in Knightsbridge and Edinburgh; in the US, in San Francisco and Los Angeles; in Europe, in Paris and Stuttgart and in Sydney, Australia. Bonhams also has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of forthcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments, please visit bonhams.com