Raja Ravi Varma’s untitled painting of Damayanti sold for about Rs 11.09 crores at Sotheby’s New York Sale of Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art, fetching over double its upper estimate of about Rs 4.58 crores.

One of only a handful of Raja Ravi Varma works to appear at international auctions, the painting exemplifies the artist’s exceptional skill at portraiture. 

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Varma, who was declared a national treasure by the Indian government in 1979, drew inspiration from illustrations of old master paintings, photos of theatrical performances and other images from European magazines, and fused Western techniques with traditional Eastern sensibilities.

In the artwork, he uses the composition taken from a photograph of a European performance of The Feast of Roses, L’inamorata (1900) to re-imagine a scene from the Sanskrit play ‘Nala and Damayanti’.

Source: b'Raja Ravi varma\xe2\x80\x99s untitled portrait of \xe2\x80\x98Damayanti\xe2\x80\x99 sold for Rs11.09 (approx)crores at Sotheby\xe2\x80\x99s New York Sale of Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art in New York |Source: PTI'

Portraying the heroine Damayanti in a glimmering sari, Varma combines the classic Indian mythology with European realism to create a painting of brilliant resonance. The auction also saw Horace van Ruith making a record with his untitled work portraying a Brahmin household fetching an amount of Rs 2.5 (approx) crores against an upper estimate of Rs 39.32 (approx) lakhs. 

Other Indian artists like Syed Haider Raza, Maqbool Fida Hussain and Jehangir Sabavala among others also sold well at the auction, making the sale realise a total collection of Rs 43.25 crores (approx).

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“We were delighted to see today’s auction—the only sale of Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art taking place during Asia Week New York—comfortably exceed the high estimate. Vigorous bidding for Raja Ravi Varma, Sayed Haider Raza, and other modern masters, translated to a 91.4% sell-through rate with 67.9% of lots exceeding their high estimates, including a series of strong prices for signature works by Maqbool Fida Husain,” Yamini Mehta, international head of Indian and South Asian Art, said.

The auction featured paintings and works of art across centuries showcasing the wide range of artistic styles and creative output, while underlining the significance and desirability of provenance in the field.

Prior to the auction on 14 March in New York, 16 distinguished paintings, including pieces by Varma, Husain and Francis Newton Souza, were showcased at the Leela Palace in New Delhi, offering visitors the opportunity to see the highlights of the collection.

“Our commitment to India, through our highlights exhibition at the beautiful Leela Palace in Delhi and special events in Mumbai, London and New York, bore fruit this week, and we look forward to continuing to shape this market in our salesrooms in the years to come,” Mehta said.