Ustad Allah Bux’s’ Maharani’
Ustad Allah Bux’s’ Maharani’

LONDON: On Thursday, June 11, in the afternoon, the famous auction house Bonhams will hold a major auction of “Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art” on their premises located at London’s prestigious New Bond Street. The sale contains the usual prestigious artists from India — Jamini Roy, Francis Newton Souza, Syed Haider Raza, Vasudeo Gaitonde, Rabindranath Tagore, and M.F. Hussain.

But it is the dazzling array of paintings by prominent Pakistani art masters that has caught the attention of London’s expatriate Pakistani community and art lovers in Pakistan. The imposing list of Pakistani masters includes Abdur Rahman Chughtai, Sadequain, Ustad Allah Bux, Shakir Ali, the East Pakistan master Zainul Abedin, Jamil Naqsh, Ismail Gulgee and Anwar Jalal Shemza.

The cream of Pakistani contemporary art masters also constitutes part of the art auction. It is important to note that Pakistani masters are being offered at reasonably lower estimates compared to the art markets for the same masters by art galleries in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, thus creating the impression of a fire sale auction of Pakistan.

Zainul Abedin’s Untitled (Crows)
Zainul Abedin’s Untitled (Crows)

The watercolour, ‘Dancing Girl’, by Abdur Rahman Chughtai (1874-1975) is estimated at $31,000-47,000 and is cited as having been purchased directly from the artist by the Nawab of Bahawalpur and subsequently resold. The painting is resplendent in ochres, ambers and yellows, and is part of Chughtai’s repertoire that looked towards Hindu themes with a strong influence from the Buddhist Ajanta cave paintings.

Ustad Allah Bux’s’ Sohni’
Ustad Allah Bux’s’ Sohni’

The Sadequain Self Portrait in pen and ink is one of the triumphs of the auction. Estimated at $11,000-14,000 the famous pen and ink portrait from the early 60s (of which Sadequain painted several, some with variations) has a black raven with her newly-born fledgling sitting in a nest on Sadequain’s head, while the broken eggshell of the recently hatched chick is held delicately in Sadequain’s left palm.

The consignor, Esther Kofod describes her experience on an Italian ocean-liner in the early 60s, when Sadequain embarked as a passenger from Karachi, and over the voyage befriended her parents. He sent her mother the self portrait by mail from Paris in 1966.

Also on auction the same day are two rare and important early oils dated 1935 by the Pakistani master Allah Bux — one of them titled ‘Maharani’ and the other ‘Sohni’.

‘Maharani’is of a typical style of 1930s Allah Bux portraiture, while the ‘Sohni’ is an inspiring piece on a theme, that the artist would return to throughout his life.

Sadequain’s Untitled (Self Portrait)
Sadequain’s Untitled (Self Portrait)

There are other remarkable pieces on the auction block. Shakir Ali’s oil painting, Untitled (Birds) is estimated at a mere $7,900-11,000, and forms an amazing contrast to the other bird paintings from the united Pakistan period in the auction.

Reference must be made to the united Pakistan master Zainul Abedin’s Untitled (Crows) estimated at $9,400-13,000, from his landmark Famine series of the 1940s. Pakistan’s resident London artist Jamil Naqsh is represented by a 1973 canvas of a ‘Woman with Dove’. Ismail Gulgee who was murdered in 2007 in Karachi has an Untitled(Gold Abstract)estimated at $13,000-16,000.

One of the most remarkable pieces by a Pakistani master is that of the Lahore calligraphic abstractionist, Anwar Jalal Shemza, titled ‘The Gate’, a silkscreen print on paper estimated at $2,400-3,900 acquired from the Shemza estate.

Shakir Ali’s Untitled (Birds)
Shakir Ali’s Untitled (Birds)

With the current prices prevailing in Pakistan, this dazzling array of Pakistani masters is an art collector’s delight, that may be leveraged by the dozens of Pakistani collectors seen visiting the auction house for a preliminary look at the paintings — before the auction next Thursday.

Anwar Jalal Shemza’s ‘The Gate’
Anwar Jalal Shemza’s ‘The Gate’

Published in Dawn, June 7th, 2015

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