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Sikh Artist’s Self-Portrait Fetches Record Price At Sotheby New York Auction





A rare self-portrait by early 20th century Sikh artist Amrita Shergill has sold for USD 2.92 million in Sotheby's New York auction, setting a new record for a woman artist from the subcontinent.

Amrita’s oil-on-canvas masterpiece fetched the highest total USD 2,920,000, well over the USD 1.2 - USD 1.8 million estimate for a South Asian Art sale at Sotheby's since 2007, auctioneers said in a statement today.

Born in Budapest to a Sikh, Sardar Umrao Singh Shergill Majithia and a Hungarian mother, Amrita painted the portrait in 1932 when she was 19. It is one of the very few of her canvases that are in private circulation outside India, where the artist is among artists declared as national treasures by the government and whose works cannot be taken out of the country.

Amrita Shergill painted her self-portrait in 1933 at the young age of 19. In the painting, she's often reputedly referred to as "a demure coquette with a spark in her eyes and bright red lips that symbolize her burgeoning womanhood". Those well-acquainted with her work understand the rarity of this occasion (this is the third appearance of Amrita's work in the international market) and will be able to share this artistic moment with others witnessing her work for the first time.

Sotheby's two sales of Indian Art on March 17-18, raked in a total of USD 16,632,875 comfortably exceeding its highest estimate.

Auctioneers said the Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art sale brought in USD 10,589,000, the highest total for a Sotheby's sale in the category since 2007 and a 60 per cent increase on the equivalent sale last season, a result that was largely driven by the entry of several major new collectors into the market.

Yamini Mehta, International Head of Indian and South Asian Art at Sotheby's commented, "These sales were ground-breaking for Indian and South Asian Art at Sotheby's."

"The appearance at auction of a work by Amrita Shergill is an historic event and so it is fitting that it led our best sale result in a decade," she said.

Priyanka Mathew, Head of Sales of Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art at Sotheby's New York added, "It was thrilling to be the auctioneer for the historic Amrita Shergill painting which fetched close to USD 3 million.

"The price is a record for both the artist and also for any Indian female painter. The spirited bidding on the 'Self-Portrait' came from three continents and lasted over ten minutes to result in a landmark price," she said.

A Rabindranath Tagore self-portrait went to an European private buyer at the same auction for USD 225,000.

[Courtesy: Outlook, Vogue. Edited for]
March 21, 2015

Conversation about this article

1: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), March 21, 2015, 10:07 AM.

The painting has flair and a realism about it ... a real 'selfie' of its time!

2: Dr Birinder Singh Ahluwalia (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), March 21, 2015, 12:32 PM.

I watched intently as I set this masterpiece alongside the Mona Lisa. And guess what ...

3: Harinder Singh 1469 (New Delhi, India), March 21, 2015, 8:07 PM.

I salute Amrita's parents, particularly her artist father, for supporting and nurturing her strengths and endeavours. She was remarkable in her achievements, despite her short life. A perfect role model for our youth. Our children need to immerse themselves more in art and help preserve our roots, history, culture and language.

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