When Paintings Become Friends

Pallavi Chattopadhyay
Christie auction New York, Jane, Kito de Boer, McKinsey, modern Indian art, Ganesh Pyne, Rameshwar Broota, Francis Newton Souza, indian epxress news

FN Souza’s 1958 pen-and-ink on paper Untitled (Hampstead)

When Kito de Boer came to India from London to set up the office of McKinsey in 1993, little did he know that he and his wife Jane will end up amassing a large collection of modern Indian art of over 1000 artworks, boasting of prominent names like Ganesh Pyne, Rameshwar Broota and Francis Newton Souza. ‘A Lasting Engagement: The Jane and Kito de Boer Collection’ is an upcoming auction by Christie’s in New York later this year, where they will be putting up 83 works on sale, accompanied by an online sale of 70 artworks.

Originally scheduled for March 18 in New York, it has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak. The highlights of the auction include works on paper by Ganesh Pyne, made from the 1950s to the late 1990s, including his rare 1972 painting called The Animal, estimated between $100,000-$150,000. A nude drawing by Souza from 1946 is estimated at $3000, while a collection of Rameshwar Broota’s creations feature in the lot. This comprises The Trial (1978), which displays a row of chairs assembled together against a sea of blue sky, estimated between $100,000-150,000, and What To Do (1966), featuring human figures in a contemplative thought ($150,000-$250,000). Souza’s 1958 pen-and-ink on paper Untitled (Hampstead) — comprising his distinguishable rendition of the architecture he saw around him — hopes to raise $18,000-$25,000. Celebrated American photographer Steve McCurry’s Taj and Train, Agra, taken during a trip to the city in 1983, appears like a theatrical scene with a train moving past the historical monument.

Christie auction New York, Jane, Kito de Boer, McKinsey, modern Indian art, Ganesh Pyne, Rameshwar Broota, Francis Newton Souza, indian epxress news

Rameshwar Broota’s 1978 oil on canvas The Trial.

Speaking about one of the largest holdings of modern Indian art in a private collection, art specialist Sonal Singh, Managing Director of Christie’s India, reveals in an email interview of how each work featured in the auction is a testimony to the close relationships that Jane and Kito de Boer built with artists, gallerists and collectors in the Indian art community. She says, “So for instance, when collectors look at a work of Ganesh Pyne in this collection, it is not just a painting for the de Boers but also the memory of meeting the shy and sensitive artist. Similarly, the works of Rameshwar Broota, A Ramachandran, Biren De and Laxma Goud embody stories of the couple’s visits to the artists’ studios, attending colourful birthday parties and the friendships they maintained with the artists much after their departure from India.”

Artworks from the Bengal School will also be on sale, ranging from early paintings of the late 19th century, which will move on to works by Gaganendranath Tagore, Prosanto Roy, Ramkinkar Baij, Somnath Hore and Chittaprosad Bhattacharya. Chittrovanu Mazumdar’s painting Untitled (Kali) from the ’90s is a presentation of Durga’s fiery powers ($8,000-$12,000). One of the most highest priced works is Akbar Padamsee’s Paysage Urbain, priced between $300,000-$500,000 while Broota’s black-and-white The Last Chapter — depicting a skeletal unclothed body resting under the sky amidst a vast landscape — is estimated to raise $250,000-$350,000. Other offerings include Pyne’s Untitled (Self Portrait) and A Ramachandran’s Untitled (Monkey) and Untitled (The Last Supper).

Singh believes that the collection is easily one of the most significant in the art field and gives art collectors a great opportunity to learn more about modern Indian art. According to Boer, who published the book Modern Indian Painting: Jane & Kito de Boer Collection (Mapin, 2019) based on their collection last year, the most important work is a triptych by Broota. The first work of the artist acquired by them, the couple went to great lengths to own it, even buying a house in the process to fit the work. Jane, an interior designer, aligned the walls, paint and lighting in a way “to make the work sing”. He reveals how two of their houses in Dubai and London have been built around Broota’s works.

Intrigued by the noise, smell and the crowds on their first encounter with the country, collecting Indian art paved the road for the couple to know the country better, beginning with a work by Pyne that they came across at Delhi’s Kumar Gallery, which “cast a spell” on them. Pyne’s small canvas cost them $5000. Their criteria for buying any art object has been fairly simple: to ensure that both of them harbor a strong love for any work they bought, since they would be living with it. Singh says, “They have frequently said the artworks in their collection are like friends that live with them, and it is important for both of them to enjoy the company of these friends.”