A case in point may be made for Masanori Fukuoka, who gathered an impressive collection of 20th century Indian art. This formed the crux of his Glenbarra Art Museum in Japan. When he sold some of those works through Pundole’s earlier this month, several records were claimed, among them for J Swaminathan (Rs 9.5 crore) and V S Gaitonde (Rs 32 crore). If one reason was the high quality of works being made available for the market, the other was a distinguished provenance.
This is no mere eyewash. The upcoming Saffronart sale is expected to break the Gaitonde record for its association with Sabira Merchant whose ownership of it lends the work credence. The forthcoming Sotheby’s auction of Danish collector Gunnar Hansen’s Indian art collected over a two-decade posting with Larsen & Toubro in Mumbai is expected to do well as much for the quality of works as their provenance.
Provenances are becoming important also because the same paintings
are now coming up more frequently for sale — leveraged for their investment value. Art intelligence firm Artery India, which tracks some of these prices, attests to the financial gains achieved from such transactions — F N Souza’s La Place Town Square, for instance, painted in 1955, was first auctioned in 2010 for Rs 37.5 lakh, in 2014 for Rs 72 lakh, and more recently, in 2019, for Rs 1.5 crore. The provenances collected through each such open sale adds to the value of the work.
Not all multiple sales are publicly documented, as some may go through private deals or galleries. This makes the task of providing provenances all the more critical. Galleries and dealers may not always provide the identities of the sellers to protect their bonafide interests. Simply stating “Distinguished Gentleman, Mumbai” or “Prominent Collector, Kolkata” may not suffice for the buyer who may want proof of the work belonging to said people, photographs of the work on display, or published references where available. Given the recent trend of rising prices, collectors are well advised to keep all documents and certificates regarding proof of sale for future use as provenance.
Many have tried to explain the Nirav Modi
art sale away as one of ghoulish interest or vicarious pleasure. The truth is that it was neither. His collection had two strong elements. One, it consisted of iconic works and was inherently important for its own sake. Two, the works had been checked by experts for authenticity and, probably, provenance. Even if the latter was missing in a few cases, Modi’s ownership — ironically ratified by the Enforcement Directorate — provided the works an impeccable provenance: as blue-bloodied as it could get in the rarefied chambers of high art.