New York: M F Husain’s Battle of Ganga and Jamuna: Mahabharata 12 (Lot 57), a painting from the Hindu epic, fetched $1.6 million, setting a world record at Christie's South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art sale, amid protests against the self-exiled painter's works outside the auction venue.
The artist is currently in self-exile in Dubai after a series of protests against him in India for his depiction of Hindu goddesses. He has been under threat from fringe Hindu groups. A clutch of cases has been filed against him around India, now clubbed together by its Supreme Court.
Supporters of the Indian American Intellectual Forum and Hindu Janjagruti Samiti held a noisy demonstration outside as the auction was going on at Christie's in Manhattan on Thursday.
They had earlier demanded withdrawal of Husain's works from the auction, accusing him of depicting Hindu gods and goddesses in a "derogatory and vulgar" form.
The auction house went ahead, arguing that "art and culture embrace multiple interpretations and re-interpretations of religious and ethnic symbols that are often highly individual expressions".
Estimated at $600,000-800,000, the work executed in 1971-1972 was sold to an anonymous bidder. Husain's monumental work, a large diptych, was made in the apex of his career.
"Mahabharata" beat the earlier record held by Tyeb Mehta's "Mahisasura", which sold for $1.58 million, also at Christie's in New York in 2005.
Battle of Ganga and Jamuna depicts a scene of the ancient Hindu epic Mahabharata, detailing the cosmic civil war between forces of right and wrong.
At second slot at the auction was Lot 23, Ram Kumar's figurative work from 1952, The Vagabond. Estimated at $400,000-600,000, it sold for a hefty $1.1 million, setting another world record for the artist.
This rare figurative work, made in 1956, portrays three isolated and forlorn figures, the mood emphasised by the dark and sombre pallet.
Third place belonged to Lot 43 - Tyeb Mehta. His untitled work from 1981 sold for $657,000. The work by the lauded master of Indian modernism was one of the sale highlights and was estimated at $600,000-800,000.
The painting depicts two female figures intermingled, demonstrating Mehta's formal and psychological considerations. The two forms suggest the tangled figures of his later Mahisasura series.
Fourth and never to be forgotten was Lot 70 - Francis Newton Souza's untitled work of 1961, estimated at $350,000-500,000, which sold for $385,000. Souza's untitled nude is of spectacular size and a highlight among the dozen paintings by the artist offered in the sale.
Made in the artistic peak of Souza's career, this work demonstrates why he was known as the "master of lines". Souza's paintings reflect his inventive interpretation of the human form, and like Gauguin, possess both a strong sexual aura and a sense of the primitive, the other and the unfamiliar.
Eighty-six-year-old Syed Haider Raza's Bindu Pancha Tatva at Lot 10 took the fifth highest slot as it sold for $361,000 from an estimate of $300,000-500,000.