De Boer’s market: Sonal Singh of Christie’s India chats about 'The Jane and Kito de Boer Collection'

A chat with Sonal Singh of Christie’s India on the highly prized and prestigious upcoming auction titled A Lasting Engagement: The Jane and Kito de Boer Collection.
'Untitled (Lady Weaving)' by MF Husain (circa 1950s); estimate USD 40-60,000
'Untitled (Lady Weaving)' by MF Husain (circa 1950s); estimate USD 40-60,000

The upcoming auction titled A Lasting Engagement: The Jane and Kito de Boer Collection is easily the most highly anticipated sale of its kind this year. We got to chat with Sonal Singh of Christie’s India to get a few insights into the highly prized and prestigious affair...

The names of Kito de Boer and his wife Jane Gowers are as revered in the art world as some of the artists whose works are in their 25-year-old personal collection.

Indeed, ‘The Jane and Kito de Boer Collection’ is considered iconic and legendary in itself, and was the subject of much hush-hush discussion at a special preview held alongside the India Art Fair in New Delhi, earlier this year. 

Jane and Kito travelled to India from London in 1992, starting off by visiting places like Hampi in South India. “Our road to discovery was really through the arts, and from 1992 to 1999, we started looking at Indian art and galleries,” said Kito in an interview, ahead of the preview. 

When it comes to nurturing young and new art collectors in the country, Kito says, “India is at a very early stage of developing a knowledgeable market about the arts in general. There are so many great artists but only a few of them have been picked up and promoted. There are the Greats and everybody wants them, but there is a huge array of other artists who give great joy, who we think are important.” 

Jane recalls, “The first work we bought is Bengali artist Ganesh Pyne from the Kumar Gallery (in New Delhi). I wanted to see more of his works... So I found out about who the collectors were of Pyne, and then asked if I could visit their collections. The response was unanimously warm and positive.”

Now, more than 150 works of Indian art from the prestigious collection of Jane and Kito de Boer, are set to be up for bids in what is easily the most highly anticipated auction of modern and contemporary Indian art this year. 

The sale will be held during New York’s annual Asian Art Week this month, and is being billed as ‘The largest and most important single-owner sale of South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art that Christie’s has had the pleasure to announce in this field in the last few years’.

<em>Sonal Singh, MD of Christie’s India</em>
Sonal Singh, MD of Christie’s India

We got to chat with Sonal Singh, MD of Christie’s India, to get a sense of all the excitement. Excerpts from the interview:

How significant is this collection, from a Christie’s perspective of South Asian contemporary art? How essential is it for art enthusiasts to learn more about and appreciate this collection?
The de Boer collection of Indian art was put together over the last two-and-a-half decades and is still growing.

Comprising over 1,000 works, this collection is definitely one of the most significant and well-known in our field, presenting a great opportunity for collectors to learn more about modern Indian art, and particularly about the artists that Jane and Kito de Boer collected in-depth like Ganesh Pyne, Rameshwar Broota, Chittaprosad Bhattacharya and Francis Newton Souza. 

The book that the couple published on their collection last year, Modern Indian Painting: Jane & Kito de Boer Collection, offers every art enthusiast an immense amount of insight not just about collecting, but about important chapters of Indian art history.

<em>'The Trial (1978)' by Rameshwar Broota; estimate USD 100-150,000</em>
'The Trial (1978)' by Rameshwar Broota; estimate USD 100-150,000

A collection spanning 25 years, of over 1,000 works of art... Give us a sense of the care, attention and kid-glove treatment, if you like, that Christie’s ensures for a collection of this magnitude and worth.
We are honoured to present the collection of Jane and Kito de Boer to you through this auction, illuminating so many new strands of the multifaceted narrative of modern Indian art that have been 
so lovingly gathered and preserved in the journey of these collectors.

We have spent several years understanding the collectors and the collection, and have ensured that we represent them in a way that showcases the love, passion and friendships that shaped their collecting journey over the last 25 years.

Each work selected for the auction represents an important moment in this journey and the close ties that Jane and Kito de Boer forged with artists, gallerists and other collectors in the Indian art community. 

So, when one sees a work by 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. 

We look forward to sharing these works and their stories with a larger audience through our previews in Mumbai, Delhi and New York along with several talks and discussions with the collectors in various cities prior to the auction.

<em>'Light Light (The Golden Bird; 1954)' by Ganesh Pyne; estimate USD 15-20,000 </em>
'Light Light (The Golden Bird; 1954)' by Ganesh Pyne; estimate USD 15-20,000 

How would you compare the personal sense of passion for art of Jane and Kito de Boer with other collectors that you are familiar with from South Asia? Also, as they work as a couple, how does that dynamic influence their vast collection?
Most collectors of South Asian Modern + Contemporary art that we know share the de Boer’s passion for art and collecting.

They are discerning and seek to learn as much as they can about the art and artists they like before making the decision to purchase a work. 

Some are at the beginning of this journey, and also seek to learn from the experiences of more established collectors like the de Boers, while a few others started our at about the same time as Kito and Jane, learning and growing as collectors together. 

Today, collectors attend art fairs and biennales, international museum exhibitions and more to experience and learn as much as they can and make completely informed decisions about bidding at auction or buying at galleries. 

As a couple, Jane and Kito had to agree on the art they saw — it was essential for both of them to love a work before they bought it as both of them would be living with it.

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.

<em>'Untitled (Hampstead)' by FN Souza (1958); estimate USD 18-25,000</em>
'Untitled (Hampstead)' by FN Souza (1958); estimate USD 18-25,000

Name some of your top picks from among the works that are set to go on auction. Which lots will you have your eyes on, and which ones are you recommending to friends and prospective buyers?
Each lot in the auction represents an important facet of the de Boer collection, no matter the value or scale, and we would recommend all of them to prospective buyers.

Some of the highlights include works on paper and canvas by Ganesh Pyne, ranging from the 1950s to the late 1990s, and an equally impressive selection of paintings by Rameshwar Broota.

The cover lot, a rare 1972 painting by Pyne called The Animal would be a great addition to any collection of modern Indian art. 

Similarly, collectors will not have a better opportunity to acquire some of the greatest examples 
of artworks from Bengal School, ranging from early paintings from the late 19th century to works by Gaganendranath Tagore, Prosanto Roy, Rama Mukherji, Ramkinkar Baij, Benode Behari Mukherji, Somnath Hore, Chittaprosad Bhattacharya, Rabin Mondal, Prokash Karmakar and others.

<em>'What To Do' by Rameshwar Broota (1966); estimate USD 150-250,000</em>
'What To Do' by Rameshwar Broota (1966); estimate USD 150-250,000

How has social media changed the game for big-ticket auctions? Does all the attention work for the better? Tell us a little about how you intend to reinforce the physical experience of seeing a work of art in person — at a gallery or museum? How would you encourage people to actually visit museums and galleries, rather than merely browse for art online today?
Our endeavour into advanced technology started in July 2006 when we introduced online bidding via our Christies LIVE real-time bidding tool. This technology was slowly available for most day auctions, and only became available for the first time for an evening auction this February in London. 

As of 2011, we began offering in parallel to our live auctions, a series of online auctions, annually between 80-90, which are curated auctions, where each lot has been catalogued by a Christie’s specialist, and the same condition of sale applies as in a traditional auction.

The online auctions are our greatest tool to recruit new clients under the age of 50. In today’s world, you need to cater to all wishes, and it is very interesting to see that over 10% of new online clients buy in a traditional auction within a year.

<em>'Untitled' by Chittaprosad Bhattacharya (1915-1978); estimate USD 15-20,000 </em>
'Untitled' by Chittaprosad Bhattacharya (1915-1978); estimate USD 15-20,000 

How much of the focus will be on the Great Masters, and how much importance are you looking to associate with the lesser-known and possibly lesser-valued artists? How do you hope to increase evaluations — across the board?
Actually, the focus is small — we are selling in over 80 categories and providing an international platform for thousands of artists annually. Our key business is in the middle market, it is just that the top lots and high prices are achieving more interest with the general public.  

<em>'Untitled (The Poet; 1917)' by Gaganendranath Tagore (1867-1938); estimate USD 12-18,000 </em>
'Untitled (The Poet; 1917)' by Gaganendranath Tagore (1867-1938); estimate USD 12-18,000 

Give us a sense of the buyer profiles at an auction of such stature and merit. Do you have many buyers from India and Asia, and what kind of interest is this likely to get from Western buyers, in the US, Europe or from anywhere else?
We welcome clients from over 190 countries to Christie’s annually, might it be in our 10 sale rooms across the world, via our online sales or on our webpage — requesting condition reports, downloading lot information and registering to follow an auction via Christies LIVE.

<em>'Untitled (Court Scene with Shiva, Brahma and Krishna)', Anonymous, Early Bengal School; estimate USD 20-30,000</em>
'Untitled (Court Scene with Shiva, Brahma and Krishna)', Anonymous, Early Bengal School; estimate USD 20-30,000

What kind of provenance will each work carry at the auction? Will buyers get a chance to interact with Jane and Kito if they happen to win a bid?
Jane and Kito de Boer gave many interviews ahead of the auction and will surely be willing to share any additional information with the next owners of their works. 

And, if you like to consign a work of art at Christie’s, you will need to prove the rightful ownership of 
the object and we, the specialist departments will then research the work, including provenance and condition.

<em>'Relics' by Ganesh Pyne (1937-2013); estimate USD 80-120,000 U.S. dollars</em>
'Relics' by Ganesh Pyne (1937-2013); estimate USD 80-120,000 U.S. dollars

A question about the emerging art auctions market in India. With players like AstaGuru, SaffronArt and even Osian’s in the fray, apart from Sotheby’s and Bonhams, how do you hope to take things up a notch at Christie’s?
The work we do in the region is at least two-fold: we are finding consignments for upcoming auctions, including South Asian Modern and Contemporary art, but also for other categories.

Not long ago, we consigned some spectacular Alexander Calder works from India for our New York Post-War auctions.

On the other hand, we are the window for our Indian clients to the 10 international auction rooms we have, by informing them about objects that would fit their interest and collections.

‘A Lasting Engagement: The Jane and Kito de Boer Collection’: Live auction on 18 March and online sale of additional works, 13-20 March.

— Jaideep Sen

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