Road to discovery: Jane & Kito de Boer chat about their love for art before Christie's auction

Living between London and Dubai, Kito De Boer and his wife, Jane Gowers, are two of the most well-known international collectors of Indian Art.
Jane and Kito de Boer (Photo: IANS)
Jane and Kito de Boer (Photo: IANS)

New Delhi, Feb 3 (IANSlife): Living between London and Dubai, Kito De Boer and his wife, Jane Gowers, are two of the most well-known international collectors of Indian Art. They have put together a remarkable collection with a broad historical scope and a wide range of artists.

The couple began collecting more than 25 years ago when they moved to New Delhi, and have continued their journey as patrons of Indian art and culture since then.

Numbering over 1,000 pieces, the collection is one of the largest and most varied collections of Indian art in private hands.

It presents a survey of Indian painting from the late 19th century to the present day, covering major art movements, particularly the Bengal School, and includes significant works by Ganesh Pyne, Rameshwar Broota, Sayed Haider Raza, Francis Newton Souza, A Ramachandran, Vasudeo S Gaitonde, Maqbool Fida Husain and K Laxma Goud among other artists.

Christie's will hold their South Asian Modern + Contemporary art sale in New York on 18 March 2020 where pieces from A Lasting Engagement: The Jane and Kito de Boer Collection will be available.

We spoke with Jane and Kito alongside Deepanjana Klein, International Head of Department for Contemporary Indian & Southeast Asian Art at Christie's.

Did your interest in Indian art develop after experiencing India or was it from before?
We came from London in 1992, but it wasn't until we started living here that we were overwhelmed by the culture. It started off with visiting places like Hampi, where you get a sense of what an extraordinary civilisation India is.

We then started to discover Indian classical music, classical dances and of course the food which was the easiest to learn. So there were all these aspects and part of it was just the visual culture, and that's what I suppose we chose to focus on art because you can actually collect it and make the culture a part of yourselves.

It was in the early days just one component of many, in terms of how do you engage with a society that is as dynamic, big and complicated as India as an outsider.

Our road to discovery was really through the arts, and from 1992 to 1999 we started looking at Indian art and galleries.


<em>Akbar Padamsee's Paysage Urbain; estimate: $300-500,000</em>
Akbar Padamsee's Paysage Urbain; estimate: $300-500,000

You have one of the most coveted collections of Indian art; how do you choose your art and what appeals to you?
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 and who we think are important.

So, what we have done is try and shine a spotlight at the byways of Indian art rather than just the highways. We hope people take the time to read our book and go beyond all the big names because we've gone a long way down the road.

It's only really when you get surprised at some works when you stop to look at something you feel you may have discovered, then there's something new to talk about.

If we wanted to focus on something, it's a distinctive voice, and that's what I hope our collection will be recalled for. We are proud of the unknown almost more than of the unknown.

<em>A self-portrait by Ganesh Pyne</em>
A self-portrait by Ganesh Pyne

Do events like the India Art Fair enable collectors like yourself and auction houses like Christie's to bring?
The IAF has evolved over the years and we have been watching it from the first day, from when it was very small scale. It's become quite big, this year there are museums like MOMA, Tate from London, they are all here.

I think it's become a wonderful platform for people like curators, collectors, auction houses and specialists to come and do our homework to discover all the new talent that is being showcased by these incredible galleries who work endlessly to nurture them. This definitely galvanized things and helps all of us from the art world.

Jane: We don't live here anymore, so it's very difficult to visit all of the galleries across the country. Here you have all of this in one place, showcasing artists that we are excited about this really helpful for us. We come and in a few days, we see a huge amount which would take us otherwise many weeks. So it works really well for us.

<em>His Relics by Ganesh Pyne</em>
His Relics by Ganesh Pyne

How did you go about building your collection?
Sadly, the art institutions of India are limited, for budgetary reasons, in the early days it was hard to find out anything about artists, and there was no price discovery, it was all a mystery. Jane was the one who did most of the leg work, finding out about the works, locating them, flying across the country to meet with people.

Jane: The first work we bought is Bengali artist Ganesh Pyne from the Kumar gallery. I wanted to see more of his works, there's a good one at the NGMA, but beyond that, it was tough to source more of his work. 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.

People welcomed me with open arms and I went around looking at all these collections which was such a pleasure. People wanted to talk about collects and show them which was very nice.

There was no other way to find out. It would take us a week to look at one work. Now with the Art Fair, the world comes to you, so it's fantastic. It's not just what they have with them, but you also find out what they have elsewhere.

<em>Deepanjana Klein</em>
Deepanjana Klein

Has the Indian landscape of art changed a lot thinks to private galleries and publications?
The internet has changed it, remember back in the day there was no internet, one couldn't find pictures of art you were trying to collect. There may have been pamphlets with terrible quality. If you look at galleries like DAG and publications, they are taking on the burden.

Jane: There was very little available, we couldn't even get information on artists, we had to go and hunt for it. Now the best example is Kiran Nadar who is doing the most, she's done an incredible job of adding so much to what the NGMA can do. What she's done is made it possible to see the body of an artist's work. She's really changing the landscape and it's fantastic.

<em>Ganesh Pyne's The Animal; estimate: $100-150,000</em>
Ganesh Pyne's The Animal; estimate: $100-150,000

How does Christie's feel about representing a collection like this?
I think it's an honour for us, I think the collection is so unique. As an auction house, we see different kinds of collections, some have only trophy pieces, some speak and reek of great investments; people put together collections for various reasons. This collection is unique because it's got these few artists that they've collected in-depth and you know it's all driven by the passion the two of them have for these artists.

Christie's will hold their South Asian Modern + Contemporary art sale in New York on 18 March where pieces from A Lasting Engagement: The Jane and Kito de Boer Collection will be available.

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