From a rediscovered Montelupo statue to a never publicly displayed Richter painting: our pick of the highlights from March’s sales


M.F. Husain, Six drawings on postcards and invitations (1962-63)

Modern Indian Art Sale, SaffronArt, Mumbai, 16 March

Estimate: $12,350-$18,520 for the set

To many, M.F. Husain is best known for achieving seven-figure sales at auction—the artist, whose record stands at $1.6m for a 1972 painting at Christie’s New York in 2022, is one of just 11 Indian artists whose works have made more than $1m. But to those who knew him personally, he was also a restless sketcher. “He was constantly drawing—he needed to do something with his hands at all times. One time we went to lunch and by the end of it I had a picture of a tiger and an elephant on a cloth napkin,” says Minal Vazirani, the cofounder of the Indian auction house SaffronArt. It is offering six drawings made by Husain in the early 1960s on the backs of postcards and invitations. Each of these was either gifted or sold to the lot’s consignor, Najm-ul-Hasan, a friend of the artist and the chief reporter at Delhi’s National Herald newspaper in the 1960s. Five of the works are pastel or ink drawings on postcards, and the sixth is on the back of an invitation and bears a message stating that the drawing was executed “over tea and kebabs, at a roadside ‘dhaba’ [food stall] in January 1965”. SaffronArt sold a similar body of work, at an evening sale in March 2020 for $16,000 (with fees). K.J.

Courtesy of Bonhams

Max Ernst & Marie Berthe Aurenche, Portrait d’André Breton (1930)

La Révolution Surréalist, Bonhams, Paris, 29 March

Estimate: €400,000-€600,000

Only two known works jointly painted by Max Ernst and his one-time wife Marie-Berthe Aurenche have ever come to the market. The first was sold at Christie’s in 1993 for $165,000; the second is being offered this month at Bonhams in the birthplace of the Surrealist movement, Paris. Of Ernst’s romantic artist partners—the list of which includes Leonora Carrington and Dorothea Tanning, Aurenche is perhaps the most overlooked. Married to Ernst in 1927, Aurenche was firmly part of the Surrealist social circle, but was not liked by Breton. She was to be written out of this work some years after its execution, when in 1965 the writer Robert Benayoun misattributed the work to solely by Ernst, reflecting how women in the Surrealist movement have long been undervalued. But now Surrealism’s women are enjoying a market revival, especially following their dominance in the main show of Cecila Allemani’s Venice Biennale last year, with works by Carrington and the Mexican Remedios Varo in hot demand. K.J.

Courtesy of Phillips

Gerhard Richter, Mathis (1983)

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, Phillips, London, 2 March

Estimate: £10m-£15m

From the French collector Marcel Brient comes a relatively early foray into abstraction by Gerhard Richter, which has never before been publicly displayed. The work exemplifies a period of Richter’s career, from around 1976 to 1986, in which he experimented with brash sharp lines and rhombic shapes. The period is also characterised by tactile metallic sheen and the tension and instability created when presented against sporadic splatters of paint. At 2m by 2m, the painting is one of the largest of that period, likely only dwarfed by the triptychs Fisch (1-3) and Schiff (1-3), both 1986, which sold for $1.436m at Christie’s in 2001. Brient has also consigned a painting by De Kooning, also never publicly exhibited, with an estimate of £7m to £9m. C.J-N.

Courtesy of Blumka Gallery

Baccio da Montelupo, Madonna col Bambino (around 1511-12)

Shown by Blumka at Tefaf Maastricht 2023, 11-19 March

Price: $650,000

It was not until Tefaf Maastricht 2020 that Tony Blumka, of New York’s Blumka Gallery, realised that the terracotta sculpture he had bought five years before was by the Florentine sculptor Baccio da Montelupo, having been alerted by the Montelupo scholar David Lucidi. Lucidi’s research revealed that the work was a model created for a competition to decorate the façade of the Casa del Saggio in Lucca. This was a prestigious competition, because the statue would effectively be the first emblem of public devotion in a previously secular space. Lucidi’s catalogue essay points out that, unlike some contemporaries whose were veering towards Mannerism, Montelupo wraps Mary in a denser, crisper cloth that “enhances her monumentality and imbues her with the severe classicism typical of an Old Master still deeply rooted in the 15th-century Florentine tradition”. Historic photographs show that the sculpture once belonged to a statuary group that was part of the collection of Stefano Bardini, whose palazzo is now the Museo Bardini. K.J.

© Christie’s Images 2023

Pauline Boty, BUM (1966)

Modern British and Irish Art Evening Sale, Christie’s, London, 21 March

Estimate: £60,000-£80,000

A preparatory sketch for a painting by the British Pop artist Pauline Boty heads to Christie’s this month; the auction house sold the finished painting for £ 632,750 (with fees) in 2017. Boty—who helped found the British Pop movement—died of cancer in 1966. She created the painting for the theatre critic Kenneth Tynan’s revue Oh! Calcutta! (1969)—a production so risqué it was recommended for prosecution by the Police’s Obscene Publications Squad (the case was ultimately unsuccessful). Boty’s sketch sat alongside one by John Lennon, which was also commissioned for the production. It comes from the estate of Tynan, who died in 1980. C.J-N.


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