Issue #34  10/17/2001
Indian Photography Spotlighted in Christie's London Auction of The Gujral Collection

By Alex Novak

Before I left Europe for the New York auctions, I attended Christie's sale of 19th century Indian photographs from the Collection of Kanwardip Gujral. Gujral is a very bright and pleasant man, who told me to call him "Steve because my first name is too difficult to pronounce" when I made a phone call to him after the Dr. John Murray sale.

I got a chance to talk to him again in person just before the sale and meet his wife, who though very nice is apparently not into photography quite like Steve and I. In fact, Gujral joked that he had to either sell the collection or lose his wife. I suspect that he will occasionally be tempted in the future to look at the market he obviously loves. At least I hope so and that he keeps his wife as well.

This was the first major photography sale that I attended after the 9/11 tragedy. Christie's staff was clearly a bit nervous before the sale and relieved afterwards. Lyndsay Stewart and Michelle Jarman, the specialists in charge of the sale for Christie's noted that "the success of this sale confirmed the strength of interest in photographs from this evocative period in Indian and British history."

Overall the auction did quite well, bringing in 417,324 pounds sterling including the buyer's premium, which was about $615,000 (the pound was equal to about $1.48 at the time). Not bad for only 123 lots offered and 98 sold. The sell-through was an impressive 79.67%. The attendance was actually better than at the Dr. John Murray Archives sale. A little over 50 people were in the room, but the phone and order book were also kept busy for the sale as you might expect.

The auction was held at the posh King Street location, which is where future London photography sales will be held instead of at the dilapidated and noisy South Kensington office. It is a big improvement on the facility for Christie's, although I liked the South Ken area itself. Now the Christie's and Sotheby's London sales will be a long, but invigorating walk from each other.

While many of the albums and groups disappointed me, there was still much interesting material for an Indian photography enthusiast. The Bourne albums were simply fantastic.

The three important Samuel Bourne albums--perhaps the most complete known and in excellent condition--sold well indeed. Lot 53, the album of the Himalayas with the rarest of the images sold for 71,950 pounds, a world record price for the artist. Lots 54 and 55 sold for 18,800 pounds each. To add a little spice, all of these were apparently Bourne's personal albums. Throw in a silver chalice presented to Bourne for 2820 pounds and you have a pretty important collection. A British buyer in the room purchased the entire group. All prices above and below include the buyer's premium.

Lot No.1, a great daguerreotype (4 x 5 in.) attributed to Henry Pybus, showed a group of servants of W.S. Brown, Bombay. It sold to a UK buyer on the phone for 9,400 pounds. I unfortunately underbid.

An early album by Oscar Mallitte of North India from 1858-60 (lot 64) was hammered down to a UK buyer on the phone for a total of 11,162 pounds.

A Felice Beato Lucknow group of 38 prints (lot 74) sold for 11,162 pounds to an order bidder.

Lot 78, a rare book of images by Capt. Eugene Clutterbuck Impey (I love those English names) sold to the order bidder over the efforts of Indian expert and author Clark Worswick, who was in the room, for 25,850 pounds. Clark, Michael Sachs and myself were among the few Americans who previewed or attended the sale, although a few English dealers found themselves previewing and bidding for clients.

I bought my one image at the sale (lot 80, a Blanquart-Evrard process salt print of a Hindu Temple), and then I underbid once again (something I found myself doing a lot that day) on the next number, another daguerreotype--this time a half-plate of Calcutta with St. Paul's Cathedral. It sold to the phone (but a different bidder) for a still reasonable 6,462 pounds. I still liked the dag in lot 1 better, but this one was also pretty good.

Lot 85, a presentation album by Lala Deen Dayal, Views of Central India, sold to a UK buyer on the phone for 11,162 pounds. Lot 90, a second album by Raja Deen Dayal & Sons of Central India, sold again to the phone for 25,850 pounds, which I thought a very high price for the material.

The next lot (lot 91, William Johnson's Photographs of Western India) sold for the second highest price of the sale. It too sold to a UK buyer on the phone for 27,025 pounds.

Lyndsay Stewart, Christie's photography expert, told me that there would be other material from Gujral's collection coming up in future auctions, so stay tuned.