ART MARKET/ Up for sale

THE BRITISH Rail Pension Fund is to sell the best of its collection of Indian miniature paintings at Sotheby's on 26 April. They were all bought in the mid-Seventies, a period when fine miniatures were far more easily available than they were now. Mrs Gandhi imposed severe export restrictions in 175.

The 56 lots in the sale cost the fund pounds 118,500; for the investment to keep pace with inflation they need to get back pounds 396,000. Sotheby's estimate that the sale will realise between pounds 400,000 and pounds 600,000.

BR Pension Fund's art investments caused a storm of criticism in the Seventies - which eventually caused the fund managers to stop buying art. They spent pounds 40m between 1974 and 1980 and began selling the art off again in 1983. Roughly half of their art investments, by value, have now been disposed of, earning hte fund a 5.8 per cent return on top of inflation. Sales were virtually halted during the recession; the Indian miniatures are the first significant sale since 1990.

The first six lots in the sale are Mughal miniatures and were all bought by BR individually at auction. The Muslim-ruled Mughal empire (1527-1707) was a golden age for art in India; miniature painting combined the best of Persian and Hindu traditions. The top estimate in the sale, pounds 50,000 to pounds 70,000, is for an exquisite album page showing Sultan Mahmud's horse being ferried across a river, which cost BR pounds 18,000 in 1975.

There are also two curiosities in the form of Christian scenes, copied by Indian artists from European engravings. 'The Angel Gabriel Appearing to Zacharias' - a very shapely wearing nothing but feathers - which dates from around 1585, cost pounds 4,000 in 1974 and is expected to make pounds 12,000-pounds 18,000.

The other 50 lots in the sale are from the courts of Rajasthan, part of a bulk purchase from a private trust. It appears as though they came directly from the royal collection of the Maharanas of Mewar, the leading ruling family in Rajasthan. The large, magnificent court scenes are great rarities; the Mewar school was also famous for its hunting miniatures, which pleasingly combine elephants, hounds, horses, cheetahs and deer.

(Photographs omitted)

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