Masters of the new economies

Move over Hockney and Hirst - Chinese and Indian art prices are rising fast, says Gwyn Jones
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The Independent Online

The Chinese and Indian economies may be develop-ing at a rapid pace, but their art markets are moving up in value even more quickly. There have been auctions dedicated to Indian, Pakistani and Chinese art for several years but since 2002, auction houses such as Bonhams have reported a big increase in interest in 20th century art from the Far East.

Claire Penhallurick, Bonhams' Indian and Islamic Art specialist, says: "There has been an established market for Indian art at auction, ranging from Indian miniature painting to jewellery to sculpture. But traditionally, paintings by artists including Francis Newton Souza had been offered in modern British and European painting sales, often slipping through for little money and not getting the recognition that they should have."

Recently, though, adds Penhallurick, Indians and Pakistanis working in the US and Europe have realised that they could buy works by the top artists from their own countries for relatively little money when compared to a Hockney or a Hirst.

"Indians and Pakistanis are patriotic about their heritage and in other areas of art, they have trad-itionally been the buyers of their own countries' work," says Penhallurick.

"As a result of these factors, prices have begun to rise to the fever pitch they are at now. And since the Indian economy is strong, there is no reason to think this growth will not continue. The interest in this field is phenomenal, with each sale attracting more and more new bidders."

At a recent Bonhams sale, the second highest price was achieved by a modern Indian artist - The Tree, the Bird, the Shadow by Jagdish Swaminathan made £145,600 despite a pre-auction estimate of just £40,000-60,000.

"Anish Kapoor, the British-born artist, was probably the most well-known in the cutting-edge contemporary market worldwide, even having an exhibition at the Tate Modern," adds Penhallurick. "Now, artists such as Souza, Swaminathan and Maqbool Fida Husain are grabbing the headlines with the high prices their paintings are achieving. Tate Modern is actually having an exhibition of Souza in the autumn, which shows how far this field has progressed."

Souza's work has hung unrecognised in many homes for years but since his death in 2002, paintings that used to sell for hundreds of pounds are now making at least five times that.

Modern Pakistani art is also on the rise with world record prices achieved for Sadequain, Pakistan's most prolific and internationally recognised artist. It's a similar story for Chinese art as Bonhams' director of Asian art, Colin Sheaf, explains. "Paintings on silk and paper have been the fastest growing sector in Chinese artwork due to the demand from the mainland. The Chinese think that calligraphy and watercolours on silk or paper are the highest form of art - whereas in Europe the big money goes on collecting old masters, in China most people have no chance to study art and so prefer the modern pictures as you don't need to be a scholar to recognise what is a good painting."

As with the Indian and Pakistani markets, the demand is coming from domestic buyers. "It's entirely driven from within China - as the economy strengthened so the taste of the population has emerged," says Sheaf.

"There has been an extraordinary development in Chinese painting in the last three years. Qi Baishi, who specialises in horses has doubled in price, Lin Fengmian, who spent some time living in Europe, has seen his work treble and Fu Baoshi who paints more classical pictures, has also seen prices double in the last three years."

In terms of investment Sheaf thinks this trend of rising prices is likely to continue for the next 20 years as long as the Chinese economy continues to develop. Penhallurick thinks the same is true of the Indian market.

Bonhams: (020-7393 3900; A sale of modern Chinese paintings is on 11 July; contemporary Indian and Pakistani paintings on 13 October

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