South Asia

Rare Rabindranath Tagore paintings sold in the UK

Figure in Yellow by Rabindranath Tagore
Image caption Tagore's Figure in Yellow sold three times above its £40,000 asking price

A collection of rare paintings by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore has sold for more than £1.5m ($2.2m) at an auction in Britain.

The collection has been described by Sotheby's auctioneers as "arguably the most important group of works by Tagore ever to appear at an auction".

The 12 paintings by Tagore were sold by the Dartington Hall Trust charity.

So far the buyers of the pictures - certain to attract huge interest in India - have not been identified.

A Sotheby's spokesman said all the pictures sold for well above the asking price.

'Once-in-a-generation opportunity'

It follows the £2.4m ($3.5m) sale on Friday at Christie's auctioneers of a painting by top Indian artist Syed Haider Raza, which set a record for a modern Indian work.

Image caption Tagore composed the Indian and Bangladeshi national anthems

Tagore, often referred to as Bengal's Shakespeare, is the only Indian to win the Nobel literature prize.

He wrote poems and short stories and composed both the Indian and Bangladeshi national anthems. He died in 1941.

"The rarity and distinguished provenance of the 12 Tagore paintings - in addition to the fact that they have never appeared on the open market before - made their auction debut a once-in-a-generation opportunity for collectors in the field," a Sotheby's statement said.

"Together, the group unquestionably ranks as one of the most important collections of works by the much-loved Indian artist ever to come to the market."

Born in Calcutta in 1861, Tagore was perhaps the most important literary figure of Bengali literature and was also the first non-European to win the Nobel literature prize.

Huge archive

Image caption Portrait of a Woman sold for over £313,000 ($461,000) at Sotheby's

The Dartington Hall charity - set up to advance innovative ideas and programmes in education, social reform and rural regeneration in the 1920s - has strong ties to Tagore.

The estate in the south-west English county of Devon was purchased by Leonard Elmhirst.

He was a close friend of Tagore and travelled to India to work as his private secretary.

Over the years, the Dartington Hall Trust amassed an extensive collection of works of art. Officials say it is not clear how the 12 Tagore paintings arrived at Dartington, but it is probable that they were a gift from Tagore to his great friend and companion.

Tagore visited Dartington on a number of occasions. The trust also holds a huge archive of his photographs, letters and other items.

"We have a successful track record of selling works by Tagore and in fact set an auction record for a work by him when his Death Scene sold for £120,000 in May 2008," said Sotheby's.

"However, works by Tagore are relatively rare to the auction market."

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