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Stocking in on art

November 14, 2004 14:00 IST

At the Sotheby's New York auction on September 24 this year, stock market consultant Yogesh Jain forked out a cool $37,000 to purchase Francis Newton Souza's "The Paraclete", a 93x72 cm oil on canvas executed in 1962. The painting, says Jain, attracted him because of the idea.

"It has a biblical theme of how a dove, an emblem of the Holy Spirit, descends on the three saints. It is beautiful," he says.

But it's more than just the aesthetics that prompted Jain to acquire the painting. It was to get a first-hand experience in how international art transactions take place and to meet buyers and build contacts.

During the trip, Jain also attended Christie's Indian art auction and bought three other drawings by Souza from private galleries.

Two days after the purchase, on September 26, Jain formally opened a contemporary art gallery, Rahul & Art, in Delhi's posh Golf Links that stocks not just Souzas (whose price is peaking this season) but will also stock other blue-chip painters like Tyeb Mehta, M F Husain, Ram Kumar, S H Raza, Ganesh Pyne, Krishen Khanna and many more.

What encouraged Jain to set up a full-fledged gallery was, perhaps, his experience in trading his pre-Independence collection including the works of artists such as Rabindranath Tagore, Jamini Roy and George Keyt from his house in Safdarjang Enclave.

Within four months, Jain claims to have done business close to Rs 1 crore (Rs 10 million). Not surprisingly, he is already planning another gallery near his home to stack big works like Jayashree Burman and Shamshad as a "lot of people come looking for big-sized canvases".

Jain, who also has stakes in the family business that deals in automobile brands like Maruti, Bajaj Auto and Ashok Leyland, likes to call himself "a stock market wizard" and has been dabbling in the shares market for the last 25 years.

But the promoter of the stock market firm Garima Capital Ltd, has been, fervently buying works of art out of "passion". Though Jain may have spent nearly Rs 25 lakh (including the shipment cost) on the Souza, he has no regrets as he says, "art is a sunrise industry and there are very few serious galleries around".

So along with his 23-year-old son, Rahul, a graduate in finance from Delhi's Global Business School and armed with a short stint at the Ecole Nationale De Ponts et Chausees, Paris he is attempting to create a new brand in the art circles.

Jain concedes that there are more inquiries for painters like Souza and Husain than his heritage collection that includes rare works by Bengal masters such as the 1931 self-portrait of Rabindranath Tagore, large-sized canvases of Mukul Dey, Gagendranath Tagore's Darjeeling series, pastels of Gopal Ghosh and a large canvas of Shakuntala by A H Muller, whose works are increasingly hard to find at auctions these days.

"A Pithawala or a Jamini Roy is difficult to sell because there is less media hype surrounding them and even less documentation to check on the provenance of the paintings. There are no advisory agencies either," he adds.

But who are the galleries' potential customers? Says Jain, "Non-resident Indians and wealthy people who want to maximise their wealth by switching their investment from real estate and shares into art."

Adds Rahul, "More people from the stock market are taking to investing in art because it has greater liquidity. They can sell shares today and buy art tomorrow."

While people dabbling in the stock market already form part of their client base, others include high-salaried corporates and Indian art collectors like Masanori Fukuoka, who in the past has snapped up Tyeb Mehta's "Celebration" for Rs 1.5 crore (Rs 15 million) for his Glenbarra Indian art gallery in Japan.

Jain says that he will also target non-Indian art collectors globally.
Maitreyee Handique in New Delhi