“Each painting has a history and a destiny”
As Krishen Khanna’s Pieta reaches Sotheby’s Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art Auction, the painter tells Karuna John he hopes it goes to someone who appreciates it
Agrieving mother mourns her dead son, she holds him tenderly and points a finger to his body. “Why did they do this to him”, her pursed lips seem to ask. Pieta, a 1978 oil- on-canvas work by Krishen Khanna, 88, one of India’s celebrated painters, will be a part of the Sotheby’s Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art Auction to be held in London on June 11. Pieta, has been offered for the first time at the auction, for an estimate price of £ 100,000- 150,000. The figurative work of Mary holding Jesus’ body is painted in tones of blue, purple, pink and earth hues. The scene, as it was, can be visualised across globe where war and strife still fuel such tragic moments.
“The grieving mother has every right to question the death of her son,” says Khanna, who continues to paint daily at the basement studio of his art- filled Gurgaon home. “This is the second or third pieta that I have painted. Each one is different,” says Khanna, adding, “each painting has a history behind it and a destiny.”
This Pieta was painted in the US on request. Unfortunately, once completed the painting got less than a tepid response from the couple who had requested him to create it. “I don’t like that kind of reponse, especially to a picture that is meaningful. The man said that ‘ she looks very sad and aggressive’. I said yes she is an aggrieved mother and has every reason to be that,” Khanna recalls the conversation as if it played out just yesterday
Once back home in India, Khanna wrote to the couple and offered to accept the Pieta back if they did not want it. They did return it and Mumbai- based businessman Dilip De eventually bought it. The destiny of the 1978 Pieta has now taken it to Sotheby’s but Khanna says he is not personally interested in the final bid made for it. “I have never attended an auction,” he confesses. Khanna just wants the Pieta to go to someone who appreciates the painting for what it means. “I don’t want it to go to someone who puts it in a strong box, saying it is worth so much money and will fetch more. It is not a shared script,” says Khanna. According to him, when a painting goes into a house it develops a relationship with the person who has acquired it. “Even when a painting is away I still think it is mine. Someone gave me money for it and took it away, but it is mine,” he muses, “I am unhappy if a painting does not do well. If it is not liked, I would want it back, not discarded.” The Pieta, irrespective of the final auction bid, continues its destined journey.