One of India’s Most-Wanted Men Is Selling Off His $5 Million Art Collection. See What’s for Sale Here

Saffronart is selling off the collection of the disgraced diamond magnate, who was arrested yesterday in London.

Disgraced billionaire Nirav Modi in 2016. Photo by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint via Getty Images.
Disgraced billionaire Nirav Modi in 2016. Photo by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint via Getty Images.

The Indian businessman and art collector Nirav Modi, who has been on the lam for his alleged connection to a multi-billion-dollar fraud, was arrested yesterday in London. Meanwhile, the fugitive’s art collection is being auctioned off on behalf of India’s tax recovery office in a bid to recover some of the $2 billion the tycoon is accused of scamming from a state-owned bank.

One of India’s most-wanted men, Modi is the number one suspect sought in connection with a $2 billion fraud that rocked the Punjab National Bank last year. Modi was named Indian’s 85th richest man by Forbes in 2017, with the magazine estimating his net wealth at around $1.3 billion. The diamond mogul is known for decking out celebrities including Kate Winslet and Naomi Watts in his designs, which he has said are influenced by great works of art. His art collection, assembled over 20 years, is valued at around $5 million.

Modi, who is 48, appeared in a London court today following his arrest on Tuesday on behalf of authorities seeking his extradition back to India where he can be prosecuted. He was denied bail and will remain in police custody in the UK until his next hearing, which is set for March 29.

Back home, the Indian government’s income tax department is currently liquidating his art collection, which was seized along with Modi’s other assets last October. The auction house Saffronart is selling off 68 works from the collection on behalf of the authorities in a live auction in Mumbai on March 26.

V. S. Gaitonde, Untitled (1973). Image courtesy of Saffronart.

The lots on sale give some insight into Modi’s often blue-chip tastes. The sale is led by an untitled 1973 oil painting by the postwar modern artist V.S. Gaitonde, who has held the record for the most expensive work of contemporary Indian art sold at auction ever since a 1995 painting sold at Christie’s in 2015 for $4.4 million. Saffronart has not published a price for the work from Modi’s collection, but a similar painting from 1968 sold for $1.6 million at AstaGuru late last year, according to the artnet Price Database.

Other highlights include a rare 1881 painting by Raja Ravi Varma depicting the welcoming party of a British duke on an official visit to a Southern Indian city, which is up for an estimated $1.7 million to $2.6 million. The work, lengthily titled The Maharaja of Travancore and his younger brother welcoming Richard Temple-Grenville, 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, Governor-General of Madras (1875-80), on his official visit to Trivandram in 1880, was previously sold for $799,791 at Bonhams in 2007. The Indian state has placed an export bar on the work because of its historical importance.

Also in the sale will be Akbar Padamsee’s Grey Nude (1960), estimated between $214,000 and $286,000, as well as work by contemporary artists Jitish Kallat, Rameshwar Broota, Atul Dodiya, Rekha Rodwittiya, and Justin Ponmany. A piece by the contemporary artist Subodh Gupta, who was recently embroiled in #MeToo allegations aired by the Instagram account Scene and Herd, is also hitting the block. Gupta’s bronze sculptures of compressed cow dung, commonly used for fuel and fertilizer in rural India, are estimated to go for between $125,000 and $147,000.

Unlike celebrity auctions where the question is whether the profile of the previous owner will jack up the prices, the question here is whether the association with Modi will harm the collection’s value. Some might be hoping to get a steal, though New Delhi-based gallerist Peter Nagy tells the Financial Times that the prestige of some of the works in Modi’s collection might outweigh concerns about his reputation. “If you have something like a Gaitonde, where there are very few of them and very few come up for auction, the market is very precise,” Nagy says. “People in the market for a Gaitonde aren’t going to care who owned it.”

See more images of the art going up for sale below.

Akbar Padamsee, Grey Nude (1960). Image courtesy of Saffronart.

Raja Ravi Varma, The Maharaja of Travancore and his younger brother welcoming Richard Temple-Grenville, 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, Governor-General of Madras (1875-80), on his official visit to Trivandram in 1880 (1881). Image courtesy of Saffronart.

Jitish Kallat, Untitled (Eclipse) – 6 (2007-08). Estimate: $85,700-$114,300. Image courtesy of Saffronart.

Atul Dodiya, Cracks in Mondrian – Hyderabad (2004-05). Estimate: $78,600-$93,000. Image courtesy of Saffronart.

Rekha Rodwittiya, Sharing Secrets (1996). Estimate: $17,100-$21,400. Image courtesy of Saffronart.

Xu Lei, The End of the World (2009). Estimate: $14,300-$21,400. Image courtesy of Saffronart.

Bhupen Khakhar, Buddha in Thailand, (2002). Estimate:$28,600-$42,900). Image courtesy of Saffronart.

F. N. Souza, Cityscape (1974). Estimate: $114,300-$142,900). Image courtesy of Saffronart.

Rekha Rodwittiya, Untitled (1998). Estimate: $17,100-$21,400. Image courtesy of Saffronart.


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