A Slew of Paintings Seized From Celebrity Jeweler and Fugitive Billionaire Nirav Modi Is Going Up for Auction in India

It is the second sale undertaken by the government of India of items from Modi's collection.

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.

For the second time in the space of a year, the Saffronart auction house is selling artworks, jewelry, and other luxury goods that were formerly owned by disgraced Indian businessman and art collector Nirav Modi.

The billionaire jeweler, whose baubles have been sported by the likes of actresses Kate Winslet and Dakota Johnson, was charged with involvement in a $2 billion fraud scheme at India’s state-run Punjab National Bank. Modi has denied the charges and is fighting extradition proceedings from the UK, where he was arrested last year, to India, according to Reuters.

MF Husain, The Battle of Ganga and Jamuna Mahabharata (1972). Image courtesy of Saffronart.

M.F. Husain, The Battle of Ganga and Jamuna Mahabharata (1972). Image courtesy of Saffronart.

Saffronart was selected to host two auctions by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) of the government of India. There will be a live auction in Mumbai on February 27, followed by an online auction on March 3 and 4. The sales will collectively feature 15 artworks by important modern and contemporary Indian artists, along with luxury watches, handbags, and cars.

The sales mark the first time that a professional auction house was appointed by the ED to sell assets owned by the government of India, according to a statement by Saffronart.

“This appointment comes a year after a successful auction of seized paintings conducted by Saffronart on behalf of the Income Tax Department in March 2019—which raised INR 54.84,” which equates to around $8 million, according to a statement from the auction house.

Amrita Sher Gil, Untitled (1935). Image courtesy of Saffronart.

Amrita Sher-Gil, Untitled (1935). Image courtesy of Saffronart.

“We are diligently working with the ED to assess and evaluate each item and put together the catalogue for both the sales,” Saffronart CEO and co-founder Dinesh Vazirani said.

The sale includes “a distinguished line-up of artworks by the likes of Amrita Sher-Gil, M.F. Husain, and V.S. Gaitonde.” Among the luxury goods on offer are watches by Jaeger Lecoultre.

Expected highlights include a 1935 painting by Sher-Gil that has never been at auction before, and is estimated to sell for INR 12 to 18 crores ($1.7 million–2.5 million); a rare oil painting by Husain from his famous “Mahabharata” series (also estimated at $1.7 million–2.5 million); a blue painting by Gaitonde from 1972, estimated at INR 7 to 9 crores ($985,000–1.3 million); and a vivid red depiction of Krishna by Manjit Bawa, estimated at INR 3 to 5 crores ($422,000–704,000).


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