Sotheby’s auction of rare art by India’s national poet sparks international fury

June 15, 2010 | by | 0 Comments

A controversial auction of rare art which sparked an international row between Britain and India finally went has gone ahead.

The twelve paintings are by India’s national poet Rabindranath Tagore – the first non-European to win the Nobel prize for literature

He finished more than 2,000 canvases before his death aged 70 in 1941 and in India he is as respected as former leader Mahatma Gandhi.

A collection of twelve of his paintings are owned by Dartington Hall Trust, a country estate and charity based in Devon.

Dartington’s founder Leonard Elmhirst was a friend and secretary of Tagore, who gave him the paintings before he died.

Earlier this year the trust sparked controversy by announcing plans to sell the art to fund £1.5million expansions plans.

The auction was criticised by leading Indian politicians and a former Tory peer who said the art was part of ”India’s national heritage”.

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh became embroiled in the row after officials in the country demanded the sale be blocked.

But the auction went ahead at Sotheby’s in London yesterday where the collection was expected to fetch over £250,000.

A Dartington spokesman said the trust ”legally owns” the paintings.

He said: ”The paintings have been in storage because we don’t have any place on the estate to show them.

”Sotheby’s, because there is a great interest in Tagore, suggested it would be a good time to put some of his paintings on the market.”

The news of the auction caused a national outcry in India and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, the chief minister of the West Bengal, region, wrote to the Indian prime minister asking him to intervene.

He wrote: ”The collection of Tagore paintings is a priceless treasure of Indian culture and the government of India should take all necessary steps to bring them back to India.”

In Britain, Baroness Flather, a cross-bench peer and patron of the London Tagore Centre, said: ”It’s upsetting to me, and it’s upsetting to Indians everywhere.

”Dartington should have consulted privately first and seen if the Indian government or a museum wanted to buy the whole collection.”

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