AN ART EXPLORATION TRIP TO USA AND EUROPE 1976 – FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH AN AUCTION HOUSE SOTHEBYS.
1976 was an important year. The death of M.A. Rahman Chughtai on 17th January, 1975, required newer insights and encounters all over the world. A number of international condolences had flown in and it was my job to go and personally thank them for their concern. So, it was a very important breakthrough but it was a voyage of discovery too. My job was to check the art market of the world too. So, my first encounter was at Sothebys London, with Michael Jones. Mr. Jones was not there when we visited and we were told that he would be coming soon. Later on, we see a tall man, dressed in a brown pin stripe three-piece suit (looked Saville Row), sitting in a Rolls Royce and with a smoke in his mouth, perhaps a cigar or a cigarette on a special ebony nozzle. We talked to him about the Art of M.A. Rahman Chughtai. Not only that he had not heard of any Chughtai artist, he did not even know of any contemporary Indian artist. The only artist he talked about was some Tagore (Abindaranath Tagore or Rabindarnath Tagore), and he said Sotheby’s had sold a work of his somewhere in the 1920s for an amount like 20 UK pounds. It was astounding to hear this from me, and my cousin did not like it, but I had picked a quarrel with Mr. Jones on the art subject. We walked out in dismay, then headed for Colnaghis, which had sold an edition of Aquatints “Indian Maiden” of Chughtai in 1936. We met Michael Goedhuis there, a most hospitable gentleman. Well versed in the arts. But again, nothing about Chughtai. Our conclusion the generation that knew Chughtai was no more.
Our task was to bring Chughtai back into the attention of Western scholars. We sent invitations all over the world. In course of next few years, we had invited Basil Gray, Stuart Cary Welch, Tamara Talbot Rice. Ralph Pinder-Wilson, Dr Richard Ettingshausen, Paul Drury, Harry Norman Eccleston, Dr Karl Khandawalla, Herman Goetz, Dr Srivasthava, and many others to our shows. We encouraged research on Chughtai Art and the first PHD student Ms Marcella Bedford (later Nesom Sirhindi), also came here to our premises and got information and analysis about Chughtai art. We did our job exceptionally well.
Later on, Michael Jones became a good friend and safter leaving Sotheby’s, even paid us a visit here in Lahore. He had a Masters from Cairo University, I think. He was tall, handsome and very affable. And he spoke the truth. The suit was not mine; the car was not mine, even the cigar was not mine. It was the company way of dealing with guests and all things belonged to the company. And he told us plainly, we were to discourage all enquiries about art. That was good business sense. Before his death, I had a calligraphic piece written in Persian for Michael Jones family and they must be having it to this day. I think his sisters name was Elizabeth. I carry fond memories of him. These were enriched by his partner Terence McInerney, who I met in New York later. Terry is still a friend.
In 1976 no auction house even knew the name of Chughtai art. Today there is a bombardment of same. But the two-nation theory war is not on the borders of Pakistan and India. It is also being fought in some of the auction houses of the world. A few of the Auction houses are full of Indian scholars and assistants, WHO KNOW NOTHING ABOUT CHUGHTAI ART. They have no access to books, publications, or Chughtai art resources. Not even seen Chughtai Art in original. And some of them are full of malice. Without doubt I am the world’s greatest authority on Chughtai art, in more ways than one. Not only have I lived with the artist Chughtai, I live in his house and I am building his museum, for future generations. And most of all I have full access to ten thousand works of his legacy, which include water colour paintings, pencil sketches, preparatory face studies, European engravings, Japanese woodcuts, art books and a lot more. I have started this series on auction houses. This is the first, many will follow. I will show the world Chughtai Art at its fullest best. Allah is with me!