11 May, 2021

Keehn Eye On India

Way before Sotheby's, the Keehns were patrons of Indian art

Keehn Eye On India
It could only have happened in the fifties. An artist who is a banker is asked to name the price of one of his paintings; he can't. He is handed a blank cheque by the American collector and fills in the princely sum of Rs 350! The painter was Krishen Khanna; the painting was re-sold recently for $15,000 and now hangs in a plush Riverside apartment in New York.

Tom Keehn and his family came to Delhi in 1953 to set up an organisation funded by Nelson Rockefeller that would look into rural sector village handicrafts. He was also asked to encourage modern Indian art; enough was being done for ancient art. Thus began the earliest collection of modern art, much before Sotheby's and Christie's came into the picture. The friendships that resulted have lasted to this day. M.F. Husain, for instance, painted in the verandah of the Keehns' huge mansion and made forays into their family life.

The Keehns began to make a collection of the art of the period with painters like Ram Kumar, Krishen Khanna, V. Gaitonde, Satish Gujral and Husain. When international auction...

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