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It's M F Husain @ Rs 100 crore

Maqbool Fida Husain will sell 125 of his latest works for at least Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion). The buyer: the Mumbai-based Swarup Group of Industries with an annual turnover of Rs 500 crore (Rs 5 billion). The paintings will include Husain's latest series on the theme "Our Planet Called Earth".

The deal was signed after Guru Swarup Srivastava, the chairman of the Swarup Group, met Husain in Mumbai about a month ago. Addressing a press conference at New Delhi's Vadehra Art Gallery this evening, Husain said he had already received Rs 25 crore (Rs 250 million) for the first 25 paintings. Most of the work will be 4 ft by 6 ft acrylic on canvas.

The highest price paid for any painting in India was Rs 2 crore in 2002, for a Husain, by a non-resident Indian originally from Hyderabad.

"While Srivastava is not a collector, both of us share similar concerns about Indian art being greatly undervalued and that it deserves to be treated in the same platform as Western art," said Husain. The artist said he would invest the money in producing films.

Srivastava said the 100 paintings of Husain on the theme "Planet" could be worth much more than Rs 100 crore with the right kind of critical attention.

"My analysis is mainly based on conversations with bank officials. Citibank Dubai had taken a show of Husain's to Dubai and valued 25 of his works at Rs 25 crore (Rs 250 million)."

Under the agreement, Husain has agreed not to work on the "Planet" theme for any other party and to complete the body of 100 paintings within a year.

Srivastava said art was a great investment. In the past two months, Srivastava is said to have snapped up 40-odd paintings of largely Mumbai-based painters like Nikhil Chaganlal and Minollie, purely for investment. "It's also a very noble business, though unlike trading you have to invest and build a market for art."

While Srivastava has no plans to hold a public viewing of the paintings, he said he would prepare an audio-visual show based on the paintings to gauge their value.

The Mumbai-based group has interests in shipping, iron ore exports and real estate. Its subsidiary, SGI Commex, has set up an online agricultural commodities exchange in Mumbai, which will begin trading in groundnut oil, seed and its cake and soyabean from December this year.

M F Husain with one of his paintings called 'Last Supper.' Photo: Sebastian D'Souza/AFP/Getty Images

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