The painting shows a peacock with its neck outstretched, is signed ‘Hebbar 83’ and inscribed with the words “Sunshine/81 Cadell Road, Bombay - 16” on the reverse. The work, supposed to have been painted in 1983, was exhibited last week at a New Delhi preview exhibition of ten works from India that would feature at the New York sale.
Interestingly, the social media post also pointed out that the Salar Jung piece is bigger than the Christie’s piece. Sunshine is 33 cm x 76.2 cm in dimension; the one housed in the Salar Jung — the only Hebbar work that the museum owns — is 210cm x 88.5cm, almost six feet long.
Director of Salar Jung Museum, Dr A Nagendra Reddy, said that Peacock had been bought directly by them in 1966. “It was acquired by the purchase committee and we have had no contact with the artist since,” he said. Records of Peacock on the government’s museum portal states that the painting dates back to 1963 and is a “contemporary painting depicting a peacock in blue, black, purple, green and yellow colours in a wooden frame”.
That sounds a lot like Christie’s Sunshine. Could Hebbar then have painted two such works in different sizes? Perhaps Sunshine was meant as a smaller sketch or study for the larger artwork, Peacock?
Hebbar’s daughter, artist Rekha Hebbar Rao, thinks that is very unlikely. On taking a close look at images of both works along with members of her family, Rekha said, “While I have seen my father make similar works, I have never seen an identical work by him.”
The KK Hebbar Art Foundation, Rekha continued, has drawings and sketches by her father, none of which look like the one with Christie’s. “It is doubtful if the Christie’s work is an original one. The signature on Sunshine doesn’t quite match my father’s despite how it changed over the years. Moreover, the colours on it seem too bright and the brushstrokes unlike his style,” she added.
Peacock was probably made by her father after he returned to Mumbai from his stint at the MS Baroda University, said Rekha. He was enamoured by the local fauna in and around the campus and made a series of such works, one of which also features a white peacock.
“The address on the reverse [81 Cadell Road, Bombay — 16] was something only my father would have known, since it was our old address. However, I cannot confirm if the piece with Christie’s is authentic or not unless I see it in person,” she said.
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