Bullets in the Husains? Art lovers await Taj report

Fri Dec 12, 2008 8:04am EST
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By Rina Chandran

MUMBAI (Reuters Life!) - While insurers assess the full extent of the damage to the luxury Taj Mahal Hotel after the recent militant attacks in Mumbai, art lovers are fretting about the fate of one of India's finest repertoires of art.

The hotel, where gunmen took scores of guests hostage and battled commandos last month, includes some of the finest examples of modern and contemporary Indian art, including three large M.F. Husain panels commissioned for the main lobby.

There are also sculptures, chandeliers, photographs, and visitors' books signed by kings, rock stars, business barons and heads of state.

"Nearly everything in there is of some value. Of great financial value for sure, but also of sentimental value as it is connected with the history of the hotel and this country," said Sanjay Dhar, a senior vice president at auction house Osian's.

Husain, arguably India's best-known artist, is reported to have offered to paint again for the hotel, which began collecting contemporary art at a time when other Indian hotels were content with colonial-era hunting scenes and stern portraits of royalty.

Founder Jamsetji Tata shopped for the hotel in London, Dusseldorf, Berlin and Paris. He ordered 10 spun iron pillars that he saw at the Eiffel Tower opening exhibition for the hotel's large ballroom.

Chola bronzes, Belgian chandeliers, antique chests, Baccarat crystal, ancient palanquins, sacred wooden icons, hand-woven carpets, a 10-foot (3 meter) high metal "tree of life" sculpture all found a home in the sprawling hotel which opened in 1903.

These may have suffered damage from fire, water and from the shooting and blasts caused by grenades during the 60-hour siege of the hotel, one of 10 sites attacked by gunmen, Dhar said.   Continued...

<p>Mumbai's Fire Brigade trucks are seen in front of Taj hotel in Mumbai December 9, 2008. REUTERS/Jayanta Shaw</p>