rettberg: Modern art by KK Hebbar, Ambadas Khobragade at auction from the collection of German gallerist Ute Rettberg

“I was so convinced of the value of Indian art and that it is equal to all others and that someone had to show it,” says Ute Rettberg, the pioneering German gallery owner who played an important role in the expansion of the Indian art market abroad. . Sotheby’s London has launched an online auction of more than 80 works from Rettberg’s personal collection, ‘The Surya Collection: Property from Mrs. Ute Rettberg’ includes paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures which Rettberg signed surrounds for nearly 50 years.

The sale features works by important figures in the field of modern Indian art whom Rettberg also considered friends, with pieces by KK Hebbar and Ambadas Khobragade – considered a true pioneer of color and form – among the strong points. As well as showcasing established Indian artists, the auction offers an exciting opportunity to discover little-seen and rare works, carefully curated by Rettberg’s keen eye and expertise.

Ute Rettberg lived in Mumbai in the mid-1960s where she worked as one of the first women in the German diplomatic service. She and her husband were newlyweds, drawn to the vibrant colors of contemporary Indian art, and began buying works by talented young artists to decorate their Juhu Beach residence.

“Since I lived and worked in India – I came to India in 1964 and got married in 1966, and we started decorating our house. Everyone was buying antiques but I felt a bit too young and thought it was better to support living artists who have to make a living. When we came back to Germany and decorated our new house here, everyone said, wow, what colorful paintings, and asked me to bring some when I went to India,” she told ET.


January ’78, Biren De, 1978

In the early 1970s, Kekoo Gandhy (founder of the Chemould Gallery in Mumbai) began sending works by Ute to be exhibited at her new Surya Galerie, based in Freinsheim near Frankfurt. Reviewing photographs taken with artists at the time, Ute recalls, “Sometimes I marvel at how young I looked, that I dared to do all this. But I was so convinced of the value and that Indian art is equal to all others and someone had to show it.

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Rettberg went on to form close and lasting friendships with Indian artists such as KK Hebbar, Satish Panchal and Surya Prakash, many of whom would stay with her in Germany for months and exhibit their works at Surya Gallery. Rettberg credits Hebbar for the refinement of his tastes: “We met Krishna K. Hebbar, who in many meetings and discussions over the years sharpened my eye and my sense of quality, good craftsmanship and authentic forms of expression.”

Hebbar’s artwork Untitled, (Versova Beach) is one of Ute’s favorites, and today she remembers him drawing it at the beach, where people were drying fish and where his wife picked up fenugreek, on an invitation card he had with him.

“Some people thought it was out of the ordinary but for the most part the reception was very good. The press was interested, people thought oh, wonderful, something colorful and exciting in this dull landscape Everyone was excited and so the gallery continued, and was still packed, people came from all over Germany, even from France.

From mezzoprints to wall hangings and neo-tantric art, the selection of works offered in this extraordinary sole proprietor sale form a time capsule of a unique period in modern Indian art and testify to Ms. Ute Rettberg.

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