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How to get started on your art collection

Jewel Group of Hotels’ Roop Pratap Choudhary doles out advice on the fascinating and complex world of collecting art

Burma teakwood vintage palatial entrance door at hotel Noor Mahal in Karnal.
Burma teakwood vintage palatial entrance door at hotel Noor Mahal in Karnal. (Courtesy Roop Pratap Choudhary)

For art collectors, there’s never a bad time to invest in art. Probably why, in spite of everything, the past 15 months have been quite busy in the art auction world. Not only did all the major auction houses go online, making digital bidding a thing, there were a few record-breaking bids made as well.

An insider to this extravagant world, Roop Pratap Choudhary knows a thing or two about navigating it. He is also used to bidding wars that take place. “I have experienced competition on a few occasions to acquire a piece and have outbid,” says Choudhary, who’s currently in London busy setting up luxury restaurant Colonel Saab. The restaurant is part of Choudhary’s family-owned business Jewel Group of Hotels’ $20 million investment in London’s hospitality business.

Much like in his family-owned hotel Noor Mahal in Karnal, Colonel Saab, expected to launch in July, will exhibit pieces from Choudhary’s exhaustive art collection. “Colonel Saab is our way to celebrate the greatness of Indian cultural heritage and we have procured more pieces for the property,” he says.

One of the pieces the restaurant’s clientele can look forward to is a vintage jewellery set bought from heritage jewel brand Jagdish Jewellers of Patiala. “The pieces are the most recent, expensive additions to my collection,” he says.

Roop Pratap Choudhary
Roop Pratap Choudhary (Courtesy Roop Pratap Choudhary)

Choudhary’s indulgent hobby goes all the way back to his childhood. Being born in a family that belongs to the lineage of Maharaja Ranjit Singh certainly helped. “I have been interested in art since I can remember. Growing up in a family that has a long-standing history tends to proffer one with information and stories about heritage, legacy and heirlooms. The way I see it, art is a way for me to connect with this heritage and culture.”

For Choudhary, nothing is off limits. “My collection has art objects from around the world but I tend to lean towards pieces which personify India’s royal cultural heritage. The real value of an artwork lies in its superior craftsmanship and its story,” he says.

Reading about art is one thing, collecting it is a whole different world. There are no primers or dummy guides for a novice. In-depth research into the subject is the best way in. Choudhary concurs. “The world of art is magnificent but massive; it is easy to get lost. If one wants to own works of great quality and meaning, then it is important to do research and have a finger on the pulse of the market. I keep up with what international art auction houses are up to,” he says.

Navigating through art auctions isn’t a cakewalk either. “There is a lot of competition for a few artworks, so you need to put in a bit of preparation to know more about the artworks on offer and chalk out your strategy. But participating in an art auction is very engaging and a lot of excitement builds up before it starts,” says Choudhary.

About auctions going digital, Choudhary says, “Digital auctions have made the whole process convenient but I prefer the atmosphere of the live event. The whole process of being there and sensing the excitement of fellow art enthusiasts is different. Art should be felt and lived.”

The Indian art collectors’ community, according to Choudhary, is nominal. “There are only a few millennials who are actively building their collections,” he says, before signing off with some advice for newbie art collectors: “The best and the worst thing about the world of art is that there is no roadmap, one has to find their way for every artwork. While participating in an auction, be prepared. Do your research, understand the way it works, learn the technical terms, and you will then find the experience enjoyable. It may look like a competition but in reality, it’s an individual journey.”

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