Rare portrait and letters of Mahatma Gandhi to be auctioned in UK

A previously unknown pencil portrait of Mahatma Gandhi, drawn from life in 1931, is set to go under the hammer at a Sothebys auction in London next week and may fetch between £8,000 and £12,000.

The sale on July 11 by Sothebys will also include a collection of handwritten letters by the leader of the Indian Independence movement to the family of Sarat Chandra Bose, a freedom fighter and the elder brother of Subhas Chandra Bose.

“Gandhi usually refused to sit for formal photographs, let alone a portraitist, making this an extremely rare portrayal of the political leader at work. The sketch shows Gandhi writing with a look of intense concentration whilst seated on the floor, and is inscribed by him with the words Truth is God/MK Gandhi/4.12.?31?,” the auction house said in a statement.

The pencil drawing is one of a number of portraits created by artist John Henry Amshewitz when Gandhi was visiting London for the Round Table Conference in 1931, a series of conferences organised by the British government to discuss constitutional reforms in India.

Gandhi stayed at Kingsley Hall at the time, a community centre in Londons East End, at the invitation of one of its founders Muriel Lester who had previously stayed in Gandhi’s ashram (hermitage) in India.

The pencil portrait, which was inscribed by Gandhi the day before he left Kingsley Hall, was given to a local resident who was closely associated with Kingsley Hall throughout her life and has remained in her family ever since.

The rare portrait is estimated to fetch between £8,000 and £12,000 ($10,360 to $15,548).

The set of handwritten letters, estimated to fetch between £23,000 and £33,000  ($29,801 to $42,735), include key comments on the pivotal partition of Bengal in the months before Gandhis assassination.

“Sarat Chandra Bose was one of the most outspoken critics of partition and proposed an independent united Bengal. He had his allies, but formidable enemies in Congress, as well as in the League.

“Gandhi was initially supportive of Boses efforts, but shifted his position. He had little sympathy for Boses vision of a socialist Bengal and, coming to see that the political forces in favour of partition were irresistible, turned instead to trying to mitigate its effects,” the house said in its background to the auction lots.

In one of the letters, Gandhi writes to Sarat Chandra: “You should give up the struggle for unity of Bengal and cease to disturb the atmosphere that has been created for partition of Bengal”.

Dating from the mid-1940s, the other letters in the collection affirm Gandhi’s continued love for the Bose family as he recalls visits to their home in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and discusses the future of India with Amiya Nath Bose, the son of Sarat Chandra Bose, the house added.