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By Tony Tharakan
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - An online buyer from New York overcame spirited bidding to grab a painting by modern Indian artist Tyeb Mehta for $2.8 million (£1.7 million) at a Christie's auction in Mumbai, highlighting global interest in the finest works of Indian art.
Mehta's untitled 1999 painting, with the central figure of a falling bull, sold to the private bidder at the auction late on Thursday, beating pre-sale estimates of between $1.3 million and $1.9 million.
Bidding for the acrylic on canvas had started at 50 million rupees ($800,000). Mehta, who died in 2009, had been consistently inspired by the iconography of the bull.
An earlier work by Mehta, an oil on canvas titled "Girl In Love", was snapped up by an Asian buyer for nearly $700,000.
In all, 72 percent of the lots were sold at prices above their high pre-sale estimates. Eight of the 78 lots were unsold on a night that saw total sales of $12 million in a luxury Mumbai hotel sale room packed with 400 guests.
"We doubled the pre-sale estimate of $6 million, so indeed we are very happy," said Sonal Singh, head of the Christie's office in Mumbai, adding the auction showed "deep interest in Indian art and the depth of this market".
Collectors are increasingly drawn to rare modern works from the golden period of masters like Mehta and Vasudeo Gaitonde.
"We see very spectacular prices for them that reflect their desirability," Amin Jaffer, international director of Asian art at Christie's, told Reuters before the auction.
Art analysts ArtTactic said in May report confidence in the Indian market was at its highest since 2007.
TAGORE'S POCKET BOOK
A pocket book belonging to Rabindranath Tagore, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913, was sold for $331,325. The item, with poems and notes by Tagore in the Bengali language, was listed as a non-exportable national art treasure. It sold for four times its pre-sale estimate.
An untitled 1947 oil on board painting by Francis Newton Souza that depicts an Indian family sold for $1.45 million.
An oil on canvas by modernist Gaitonde went for a little over $1 million. New York's Guggenheim Museum is exhibiting Gaitonde, one of whose works was sold for a record $3.4 million at Christie's inaugural India auction last year.
Jaffer told Reuters in an interview this month that India was falling behind China as an emerging art powerhouse because it rarely gets involved in international art fairs or invests in new museums to promote artists. [ID:nL3N0TL33B]
($1 = 62.4350 Indian rupees)
(Editing by Douglas Busvine and Robert Birsel)