Collection Kanu Gandhi: A Controversial Sale
The Indian photography scene is small, but it has seen a great deal of turmoil flutter since the announcement of the sale of a collection of photographs once owned by Kanu Gandhi, the nephew of Mahatma Ghandi. His family has opposed the sale, organized at Sotheby’s by Peter Rühe, a German who claims to have either purchased the photos or received them as gifts from Kanu’s widow, Abha Gandhi.
A look back on the case.
The brochure published by the London auction house features the sale of two photography collections devoted to Mahatma Gandhi. The first, which belonged to Kanu Gandhi (1917–1986), is comprised of 3600 prints, including 1000 photographs of the Mahatma accompanied by vintage photographs and postcards written by the Indian leader, along with some commercial reproductions. The second collection, from the family of the writer and director Vithalbhai Jhaveri, brings together Ghandi’s photographs and letters, as well as two films.
Kanu Ghandi joined the Mahatma in 1932. A major figure from the Savagram ashram in Wardha, Maharashtra, Kany married Abha, the daughter of one of Gandhi’s disciples. She was very close to the Mahatma, and was one of two women who supported and accompanied him until his death. She was at his side on January 30, 1948, when Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu fundamentalist in Delhi.
Starting in 1936, Kanu, who was a talented photographer, began taking pictures of the Mahatma in both his public and private life. After Gandhi’s death, Kanu continued to serve his ideals and develop the late leader’s ashrams.
In the 1980s, a German named Peter Rühe made frequent visits to Rajkot, the home of Abha, Kanu’s widow. Rühe took charge of marketing in Europe reproductions of photographs from Kanu’s collection, on behalf of Abha and her family. Today he claims that from Kanu’s death in 1986, and Abha’s death in 1995, he purchased from Abha, or received from her as gifts, photographs from the collection. “How is it then that Mr. Rühe, in a letter to Abha’s daughter dated June 8, 1995, offered to buy the originals from Kanu’s collection?” asked one of the family members in a telephone interview. We were unable to reach Peter Rühe to hear his version of the facts.
After the 2009 auction of Gandhi’s famous glasses, which sold for 1.8 million dollars to the Indian tycoon Vijay Mallya, the Mahatma’s belongings and other documents relating to his life continue to provoke controversy, an ironic twist for a man who advocated temperance, deprivation and the search for truth.