Lot 34
  • 34

Vasudeo S. Gaitonde

250,000 - 450,000 GBP
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  • Vasudeo S. Gaitonde
  • Painting No. 1
  • Signed, dated and inscribed  'Painting No. 1/ GAITONDE. 62' in English and Devanagari on reverse
  • Oil on canvas
  • 127 by 127 cm. (50 by 50 in.)
  • Painted in 1962


Acquired in New York, circa mid 1960s and thence by descent to the current owner.


Good overall condition. Three minor 2mm white paint spots at lower right not inherent to work.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The luminous and sensitively rendered present work by the reclusive artist Vasudeo S. Gaitonde, Painting No.1, was acquired in New York during the 1960s and is believed to have previously been in the collection of the celebrated collector and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller III, one of the earliest Western patrons of Indian Modern art. Painting No. 1has been in this private American collection for the last fifty years, and represents an important turning point for the artist as well as an historical moment during which Indian Modern artists began receiving praise, patronage and attention on the international stage.

Gaitonde’s early group exhibitions at New York City galleries in the early 1960s, such as Graham Gallery in 1959 and Gallery 63 in 1963, were very well-received and attracted the attention of the John D. Rockefeller III Fund through Asia Society in New York. Compare Painting No. 1 to another stellar Gaitonde canvas from 1962: Painting No. 4 from the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA no. 1.1963). According to MoMA, Painting No. 4 was exhibited and acquired from a group show at Gallery 63 in New York from December 11, 1962 to January 5, 1963. In both of these works, we find a very similar example of Gaitonde’s experimentation with abstracted hieroglyph-type shapes, as well as a familiar, meditative palette of green and olive. The sequential titles and shared year of execution suggest that these two works were created together as part of a larger series, and likely exhibited together as such at Gallery 63.

The team of directors at the JDR III Fund was familiar with Gaitonde’s colleagues Krishen Khanna and Mohan Samant, the former another recipient of a Rockefeller grant and the latter whose artwork was in the personal collection of JDR III. Based on these influential relationships, as well the success of the Gallery 63 exhibition, Gaitonde subsequently received a prestigious Rockefeller Fellowship in 1964 for a yearlong stay in New York, including a stipend to travel to Bangkok, Tokyo and Hong Kong. During his stay in New York, the artist lived and worked at the infamous Chelsea Hotel, and celebrated his first solo exhibition at Willard Gallery in 1965. In his review of this exhibition for The New York Times, critic Stuart Preston remarked: “… a contemporary Indian non-objective artist, and a very smart performer indeed, Gaitonde offers scrupulously realized paintings with bands of luminous color ornamented by staccato bursts of pigment.” (S. Preston, May 15, 1965, V.S. Gaitonde, The New York Times)

Also compare and contrast the present large-scale work, Painting No. 1, with Painting No. 4 and Untitled from 1962 (see images below). In Painting No. 1, the horizon line is populated with abstracted elements which again appear as spectral hieroglyphs—a trope we find in later works. A pop of startling, vibrant red pigment punctuates the present work, fiery against the rich translucent layers of celadon green. These three works from 1962 share a radiance and incandescence which has become the hallmark of the artist.   

In Gaitonde’s work from the early 1960s, he moved away from the geometric patterns of his 1950s works and began to experiment with a paint roller and palette knife. He would apply multiple translucent layers of paint to the surface of his canvases, scraping away areas and then re-applying pigment. This laborious process resulted in the achievement of radiant luminosity through varying depths of light and colour. Through this exacting and laborious technique, Gaitonde created subtle textural structures and forms that emerged along a perceived horizon.

Gaitonde produced very few canvases during his lifetime, partly due to his meticulous approach. He held strong beliefs in his identity as a painter and isolated himself from others, removing any distractions that would interfere with his goal in achieving the purest form of expression through light, colour and texture. Gaitonde's primary concern was not with representation but with the painted surface itself. In the artist’s own words: “A painting is simply a painting—a play of light and color. Every painting is a seed which germinates in the next painting. A painting is not limited to one canvas, I go on adding elements and that’s how my work evolves ... There is a kind of metamorphosis in every canvas and the metamorphosis never ends.’ (M. Menezes, “The Meditative Brushstroke,” ART India Magazine, Vol. III, Issue III, 1998, p. 69)

The subject of a highly anticipated, upcoming retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Gaitonde is regarded as one of India’s most significant modern painters. Although the majority of his works are abstract in composition, the artist preferred the term ‘non-objective’ to describe his work. Although Gaitonde chose not to identify with a particular artistic group or genre, he was greatly influenced and informed by the colour field techniques of painters such as Mark Rothko and Hans Hofmann; the bold palettes of Indian court painting; and his personal study of Japanese Zen philosophy. When Richard Bartholomew reviewed Gaitonde's work in 1959, he described him as “a quiet man and a painter of the quiet reaches of the imagination.” (D. Nadkarni, Gaitonde, Lalit Kala Akademi, Delhi, 1983)