Vasudeo S. Gaitonde (1924-2001) Untitled, 1961

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Lot 151
Vasudeo S. Gaitonde (1924-2001)
Untitled, 1961

Sold for US$ 1,085,000 inc. premium
Vasudeo S. Gaitonde (1924-2001)
Untitled, 1961
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated verso in Devanagari गायतोंडे'६१
40 x 49 in. (101.6 x 124.6 cm)


  • Provenance:
    Akbar and Nikhil Padamsee 1961-63, acquired directly from the artist
    Morris Graves, acquired from Akbar Padamsee, June 1963
    Morris Graves Collection, Humboldt Galleries, San Francisco, 24 October 1968, no. 6
    George Gund III Collection, 1968-2013

    Gaitonde's "Landscapes of the Mind"
    by Mamta Saran

    The two Gaitonde paintings in this catalogue, dated 1961 and 1963, were created at a dramatic turning point in the artist's career.

    Contemplating them, the word 'sublime' most naturally comes to mind. It is not surprising they were much prized by the major American artist Morris Graves, whose collection they were once a part of. Gaitonde's international reputation today is the result of his lifelong and uncompromising pursuit of excellence. His chosen path — fraught with difficulties — was his unwavering commitment to the idiom of abstraction. A journey he began in the early 1950s in India.

    His work of the 1950s was inspired by the European masters, but towards the end of the decade something happened that propelled him in a new and unexpected direction. In his later years he remarked, "In my life, the only thing I planned was joining art school. Everything else happened accidentally!" One such 'accident' was his finding a book on Zen Buddhism in a Mumbai bookstore in late 1959. It was providential, for the odds against him finding such a book in Mumbai at the time were high indeed. Zen was completely unknown in India. Even in the West, where some discussion among small groups of people had begun in the early '50s, it was generally considered alien, and barely comprehended.

    Zen came to Gaitonde at precisely the right moment in his life. To fully understand its message much is required — a deeply introspective mind, a keen intellect and, most important, humility and a spirit of non-attachment. These qualities were ingrained in the artist and he felt an instant affinity with this ancient Eastern tradition. The impact of Zen on Gaitonde's work was immediate, long-lasting, and cannot be overestimated. It provided him — and other artists who embraced it, like Graves — a fresh perspective on creativity and the creative act. It also radically altered every aspect of his practice as a painter.

    This was to be a watershed moment in his life, and these paintings are a record of that experience. His gaze was now turned towards the Orient and its aesthetics, and it is from here that he drew inspiration over the next four decades of his life.

    Born in 1924, Gaitonde was in his late 30s when he created these paintings. Clearly, we see here an artist in full possession of his powers, speaking for the first time in a voice uniquely his own. The vibrant colours, heavy impasto, and rigorous geometry of the late '50s now gave way to contemplative works of the highest quality. The compositions are of utmost simplicity and the palette is derived from nature. Veils of overlapping colour irradiate the canvas creating an illusion of endless space — and mystery hangs in the air.

    No sooner do the viewer's eyes alight on the canvas, he is drawn into it. The amorphous forms are suggestive, many viewers interpreting them as elements in a landscape or seascape. In fact, Gaitonde's work of the '60s has often been classified by critics as of the landscape genre. But the artist was not interested in representing nature. It takes a true artist like Morris Graves to perceive the heart of the matter. He rightly describes these works as "landscapes of the mind". That is to say, they are contemplations on the phenomena of nature — meaning 'nature' in the widest sense of the word.

    As regards the 'content' of these paintings, we must take our cue from Gaitonde, who said, "Never explain painting. A painting is a state of mind, and you cannot 'explain' a state of mind. You have to experience it."
    (New Delhi July 2014)

    Mamta Saran's forthcoming book on Gaitonde (2015) will feature both works being offered in the sale.
Vasudeo S. Gaitonde (1924-2001) Untitled, 1961
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