Emotions [are] intrinsically individual in their impact and revelation. And what I seek to portray, being true to myself, remains personal. I can only hope for a certain understanding by others. That is the reason I don't caption my paintings and why a single colour dominates my compositions. - V.S. Gaitonde, 1991"What makes this later work wondrous, though, is its painterly experimentation. In a career that lasted nearly a half-century, Mr. Gaitonde kept trying out new moves. He built paint up and scraped it off. He laid it down in layer after aqueous layer, leaving stretches of drying time in between. He said himself that much of his effort as an artist was in the realm of thinking, planning, trying things out." (H. Cotter. 'An Indian Modernist With a Global Gaze', The New York Times, 1 January 2015)


signed and dated 'V.S. GAITONDE / 96', signed in Hindi and dated '96' and bearing CIMA label (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
55 x 40 in. (139.7 x 101.6 cm.)
Painted in 1996
Acquired directly from the artist, 1997
Centre of International Modern Art (CIMA), Kolkata
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Colours of Independence, exhibition brochure, Kolkata, 1997 (illustrated, unpaginated)
Multimedia, Art of the 90's, exhibition catalogue, Kolkata, 1998 (illustrated, unpaginated)
Shatabdi: Reflections on a Century Past, exhibition catalogue, Kolkata, 2000 (listed, unpaginated)
Freedom 2008: Sixty Years after Indian Independence, exhibition catalogue, Kolkata, 2007, p. 12 (illustrated)
Adbhutam — Rasa in Indian Art, exhibition catalogue, Kolkata, 2011, p. 87 (illustrated)
TRANSITION: 20th Anniversary Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, Kolkata, 2013 (illustrated, unpaginated)
New Delhi, National Gallery of Modern Art, Colours of Independence, 7-28 September, 1997
Kolkata, Centre of International Modern Art (CIMA), Multimedia, Art of the 90's, 20 November - 20 December, 1998
Kolkata, Centre of International Modern Art (CIMA), Shatabdi: Reflections on a Century Past, January 5–23, 2000
Mumbai, Jehangir Art Gallery, Shatabdi: Reflections on a Century Past, 30 March – 6 April, 2000
Kolkata, Centre of International Modern Art (CIMA), Freedom 2008: Sixty Years after Indian Independence, 18 January – 16 February, 2008
Kolkata, Centre of International Modern Art (CIMA), Adbhutam — Rasa in Indian Art, 2011
Kolkata, Centre of International Modern Art (CIMA), TRANSITION: 20th Anniversary Exhibition, 13 December 2013 – 25 January 2014
Sale room notice
Please note that this painting was not included in the exhibition Chamatkara: Myth and Magic in Indian Art in London in 1996.

Lot Essay

“’Gai’ [Gaitonde] knows what he wants and works with determination to achieve it. His paintings reflect this confidence in that their structure and coloration look just right [...] The mark of a true artist is control, the ability to state concisely that which he wishes, but in doing so, not lose the spark of life which brought about the work’s creation. Gai’s works have that spark as well as the control, but they also live a life of their own which reaches out and involves the spectator.” (R. Craven Jr., ‘A Short Report on Contemporary Painting in India’, Art Journal, Vol. 24, No. 3, 1965, p. 229)

This incandescent painting from 1996 is one of the last the artist completed before his death in 2001, and headlined the major exhibition Colours of Independence at the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, celebrating fifty years of Indian independence in 1997. While immediately striking, this work maintains the skilful balance of light, texture, color, and space that the artist perfected over the course of his career. At the heart of this painting is the ‘spark’ of life that Craven astutely identified in his work three decades earlier. As Craven noted, however, this spark is masterfully offset by ‘control’, rendering the painting simultaneously rich and discreet, sensuous and subtle.

Imbued with a distinctive lyricism and luminosity, this painting can been likened to a musical composition, both in its emotive capacity and in its visual structure, which recalls a placement of notes on the horizontal bars of musical notations. Sandhini Poddar describes Gaitonde’s paintings as “disembodied visual harmonies”, adding that they “underline the psychic effect of form and color on the viewer, and the emotional basis of art.” (S. Poddar, V.S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life, New York, 2014, p. 31)

“Gaitonde’s profound understanding of the properties and capacities of his chosen medium – painting – which constituted the sole vehicle of experience for the artist and the viewer, sets his works apart not only as deeply contemplative and refined objects, but as containers of an avid, voracious worldview, spanning the traditions of nonobjective painting and Indian miniatures, Zen Buddhism and East Asian hanging scrolls and ink paintings.” (S. Poddar, 2014, pp. 30-31)

Against a ground methodically layered in tones of vermillion, orange and yellow, here Gaitonde inscribes a series of enigmatic hieroglyphic forms that seem almost like embers scorched into the translucent surface, pulsating with a unique meaning for each viewer. An ode to the power and complexity of color, this painting resonates with several art historic traditions from the miniature paintings of the Himalayan foothills to Abstract Expressionism and the works of artists like Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Clyfford Still. In its play with the architectonics of color, Gaitonde’s work parallels Mark Rothko’s revolutionary color-field paintings favoring the imaginative and spiritual potentialities of pigment and the artist’s “preference for establishing an uninterrupted, osmotic connection between the painting, the overall environment, and the body of the viewer.” (S. Poddar, 2014, p. 35)

From early in his career, traditional Indian painting also held a special importance for the artist, particularly in his understanding of color, space and perspective. This is particularly evident in Gaitonde’s use of colors like yellow to evoke an ‘intensity of feeling’. “Several of Gaitonde’s works include a vivid yellow either as the main compositional color or as an ocular accent. This is the yellow of the “Tantric Devi” series from ca. 1660-70, attributed to the artist Kripal of Nurpur, one of the Pahari schools of miniature painting [...] Gaitonde’s own understanding of the “iconicity” of an image, especially as witnessed in his oils from the early 1970s onward, resonates deeply here.” (S. Poddar, 2014, p. 20)

Pria Karunakar describes the artist’s work as ‘sensuous’. “Each [painting] is unified by a single colour. The colour glows; it becomes transparent; it clots. It is this play of pigment, as it is absorbed physically into the canvas that directs the eye. Texture is structure. How he achieves this texture is the secret of Gaitonde’s style [...] The order is almost deliberately obscured by the distribution of near-random forms across the surface. These topographical or hieroglyphic forms themselves are made to dissolve into the field like enamel in an encaustic [...] The continual work of laying on pigment, dissolving it, stripping it off, and overlaying (like a process of nature) comes to a natural close as the pigmentation comes to a natural conclusion. The painter is at the controls, he decides when the painting has arrived at its capacity to articulate, yet he registers things intuitively [Gaitonde states]: ‘Like music, I know when it is at an end’. So far his visual sensibility has been absorbed in the action of painting. Now it takes over and finalises. He takes his time about this. He lives with the painting; views it continually.” (P. Karunakar, ‘V.S. Gaitonde’, Lalit Kala Contemporary 19-20, New Delhi, 1975, pp. 15-16)

As one contemplates this painting, the experience of viewing it is beautifully described by Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni, who states, “there is a sense of atmosphere, there is an approximation of music and, what is most important, there is a throbbing mystery about the very process of viewing and responding as if one is sucked into some still centre of hitherto unknown experience.” (D. Nadkarni, Gaitonde, New Delhi, 1983, unpaginated)

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