The last year has seen Vasudeo S. Gaitonde receive unprecedented posthumous acclaim. After achieving the highest world auction record for any Indian modern painting in Christie’s first auction in India, Gaitonde has been the subject of a landmark retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York (2014/15) which will travel to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice in October this year.
Gaitonde is described by many as a purely abstract painter, however, the present work painted in the early 1950s is a pivotal moment capturing the artist’s exploration and treatment of color and the human figure. In 1943 he enrolled at the Sir J.J. School of Art where he mastered the sophisticated relationship between line, light and color that began with the tradition of Indian miniature painting, which he keenly observed during these formative years. This exquisite jewel of a painting shows the influence classical miniature paintings had on the artist, evident in the format of the work, with use of flattened perspective removing depth so as to unify the composition into one single picture plane. The artisanal techniques, application of color and virtuosic line in rendering the women and birds also pay homage to Jain manuscript paintings.
This early example was most likely painted around the same time as a comparable 1953 painting, which featured in the retrospective at the Guggenheim in New York. Critic, Holland Cotter, in seeing these early works describes Gaitonde’s drawings of woman during this formative period as examples of “woman done in western Indian miniature style: The body is fully frontal, the head and feet, impossibly, in profile; arms and breasts look tacked on.” (H. Cotter, ‘An Indian Modernist With a Global Gaze’ The New York Times, Jan 1 2015)
During the 1950s the work of Paul Klee had also become available in reproductions in books (often in black and white) but his formal influence and use of the whimsical, stylized figure as a mechanism for experimentation resonates in Gaitonde’s oeuvre at this juncture. Krishen Khanna discussed the inescapable influence of Klee on Gaitonde, in terms of lyricism, and figuration in art. “In the early years of course Paul Klee had a great influence […] It was a new chapter in painting and it suited his [Gaitonde’s] temperament […] he was very lyrical and was tempered by music and poetry and that saved him. He made very poetic images...He took off from the figure and melded it into his theory, his color theory […] Gaitonde was a perfect draftsman, he was not slovenly; there are many painters who don’t know what the line can do. He was an impeccable painter […] painting has its own language, its own resonance, its ups and downs, its own life, and that is what he [Gaitonde] lived.” (Krishen Khanna cited in S. Poddar, V. S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life, New York, 2014, p. 21)