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    VS Gaitonde (b. 1924; d. 2001)

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    An artist and painter from Maharashtra, Vasudeo Santu Gaitonde was known for his unique style of Abstract art and his extensive body of work, which included textured landscapes and abstract forms. He worked in a variety of media, including watercolours, acrylics, oils and inks on canvas and paper. A proponent of non-figurative, abstract compositions, his work was inspired by themes and motifs from Zen Buddhist traditions, Indian miniature painting traditions, Chinese calligraphy, Japanese, sumi-e ink wash techniques and hanging scroll paintings. Gaitonde was a member of the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group (PAG), the post-Independence group of Modernist artists.

    Born in Nagpur in 1924, Gaitonde grew up between Goa and Mumbai (formerly Bombay). In 1945, he enrolled at Sir JJ School of Art, Mumbai, where he studied art and mural decoration alongside artists such as FN Souza, MF Husain, Akbar Padamsee and Tyeb Mehta. After completing his degree, he worked as a teaching fellow at the college till 1950. In the same year, he was invited by Husain and Souza to join the PAG, of which he remained an active member until the group’s dissolution in 1956. Gaitonde’s early reflects the influence of the watercolour techniques of Basohli miniature paintings, especially in the frontality of the figures as well as the use of colours — predominantly ochre, green and yellow — in works such as the oil-on-canvas Untitled (1955). Other early works demonstrate an interplay of colours on the plane surface of the canvas, with multiple layers of paint evoking a sense of depth. Gaitonde also experimented with mixed-medium works such as the collage-on-paper Untitled (1956), where the central abstract figure was created using cut newspaper and magazine paper assembled on a light background. 

    While Gaitonde’s initial oeuvre was marked by linear and geometric figures, by the 1960s, he began moving towards abstraction and a portrayal of the non-figurative. He was deeply influenced by Western Modern art, especially post-World War II artistic movements such as the School of Paris and the Art Informel and Tachisme styles. He called the shift in his work from this period a ‘non-objective’ style, characterised in his later works by the application of gestural brushstrokes on his canvases. This form of non-representational art was inspired by the trend of Lyrical Abstraction that was prevalent in the United States and western Europe and focused on personal expression and non-traditional art techniques. This shift was accompanied by a switch from using brushes to paint rollers, palette knives and oil paints. His works from this period — including Untitled (1958, 1962, 1983) — demonstrate textured forms achieved through colour composition, with the figures of previous paintings giving way to uninhibited flows of light, texture and colour. In 1964, Gaitonde was awarded the Rockefeller fellowship, which allowed him to travel to New York. While there, he came into contact with the works of Abstract Expressionists such as Adolph Gottlieb and Barnett Newman, both of whom influenced him to develop his style further along non-representational and non-figurative compositions. In the oil-on-canvas Untitled works from 1966–67, Gaitonde created abstract textured forms by using layers of colour to simulate a landscape. With these works, he moved towards art that expressed meaning through the use of colours and textures.

    In 1968, he shifted from horizontal canvases to a vertical format, which he retained for the remainder of his career. Gaitonde continued to experiment with colour, tone and texture to develop his style of non-objective and non-representational painting throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In 1984, spinal injuries from an accident rendered him unable to work on larger canvases. As a result, he temporarily shifted to smaller formats such as paper and began using an ink medium, creating works such as the Untitled series from 1985–87, which demonstrates precise, figural constructions and calligraphic markings on a largely monochrome palette. It was in the late 1980s, when he finally resumed work on large oil-on-canvas paintings, that he delved into the Zen Buddhist traditions of non-representational paintings and colour application techniques from Indian miniature traditions.

    Gaitonde is often credited with generating international interest in Abstract art in India. Over the course of his career, he held numerous solo and group shows, including at the Venice Biennale in 1954 and São Paulo Biennial in1959; a solo exhibition at Gallery 59, Mumbai (1959); the inaugural exhibition of the Pundole’s Art Gallery, Mumbai (1963); Gallery One, London; and Gallery 63 in New York (1963). The Guggenheim Museum, New York, held a retrospective of his work in 2014–15. He was also the recipient of several awards, including the Fleischmann Prize at the first Young Asian Artist Exhibition in Tokyo, Japan in 1957; the Padma Shri in 1971; and the Kalidas Samman Art Award in 1988. His works are part of the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi; and the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi. Gaitonde’s works have repeatedly broken records at auctions. In 2023, his Untitled (1980) broke records for the highest price achieved for a modern Indian artist’s work worldwide when it sold at USD 5.7 million at a Saffronart auction. 

    Gaitonde lived and worked in New Delhi until his death in 2001 at the age of 77. 



    Dalmia, Yashodhara, and Ella Datta. Indian Contemporary Art Post Independence. New Delhi: Vadehra Art Gallery, 1997.

    Fernando, Benita. “Gaitonde Work from Glenbarra Art Museum Sets New Record for Indian Art.” Indian Express, February 25, 2022.

    Jumabhoy, Zehra, and Boon Hui Tan. The Progressive Revolution: Modern Art for a New India. New York: Asia Society Museum, 2018.

    “V.S. Gaitonde.” n.d. Artiana. Accessed 21 September, 2023.

    “V. S. Gaitonde.” n.d. Artsy. Accessed 21 September, 2023.

    “V.S. Gaitonde: A Primer.” n.d. Christie’s. Accessed 21 September, 2023.

    “V.S. Gaitonde – Bio.” n.d. Vadehra Art Gallery. Accessed 21 September, 2023.

    “V. S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life.” n.d. The Guggenheim Museums and Foundation. Accessed 21 September, 2023.

    “V.S. Gaitonde, The Silent Observer.” Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation, 2019. Accessed 21 September, 2023.

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