Vasudeo S. Gaitonde (V. S. Gaitonde) was an Indian abstract painter who lived from 1924 until 2001. In 1971, he was awarded the Padma Shri Award. Gaitonde, who has the air of an intellectual, literally seething with some undiscovered notion, is best described as “a quiet man and a painter of the quiet realms of the imagination,” as one of his admirers once called him. He has never considered himself an abstract painter and is resentful of the label. In fact, he claims that abstract painting does not exist, instead referring to his work as “non-objective,” a kind of personalised hieroglyphics and calligraphic inventions, evoking the surface painted on with the most astounding intuitions, which he has realised in his inevitable meeting, in discovering Zen. The meditative Zen quality that pervades his speech, evoking silence, is best exemplified in his work, as silence is eternal and meaningful in and of itself. From this vantage point, one tends to associate the mysterious motifs, the highly personalised hieroglyphs in Gaitonde’s canvasses with the manifestation of intuitions, invested in their expression. Zen Buddhism and antique calligraphy have impacted his art.
On Thursday evening, an untitled oil on canvas by V S Gaitonde sold for Rs 42 crore, the highest price ever paid for a work of modern or contemporary Indian art anywhere in the world. The painting was one of 57 pieces that went under the hammer at Pundole’s auction house in Mumbai. Other Indian performers, such as Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee, Arpita Singh, Somnath Hore, and Jagdish Swaminathan, made records as well.
Masanori Fukuoka, a Japanese fish processing tycoon, owns Gaitonde’s bluish picture, which is reminiscent of wide expanses of sky or water. In 1991, Fukuoka established the Glenbarra Art Museum in Himeji, Japan, including works from 60 Indian painters. Artists including Gaitonde, Tyeb Mehta, K K Hebbar, M F Husain, Jogen Chowdhury, Ganesh Pyne, and Arpita Singh have notable works in the collection. The auction book includes numerous photographs of Fukuoka with the artists and the artworks he acquired as a tribute to the collector.
The museum deaccessions (removes and sells) items from its collection on a regular basis. As art critic Ranjit Hoskote writes in the catalogue, these pieces represent “peak moments and turning points” in the careers of the artists. Fukuoka is known for carefully considering his alternatives before deaccessioning by exhibiting the works for a period of time to see which ones he is drawn to.
“The depth of bidding across the sale achieved Masanori’s aim of bringing a broad spectrum of Indian artists into the arena of world notice and recognition,” stated Dadiba Pundole, owner of Pundole’s. The auction saw a high level of bidding from international institutions, indicating that there is a growing interest in Indian art around the world.”
A sculpture, a sketch, and a painting by Tyeb Mehta, all themed around a bovine figure, drew fierce bidding during the auction. Mahishasura (1995) is a work from the artist’s Mahisha series, which dates from the late 1990s. The fabled struggle between goddess Durga and the shapeshifting buffalo-demon Mahishasura serves as the inspiration for Mehta’s painting, which is unique for conveying both combat and embracing at the same time. Mahishasura, now among the most valuable Indian pieces of art, sold for Rs 32 crore, breaking the artist’s previous record of Rs 32 crore set in 2018 with Kali (1989). With the triptych titled ‘The Altar,’ from 1988, Jagdish Swaminathan broke his own record, selling for Rs 22 crore. ‘Wild Boar,’ a bronze sculpture by Somnath Hore, sold for Rs 1.6 crore, and ‘My Lily Pond,’ a canvas by Arpita Singh, sold for Rs 9 crore, breaking records for both artists.
A previous sale of works from the Glenbarra collection at Pundole’s in 2020 set a new record for Gaitonde. An untitled work from 1974 was the highest-selling Indian artwork globally at the time, selling for Rs 32 crore. In recent years, Gaitonde has constantly shattered records. Farah Siddiqui Khan, an art adviser, called this particular 1969 work “extraordinary” because of its history, rarity, and auction debut. “Gaitonde’s work has increased in terms of its value over a substantial length of time,” she remarked. It’s hardly surprising, though, given he’s regarded as a modern master pioneer. His art was delicate and abstract, yet it resonated widely around the world.” “It also goes to illustrate that top quality art offerings always have collectors on a day when the globe is in disarray and global markets have gone into fear,” she added.