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Newly discovered masterwork to lead Sotheby's Sale of Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art
The back of the painting with Gaitonde’s signature. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- On 11 June 2013, Sotheby's will present a 20th Century masterpiece by Indian artist, Vasudeo S. Gaitonde as the pre-eminent highlight of its Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art auction. Coming to the market for the first time in 50 years, Vasudeo Gaitonde’s luminous Painting No.1, of 1962, was acquired in New York during the 1960s and is believed to have previously been in the collection of the celebrated collector and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller III, one of the earliest Western patrons of Indian modern art. Estimated at £250,000-450,000, the large 50 x 50 inch oil on canvas has the hallmark radiance Gaitonde’s key works from this important year in his career. Consigned to an attic for many years and discovered during a valuation by one of Sotheby’s New York specialists, the work’s owners were unaware that it was a painting by one of India’s most important artists.

Gaitonde will be the subject of an historic forthcoming solo retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York which would be the first time a Modern Indian painter has featured in a major American institution.

Priyanka Mathew, Sotheby’s Head of Sale, South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art, New York recalled: ““When I saw this beautiful painting hanging in its owner’s home, I knew at once it was by Gaitonde. I climbed a ladder, turned the painting around and there was my confirmation: “Painting No.1” ; dated 1962 with Gaitonde’s signature in English and Devanagri. It was an incredibly exciting moment. The painting is the first of a series of works Gaitonde produced in this year. Painting No. 4 of the same series is currently in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.”

During the 1960s, Gaitonde turned away from his earlier geometric works and began to experiment with a paint roller and palette knife, scraping away and reapplying layers of pigment - his concern no longer with representation, but the painted surface himself. It was during this time that the artist capitalised on the support of his strong connections in America. His exhibitions at New York galleries, Graham Gallery in 1959 and Gallery 63 in 1963, were well received and allowed his works to come to the attention of the John D. Rockefeller 3rd Fund at the Asia Society whereby the fund recommended his works. Gaitonde subsequently received a Rockefeller grant in 1964 for a stay in New York.

In this stellar work that is in pristine condition, one can see the meditative influences of colour-field artists such as Mark Rothko and Barnett Newmann. Whether the undulating olive-green and sea green tones offset with the fiery red bindu, could be a primordial sea or a view of the Ganges at sunrise, it is the interplay of colours and textures that give Gaitonde's works its phosphorescent effect. Unusual to this work are the blue tones that give the mystical calligraphy further depth.

Yamini Mehta, Sotheby’s International Head of South Asian Art commented: This is the first work in a small and highly important series of paintings Gaitonde executed at a critical stage in his career. Due to his slow and meticulous method of working, he produced very few canvases during his lifetime. His works are typically monochromatic, so this exquisitely subtle and incandescent work, offers the opportunity for a collector to purchase an outstanding and exceptionally rare work by one of India’s leading Modern masters.”

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