Modern and Contemporary Art from India
February 25, 2011 through September 4, 2011, San Jose Museum of Art
  UNTITLED, 1954
11 x 12 inches
Oil on paper
Private collection, San Francisco
Photo: Courtesy Sotheby’s, Inc

Vasudeo S. Gaitonde
Born 1924, Nagpur, Maharashtra, India
Died 2001, New Delhi, India
Vasudeo S. Gaitonde was a pioneer of non-representational modern Indian art. This painting of a female figure reveals the influence of Swiss Expressionist Paul Klee. In the 1950s, Gaitonde became fascinated with Klee’s elegant line and lyrical color. He wrote: “Something in [Klee’s] use of the line excited me; I gradually came to identify myself in his work. I liked Klee’s imagination and fantasy….”1

The size and format of Untitled recall Indian miniature painting. Stylized elements are derived from Indian motifs, such as curlicue shape to indicate a bun gathered to one side, a convention of Classical Indian sculpture.

The painting’s vibrant yellow color relates to peori, a popular hue in Rajput painting, a court style in the eighteenth century. The bright pigment was derived from the dried urine of cows that had been fed mangos. The almost monochromatic composition prefigures Gaitonde’s later and much larger works, which feature translucent layers of paint and atmospheric depth.

1V.S. Gaitonde, quoted in Tuli, Neville, Indian Contemporary Painting (New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1998), p. 212.