Valuing V S Gaitonde' Canvases

This an analysis of Vasudeo Gaitonde's auction realizations. Since about the time of the Guggenheim exhibition, his prices have seen exponential increases with comparisons being made to Mark Rothko.

An almost insatiable appetite for his works have propelled his prices  three-four times in a few years. Some inferences can be made about collector behaviour and preferences from his auctions. 

Gaitonde Auction Realisations
Sales of his abstract canvases with no adjustments made for size of the canvas, period, etc are just chronological realizations  in various auctions. 

Gaitonde in Auctions

The low and high estimates in auctions and the number of times over-bid are the basis for this analysis.

Some discussion on the estimate setting process in auctions:

Of course, the consignor plays a role. Consignors of important works usually manage to get high reserves (generally the low estimate) for their works prior to signing on the dotted line.

Another important factor is the auctioneer's assessment of the amount of bidding/popularity of the work. Given that I am restricting my analysis to auctions here, the assumption is that an auction will either have a popular work (possibly decorative) or an academically strong work (possibly not very decorative and appealing to a smaller audience). Unpopular or academically (to modern art) weak works do not generally make it to auctions.

The attempt by all auctions is to generally have at least a few bids on every lot (versus a one-bid sale or even worse a passed lot).

There are two schools of thought on estimates: one school of thought is that keep reserves as low as possible and invite frenzied bidding.

Another is to keep the estimate reasonable and hope for a 50% higher or even a hammer price of twice the estimate.

What is generally meant to be avoided is a one-bid sale which I do feel is against the buyer (unless the buyer is an informed or a specialist buyer)

An auctioneer generally can gauge interest in particular artists as they know the bidders from their past auctions. Certainly to have a larger sale revenue a Tyeb or a Gaitonde canvas work (as per the current price trends) would help and therefore the attempt is to keep one of these two artists as the cover lot of the auction.

Of course, besides the consignor and the auctioneer, there is also the collector's assessment. And in addition, the number of collectors that may be interested in a particular lot is the market for that work.

Given that Gaitonde's are generally consigned with reasonably high reserves (its a sellers market given the demand) implying that estimates would be close to fair valuation - further auction floor action on specific works would have a lot of information embedded in them. It would not be surprising that these buyers (who are paying in crores) would be given quite a bit of advice from various sources.

In finance there is this whole concept of "informed investor" vs a "non-informed investor" - the assumption is that buyers of Gaitonde canvases at these price levels would be "informed-collectors" (at least some of them)

Gaitonde Auction Realizations By Creation Year (Cohort Analysis)

Gaitonde Sales Price Analysis

The legend on the vertical axis shows the count of art works by creation year (the yellow lines). These may include repeat sales. For example, canvases created in 1971 have been sold six times in auctions (in the universe of this analysis).

The blue lines are the average ratio of Sales Price-to-High Estimate. An indication of the intensity and interest in the art works by creation year. Legends have not been provided for this as it is just a measure. The aggressive bidding seems to have happened on works created in 1979 ,1980, 1987 and 1995.

The 1961 data is skewed by one auction result.

This analysis is restricted to the top 50 sales (by hammer price) of Gaitonde abstract canvases (figurative, paper works are not included). Interestingly unlike for other artists, Gaitonde paper works seem to be as rare as his canvases. 

In September 1984, Gaitonde suffered severe injuries in an auto accident in New Delhi, which left him unable to cope with making large canvases. Consequently he turned to smaller format works on paper. His ink drawings from 1985-87 form an important part of his overall oeuvre and consist of non mimetic calligraphic and hieroglyphic markings made with spontaneous gestures and rhythmic movements. 

Gaitonde - "Painting As A Process"

VS Gaitonde 1995
At this time (1972), he began utilizing a lift-off process tearing pieces from newspapers and magazines, he transferred color from these cut-outs by applying rollers onto the verso of their wet, painted surfaces and subsequently erased aspects of the transfers with palette knives. He also demarcated the space of the canvas with masking tape. The ensuing abstract forms hover across the surface, creating silhouetted shapes and geometries.

In modern art people are always looking for that "something new" that "je ne sais quoi" along with aesthetics of course.

Specific to abstraction, 

Jackson Pollack Drip Painting

Jackson Pollock Drip Paintings

Garhard Richter Scraping Paint Off Canvases

Gerhard Richter Scraping Paint

From the analysis, it would appear that collectors are bidding up the post-1972  "lift-off process" Gaitonde canvases and this may possibly be the most important part of his ouevre.

Analysis Risks

The inferences are subject to certain risks in analysis. Auctions always seem to be moving in cycles. A June auction may be superb and a September auction may not be so interesting. There are many factors at play. The risk to this analysis is that somehow the post-1972 works always came in stronger auctions and therefore it is the auction and not the work that saw it the frenzied bidding.

Further risk to this analysis is taking the above results and extrapolating to the period of "painting as a process". There seem to be more works created in the 60s thereby possibly diluting the bidding intensity.

Team Prinseps


Sonata of Solitude - Vasudeo Santu Gaitonde - Bodhana

V.S. Gaitonde - Painting as Process, Painting as Life - Sandhini Poddar

Any questions?