Italian Village

Italian Village
oil on board
39½ x 47½ in. (100.3 x 120.7 cm.)
Painted in 1953
Apparao Galleries, Madras
The Sacred Search, exhibition catalogue, Madras, 2002, p. 6 (illustrated)
A. Vajpeyi, ed., Raza, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 82-83 (illustrated)
A. Bonfand, Raza, Paris, 2008, p. 55 (illustrated)
Madras, Apparao Galleries, The Sacred Search, 2002

Lot Essay

Syed Haider Raza, Francis Newton Souza and Akbar Padamsee had a show at Galerie Raymond Creuze in Paris in 1953. For all three this was a crucial and very formative time. Immersed in the international avant-garde it was their chance to bring their own influences from India to the West but more importantly to determine the direction of Indian Modern Painting. However, this period was not without its challenges especially for the artists who were attempting to establish their identity in the larger art scene. Souza recollects, "Indian artists Ram Kumar, Raza, Akbar Padamsee and Laxman Pai were also in Paris at that time. All of us hoped for a cookie from the "School of Paris" and a slice of the cake of "Modern Art," but the cookie had crumbled and the cake was devoured by then. We did not think we were uninvited guests because those who partook of the "School of Paris" and baked the "Modern Art" cake came from different nationalities .... And "Modern Art itself was an amalgam of Japanese, African, Persian and other influences. So what the hell, we said, we'll tuck in as well. But when Raza, Padamsee and I had our first group show, the art dealer put Trois Hindou peintres on the invitation card. Raza, who was the only one between us who understood French, told the dealer that none of us was really Hindu. So the word was changed to Indien (Indian). But when the cards were mailed, the American Embassy telephoned the gallery and angrily asked "How the hell did these Indians get out of the Reservations?" It is a fact upon my word. Raza and Padamsee are witnesses. So much for our hopes of getting into the "Modern Art" Scene." (F.N. Souza, 'What is Modern or Contemporary or Tribal or Provincial about our Art?',The Times of India, 31 October 1982, sections I-II)

One of India's leading modern masters, Syed Haider Raza was a founding member of the revolutionary Bombay Progressive Artists' group formed in the year of India's Independence in 1947. Raza left India for France arriving in October 1950 to attend the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts and excitedly recollects absorbing the thriving local scene and eagerly visiting all the museums and soaking it all in. He was greatly influenced by the coloration and composition of the Post-Impressionists.

[...] After arriving in Paris in October 1950, Raza, "As advised by Henri Cartier-Bresson, [...] concentrated his studies on the vision, technique and composition of Cézanne. 'I went to the museum again and again and tried to understand what was construction according to Cézanne. I read the book of Kandinsky 'Concerning the Spiritual in Art' and I studied particularly Cubism in which paintings were very carefully constructed. I also went to the extent of finding out what Mondrian and Vasarely had done with pure geometry and what Nicolas de Stael did to it [...]'

[...] Raza also travelled far and wide in France, Italy and Spain. As Rudi Van Leyden has noted, 'it was the art of medieval European and early Renaissance that spoke to him convincingly. Byzantine painting, Romanesque sculpture and the Italian primitives appealed to him in their austerity which was capable of conveying the most exquisite poetic sensitivity'[...]

[...] So much exposure to a new and different visual culture could have easily caused a 'turbulent confusion'. However, instead Raza was able to attain a degree of order and a new kind of landscape started dominating his work. (A. Vajpeyi, ed., A Life in Art: S.H. Raza, Hyderabad, 2007, p. 64)

Italian Village, was painted in 1953, the same year Raza exhibited alongside Francis Newton Souza and Akbar Padamsee at Galerie Creuze, and was also the pivotal moment when he would fully embrace the medium of oil painting and in doing so further his ambition in scale, technique and composition. Raza quickly departed from his naturalistic panoramas of the 1940s and was at this time devouring, assimilating and reconstituting the cornucopia of influences in France and Italy. Italian Village transformed into an austere geometric landscape epitomizes the influence of European art on Raza's during the 1950s. This painting is the largest work from the period to come to auction. The composition is governed by a strict schema, an internal logic of line and space as buildings congregate in a cubist crescendo. The flat cubic rigidity and power of contour transforms this Italian vista into something seemingly uninhabitable and intangible. One solitary building placed in an earthy terrain in the foreground creates a perspective and harmony bridging the complex arrangement of buildings that dominate the upper half of the canvas. The corniced houses and abstract angular architecture and pronounced pediments are pierced by the stretching steeples and elongated chimneys. Beneath the subtle and subdued palette echoes a monumentality and magnificence rendering this village both silent and spiritual. This painting reveals a yearning for experimentation which is tempered only by a virtuosic control and maturity that has never left his oeuvre.

"[...] the world of Raza hangs in a torrent of potentialities, amid the contending powers of darkness and light. Notwithstanding the storm of life, the artist, true to himself, has acquired the gift of serenity; he has achieved the inexpressible plentitude which, in the Arabian poem, is born of the reiterated syllable signifying Night." (J. Lassaigne, Raza, Galerie Lara Vincy, Paris, 1958, unpaginated)

More from South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art

View All
View All