La Terre

La Terre
signed and dated 'RAZA '73' (lower right); signed twice, titled, dedicated, inscribed and dated 'RAZA 1973 "la terre", peinture faite Paris en 1973, posé au "manoir" Nonancourt le 1er Juin 1975, pour Pierre et Francette Rousel. RAZA' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
74 3/8 x 74 3/8 in. (189 x 189 cm.)
Painted in 1973
Private Collection, France
Private Collection circa 2002
Christie's London, 30 June, 2008, lot 40
Paule Gauthier, Raza, extrait de cimaise no. 130, Paris, mid-1970s, (illustratedm unpaginated)

India: myth & reality, aspects of modern Indian art, exhibition catalogue, Oxford, 1982, p.15 (illustrated)

Raza: a Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2007, p.65 (illuatrated)
Boulogne-Billancourt, Musée des Années 30, L'Inde tout de suite, May-July 2002
New York, Saffronart, Raza: A Retrospective, September-October 2007

Lot Essay

Syed Haider Raza was a founding member of the revolutionary Bombay Progressive Artists' group formed in the year of India's Independence 1947. Now well established as a modern master of international renown, he first came to worldwide prominence in Paris in the late 1950s and '60s after moving to the city in 1950. 'I am grateful [...] that I could come to certain recognition in the art world in France and the rest of the world. But I was still unhappy. I said to myself: Yes, it is all right to be an important painter of the École de Paris, but where is your Indian background Raza? I asked myself and I started coming more and more regularly to India". (Artist statement in 'A conversation with Raza', Raza: A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2007, unpaginated). Whilst Raza spent over 60 years of his artistic career living in France, India and specifically the Indian landscape persisted and resonated within him and his practice. Geeta Kapur stated "[...] in nostalgia perhaps of the land he left behind when he settled in Paris, S.H. Raza opted wholeheartedly for the rhapsodic, nature based abstraction. The nostalgia was fierce and the earth was a conflagration of colours" (Geeta Kapur, 'Excerpt from different chapters of Contemporary Indian Artists,' Understanding Raza: Many Ways of Looking at a Master, New Delhi, p. 172)

Painted in 1973, La Terre is an important work that belongs to a key period in Raza's career when, after many years working within the style of the École de Paris, his artistic path brought him full circle and he began to integrate vital elements of his Indian childhood and cultural heritage into his paintings. "I have never really left the deep rooted, wonderful world of the forest and rambling river, hill and sparkling stream. The time spent as nature's child. You see, we lived in the countries core, in Barbaria, Madhya Pradesh, where my father was a forest ranger, in the Mandla afterwards. The lush Kanha thickets were my regular haunt. Highly impressionable at that tender age, I soaked in every single feature of that beautiful landscape" (Artist statement in, Y. Dalmia, 'Journeys with the Black Sun', Understanding Raza: Many Ways of Looking at a Master, New Delhi, p. 49)

La Terre is a tour de force, a triumph of Raza's mastery of landscape, expressionistic use of color and spiritual and symbolic engagement with the notion of creation, and the Bindu. La Terre invokes a deep sense of land and night by fusing abstract, representational and symbolic forms into a powerful and mystic expression of the mood and atmosphere of the Indian nightscape. Rooted in Raza's childhood memories of life growing up in the small and densely forested village of Kakaiya near the Narmada River valley in Madhya Pradesh, the painting is an evocative holistic expression of the rich and strong sensory life inherent with the deep, warm, pervasive darkness of the Indian night. "Nights in the forest were hallucinating [...] Sometimes the only humanizing influence was the dancing of the Gond tribes. Daybreak brought back a sentiment of security and wellbeing. On market-day under the radiant sun, the village was a fairyland of colours. And then, the night again. Even today I find that these two aspects of my life dominate me and are an integral part of my paintings." (Artist statement, in Y.Dalmia ,The Making of Modern Indian Art: The Progressives, New Delhi, 2001, p. 155)

Nature and the landscape had become an arena for and a source of power that exceeded figurative representation "Nature had become a pictorial metaphor: the forest, the river, the ravines, parched earth. The sun magnified a hundred times, exploding with energy and dynamism as the sole luminary. The earthscape [...] these formed the essential components of his [Raza's] work in the '60s and 70s". (G. Sen, 'Genesis' Understanding Raza: Many Ways of Looking at a Master, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, p. 74) In this work, with its suggestion of a high horizon line Raza has focused the composition around a black sun-like form at the top of the painting. The sun symbolically a creative, restorative and destructive force especially in central India, anchors the composition and anticipates the use of the bindu, which would become the fulcrum for Raza's later geometric compositions.T e Bindu or cosmic egg is a symbol of primordial genesis from which, in Hindu mythology, all Creation is born. This mystical point of spiritual focus establishes itself here as a prototype bindu both the source and the negation of the sumptuous myriad of physical detail all around it.

La Terre is an elemental painting describing a conjunction of universal opposites. "The notion of tama suna - the dark bindu. Dark nothingness, but yet charged. Radiating energy in terms of colour that move from black to grey and going in space towards white. That is exactly the theme of my work." (Artist statement in, Y. Dalmia, 'Journeys with the Black Sun', Understanding Raza: Many Ways of Looking at a Master, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, p. 49). The energetic gestural touches and splashes of color provide a captivating contrast with the black oculus they encircle. Earthy browns, greens, reds, blues and gold envelop the lower half of the canvas, flickering and dancing in the twilight. Richard Bartholomew identified color as the legend for Raza's landscapes. In the absence of discernible form or ridged line, color becomes subject and object, medium and form, representational and nonrepresentational. For Raza, the color black emanating from the sun is 'the mother color' from which all others are born.

Raza's combination of the sensual enjoyment of physical detail and sense of painterliness with a fundamentally more mystic and conceptual imagery drawn from ancient Indian art establishes this work as one that moves beyond the merely representational into the realm of the spiritual. La Terre stands as a metaphor for the whole of Creation itself. In this way, in its persuasive delineation of a rich, animated landscape full of, energy, vitality and detail - a very painterly world of life - rooted around the mystical and minimalist dot representative of spiritual perception, La Terre also becomes an elemental work of art describing a conjunction of universal opposites one that moves beyond the merely representational into the realm of the spiritual.

La Terre is a holistic painting that invokes a deep sense of the land stretching beyond the relegated borders of the canvas and extending into infinity. The warmth of the colors against the sharp diagonals creates tension and lends depth to the composition. The painting is an evocative expression of the rich density and strong sensory life inherent with the luminous brightness of the sun and the deep and warm Indian night. At Christie's in June 2010, Saurashtra (1983), a work of similar monumental dimension, made history for the field of Indian Contemporary Art becoming the first work to achieve $3,486,965, setting a world auction record for any Modern Indian work of art and a world auction record for the artist. Within the artist's oeuvre there are very few works of this monumental size and caliber. As a seminal painting La Terre, 1973, is a testament to Raza's great intellectual capacity and artistic virtuosity to impart complex and abstract thoughts into masterworks of great beauty and fluidity.

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