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Haute Provence

Haute Provence
signed and dated ‘RAZA ‘61’ (lower right); further signed, inscribed, dated and titled ‘RAZA / P_336 ’61 / “Haute Provence” / 80F’ and bearing two stamps reading ‘LANYON GALLERY / 700 WELCH RD. / PALO ALTO, CALIFORNIA' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
57¼ x 44½ in. (145.4 x 113 cm.)
Painted in 1961
Lanyon Gallery, Palo Alto
Acquired from the above
Thence by descent
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Sale room notice
Please note that part of the caption on page 120 of the printed catalogue, which includes the estimate, appears on the top of page 118.

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Damian Vesey
Damian Vesey

Lot Essay

Syed Haider Raza has remained a central figure in Modernist historiography since his association with the Progressive Artists’ Group, a nodal artists’ collective based in Mumbai that formed in the wake of India’s independence from the British in 1947. His works have been featured in the Biennales of Venice, São Paolo, and Menton (France), and in major international exhibitions in New York, Washington D.C., and London, at the Royal Academy of Arts. In 2013 he received the Padma Vibhushan, one of the highest civilian honours awarded by the Indian government.

Born in Babaria, Madhya Pradesh in 1922, Raza studied at the Sir J.J. School of Art, Bombay, from 1943-1947. Moving to France in 1950 to study at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, Raza encountered a range of styles, including the expressive forms and figures of Tachisme and Art Informel, which are traditionally framed as European stylistic counterpoints to the American movement of Abstract Expressionism. Valorising spontaneity of execution as a purer mode of art making, the Post-Impressionist schools of Paris recognised and celebrated Raza’s dynamism with colour and form. In 1956, Raza won the coveted artist’s prize Prix de la Critique, and in 1958 was invited to the Bienal de São Paolo. He was touted as a master colourist by contemporary European and Indian periodicals: “He is a painter of countrysides, whose work stands between innovations, studies, and nostalgias on the pastoral. Landscapes sober of line, whose painterly depth and weight culminates in sharp points, where color takes on a preaternatural effulgence, sometimes restrained, sometimes luminous, like that born of the transparence of stained glass.” (Les Lettres Françaises, translated from the French, unpaginated) Raza experimented with the formal and emotive capacities of the colour palette, deploying gestural brushstrokes and robust daubs of colour to render both form and content.

The village-scape, seen from an aerial perspective, cuts a jagged zigzag across the surface of the canvas. Raza implies architectural forms through the use of key signposts; the upside-down v’s connote gabled roofing, soaring slender cylinders connote chimneys, and alternating fields of colour suggest walls. Consequently, the village is conveyed to its viewer in temporal increments. It requires its viewers to stand before it, to let the colours flicker across the canvas and the shapes to collide and intersect, until the provincial scene reveals itself as the subject.

Raza’s Haute Provence exemplifies his capacity to create form through colour, à la the celebrated abstractionist Serge Poliakoff, and his meditations on polychromy. However, the unrestrained lyricism mirrors the energy of the works of Sam Francis, known for his lush mosaic-like play with organic forms. Raza traced an intellectual lineage to the path-breaking Tachiste artist Nicolas de Staël, whose exhibition he had viewed while in Paris in the late 1950’s. Observing that de Staël had become “very abstract, very sensual, very non-realistic. […] There was a whole lot of expression to be surveyed but what was important was that ultimately you came back to yourself. You didn’t have to paint like Cézanne, nor Nicolas de Staël.”(Artist statement, A. Vajpeyi, A Life in Art: RAZA, New Delhi, 2007, p. 70) True to his beliefs, Raza embarked on a path of self-exploration through art, taking up the abstraction and rebellion of Modernism, while eschewing the stylistic trajectories carved out by Post-Impressionist schools of art. The forms of Haute Provence are redolent of the geometry of Cubism, while avowedly spontaneous and rough-hewn. The devotion to expression through colour parallels the tenets of the Colour Field school of Post-War United States, yet frees itself from the school’s dependence on pure chromaticism through its varying forms and sculptural application of impasto.

Emblematic of the intuitive expressivity of France’s post-war schools, yet defying regional or stylistic designation, Haute Provence stands as a testament to the freshness of vision of one of India’s most revered artists.

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