2 More

Untitled (Houses)

Untitled (Houses)
signed and dated 'S.H. RAZA '53' (lower left)
ink and gouache on paper
18 1/4 x 19 1/8 in. (46.4 x 48.6 cm.)
Executed in 1953
Galerie Lara Vincy, Paris
Acquired by Robert T. Maccoun, France, circa 1960s-70s
Bequeathed by the above to Carl and Lillias Pinson, Maine, 1989
Thence by descent
This work will be included in SH RAZA, Catalogue Raisonné, Early Works (1940 - 1957) by Anne Macklin on behalf of The Raza Foundation, New Delhi

Brought to you by

Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari Specialist, Head of Department

Lot Essay

One of India’s leading Modern Masters, Sayed Haider Raza was a member of the revolutionary but short-lived Progressive Artists’ Group founded in 1947, the year of the country’s Independence. Raza left India for France in 1949 after receiving a scholarship from the French Government to attend the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. Arriving in France in October that year, Raza excitedly recollected 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. “As advised by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Raza 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 von] 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).

Writing to a friend from art school in Paris, Raza noted, “I realise more and more now more than ever, how the Post-Impressionist movement rescued painting from the aerobatics of the academicians to the creation of significant form. Cézanne the earliest manifestation of this movement occupies a dominating position and is amazing to see the crop of good art that followed later” (Artist statement, letter to L. Nordentoft, Paris, 15 January 1950). Given this critical realization, Raza’s work evolved dramatically from the small watercolors he painted in the 1940s towards a bolder more ambitious and modernist idiom. He began to work on a larger scale, mixing his media, first working in gouache on paper or card and then with oils on canvas. Raza’s practice continually advanced during his early years in Paris as he assimilated the work of the modernist masters he admired and the Parisian cityscape around him.

The present lot is a delicate rendering of houses in Paris with their distinctive roofs and chimneys, painstakingly executed in gouache. Part of a limited series of experimental works Raza produced between 1951 and 1953, this landscape has not been seen in public for close to half a century. Here, flattened cubist architectonic forms snake in a unbroken row across a luminous pale-green ground that accentuates their earthy tones. These were most likely the houses Raza saw daily from the window of his attic apartment in Paris, where he lived and worked these early years. Rendered with an almost playful lightness, the structures represent a critical step in Raza’s exploration of construction and technique in the quest to find ‘significant form’.

The present lot was executed in 1953, just before Raza fully turned to the medium of oil painting to further his ambition in scale, technique and composition. Writing about this small but critical body of work by the artist, Jacques Lassaigne noted that these landscapes were “strange un-accountable works, unamenable to any traditional type of art. Timeless landscapes with no accommodation for man; uninhabited, uninhabitable cities, located beyond the confines of the earth, bathed in cold light; schematic houses stretching away in a sinuous line, suspended in the sky beneath a black sun” (A. Vajpeyi, ed., A Life in Art: S.H. Raza, Hyderabad, 2007, p. 64).

As Raza later noted, his early years in Paris provided him with experiences and tools that were essential in building the strong foundations upon which his practice developed and evolved. “France gave me several acquisitions. First of all, ‘le sens plastique’, by which I mean a certain understanding of the vital elements in painting. Second, a measure of clear thinking and rationality. The third, which follows from this proposition, is a sense of order and proportion in form and structure. Lastly, France has given me a sense of savior vivre: the ability to perceive and to follow a certain discerning quality in life” (Artist statement, G. Sen, Bindu, Space and Time in Raza’s Vision, New Delhi, 1997, p. 57).

More from South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art

View All
View All