Untitled (Village dans un Paysage)

Untitled (Village dans un Paysage)
signed and dated 'RAZA '55' (lower right)
oil on board
21 3/4 x 28 in. (55.2 x 71.1 cm.)
Painted in 1955
Galerie Lara Vincy, Paris
Private Collection, France
Pierre Bergé & Associés, 17 December 2015, lot 24
Acquired from the above
Christie's New York, 12 September 2018, lot 270
Acquired from the above by the present owner
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

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Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari Specialist, Head of Department

Lot Essay

One of India's leading modern masters, Sayed Haider Raza was a founding member of the revolutionary Bombay based Progressive Artists' Group formed in 1947, the year of India's Independence. A few years later, Raza left India for France, arriving in Paris in 1949 to attend the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts.

The 1950s were a critical decade for Raza, when the artist strove to reconcile his personal vocabulary and artistic sensibilities with the academic and modernist aesthetics in which he had immersed himself in the West. As the artist noted later, his early years in Paris provided him with experiences and tools that were essential in building the strong foundations on which his practice developed and evolved, including an firm understanding of the elements of painting and a set of implements with which to combine and apply them to his own creative practice.

The mid 1950s marked a period of increased experimentation in Raza's body of work, where the artist strove to reconcile his personal vocabulary and the artistic sensibilities of his homeland with the modernist idioms he encountered in Europe. Untitled (Village dans un Paysage), painted in 1955 only a few years after Raza’s arrival in France, captures this critical point of transition in his oeuvre. Here, Raza's rigid lines of the early 1950s dissolve, as the artist liberates his forms from the almost Cubist constructions that had dominated his practice over the previous years. Using bold, primary colors, this composition is neatly sectioned by the spreading branches of a dark tree in the foreground. On the left, the rooftops and steeples of a small French village sit quiet under the midnight blue sky. On the right, however, the ground is blood-red, with what appears to be either a boat setting sail or the calvaire (calvary) of the village in extreme close-up. This painting also represents a moment of departure, as Raza embraced a new visual idiom in which the landscape remained the principle protagonist, but was expressed through color as a function of the emotions it evoked in the artist rather than through directly representative visual components.

The bold primary hues of the present lot, with its swathes of reds, blues and greens that bisect the composition, reflect the syncretic experimentation with palette, texture and perspective that was afforded by Raza’s newfound success, and came to define his works from the period. Melding influences from East and West, and drawing equally on works of École de Paris artists and Rajasthani miniature painting traditions, this timeless landscape embodies a high point in Raza’s career, representing the artistic background from which he came as well as the mastery towards which he was heading. Today, more than one hundred years since Raza’s birth, a landmark retrospective of his work at the Centre Pompidou in Paris offers a fitting tribute to an artist beloved in both France and India.

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