1 More


signed and dated 'RAZA '83' (lower right); further signed, dated, inscribed and titled 'RAZA / 1983 / 80 X 80 cms / "RAJASTHAN" / Acrylic on canvas' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
31 ½ x 31 ½ in. (80 x 80 cm.)
Painted in 1983
Acquired directly from the artist, circa mid 1980s
Thence by descent
R. Hoskote, A. Vajpeyi, Y. Dalmia and A. Doshi, S.H Raza: Vistaar, Mumbai, 2012, p. 52 (illustrated)
S. Ballaney ed., SH Raza: The Journey of a Master, New Delhi, 2014, p. 95 (illustrated)
R. Hoskote et al, Yet Again, Nine New Essays on Raza, Ahmedabad, 2015, p. 24 (illustrated)
A. Macklin, S H Raza: Catalogue Raisonné, 1972 - 1989 (Volume II), Vadehra Art Gallery & The Raza Foundation, New Delhi, 2022, p. 358
Mumbai, Gallery Chemould, Raza, 1984

Brought to you by

Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari Specialist, Head of Department

Lot Essay

I was inspired to conceive a painting which could be a letter to my mother country, India, revealing my experiences, discoveries and acquisitions. I hoped that the painting could be evidence that I was never cut off from my sources. The memories, conscious and unconscious, were ever present.
- Sayed Haider Raza, 1981

Although he spent close to six decades living in France, Sayed Haider Raza never lost sight of his Indian roots. Born in 1922 in Madhya Pradesh, the artist spent his early years with his father, a forest ranger, in the heart of nature in rural India. Moving between Barbaria in Narsinghpur, Kakaiya in Mandla and Damoh, he grew up surrounded by dense jungles and developed a strong and abiding relationship with nature that would impact his artistic career from its outset in the 1940s to the final painting he was working on in 2016 when he died. Although Raza’s technique and style would evolve over the course of these years, his understanding of the landscape, nature and its forces and elements remained a constant source of inspiration in his work.

In 1950, Raza traveled to France on a scholarship from the French Government to study art at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris. In the city, he was exposed to a wide range of continental artistic movements, with which he engaged both creatively and intellectually. Like Zao Wou-Ki, whom he met there, he became a central figure of the Second Ecole de Paris, a generation that defined itself by a relentless determination and willingness to engage in a struggle to transcend traditional Western artistic idioms.

By the early 1980s, when the present lot was painted, Raza had cemented his place as one of India’s most acclaimed modern artists, with several exhibitions and awards in India and Europe under his belt. His body of work had progressed from representational landscapes to abstract expressionist works executed with gestural brushstrokes that depicted the emotions a place evoked in him rather than its sights. At the same time, the artist’s desire to pay homage to his roots and the lands and cultures of his birthplace grew strong. On every visit Raza made to India, he would tour a different part of the country, seeking inspiration in its landscapes and traditions. The impact of these visits, and of his renewed studies of Indian art history and philosophy, became evident in his work from the period. As he recalled, “I moved to a new period in the eighties. The language of your painting changes when you start listening to silence. Within the silence of solitude, the inner landscape of the human mind moves into another pathway. I learnt to understand polarities-the co-existence of opposites that complement even as they exist. Life and death, man and woman, black and white-everything has a different rhythm. I realized how poetry can contain few words and say so much. Painting became the metaphor of life itself” (Artist statement, A. Vajpeyi, Raza, A Life in Art, New Delhi, 2007, p. 345).

The present lot, titled Rajasthan, was painted in 1983, during the period now considered the apogee of the artist’s vision. Works from this period represent Raza’s artistic return to India and its culture after spending over thirty years enriching his artistic horizons with the avant-garde forms he saw and experienced in Europe and the United States. Using a classic palette of vivid primary colors to capture the visual, emotional and cultural essence of the region, Raza masterfully combines tempestuous brushwork with structure and geometry here to convey this ‘atmosphere of experience’. Using shades of red, green, yellow and blue, highlighted by black and white, Raza expresses the dualities of nature and the five elements that he believes maintain their balance – earth, water, fire, sky and ether. Like this use of vibrant color, the defined borders that compartmentalize and inscribe his brushstrokes foreshadow the next period of Raza’s work, where his representation of nature and the land was through geometric shapes and cosmological symbolism.

The northwestern state of Rajasthan, in particular, held a special place in Raza’s heart. Not only did he find inspiration in its quality of light and dramatic landscapes, ranging from arid desert to lush hillside, but he also took great interest in the region’s artistic, poetic and musical traditions. Like his own work, court paintings from the Rajasthani schools of Mewar and Bundi among others sought to express a ‘mood’ rather than a narrative, and create emotive responses in the viewer. “From his discussions on painting, it is evident that Raza’s own preference lay in the abstract forms and bold, pungent colours of Jain and Rajput miniatures. These then became his source of stimulus, a point of departure into the new works: to infuse a raw sensibility and passion into his gestural paintings. The titles of his paintings betray this impassioned involvement. Beginning at this time are a series of pictures which evoke the memory not merely of his ‘native village’ but of his country of origin [...] Rajasthan becomes a metaphor for the colors of India: of vibrant greens and vermilion and ochres, as also blacks. Rajasthan is the mapping out of a metaphorical space in the mind which is then enclosed with a broad border in vermilion... The image becomes thus enshrined as an icon, as sacred geography” (G. Sen, Bindu: Space and Time in Raza's Vision, New Delhi, 1997, p. 98).

Since the year it was painted, this jewel-like canvas has remained in the collection of Ram Kumar, who acquired it from Raza to support a close friend and fellow artist. The warm friendship between these two artists lasted their entire careers and saw them crossing paths, and even living together on occasion, in Bombay, Paris and Delhi. When Raza moved back to India in 2011, he carried several thousand letters with him, representing a lifetime of friendships and experiences. Among these were decades of correspondence with Ram Kumar that offer a deeper understanding of the lives, careers and beliefs of both artists.

Written in English and Hindi, these letters are filled with updates about their personal and professional lives, describing the joys and apprehensions that shaped them. Writing to Raza in the late 1950s, Ram Kumar expressed how close he felt their bond was. “You are the only artist to whom I can lay my heart bare and clear my doubts. I would still consider you one of my most intimate friends even if you denounce my work or I criticize you – even in public.” Twenty-five years later, in another letter, Ram Kumar reiterates that time has not altered this friendship, writing, “After you left, there was a sort of vacuum which I had not realized when you were in Delhi. During last few years, we have come very close especially after your visits to India and mine to Paris in 1980 and 85. You seem to be an integral part of our existence in spite of distance” (R. Kumar, A. Vajpeyi ed., Geysers, Letters between Sayed Haider Raza and his artist-friends, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 103, 163).

This painting was last exhibited in 1984 at an important solo show of Raza's work at Gallery Chemould in Bombay, mounted to commemorate the release of a new book on the artist. Kekoo Gandhy, co-founder of the gallery, which is celebrating its sixtieth anniversary this year, had specially borrowed the painting from Ram Kumar for this important exhibition. After almost forty years, it is an honor to be able to present this pivotal work once again, and in doing so, document an important moment in Raza’s career as well as one of the close friendships that helped shape it.

More from South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art

View All
View All