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signed and dated 'RAZA '64' (lower right); further signed inscribed and titled 'RAZA / P_548' 64' / 150 x 50 / "Paysage"' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
59 x 19 ½ in. (149.9 x 49.5 cm.)
Painted in 1964
Private Midwestern Collection, United States
Sotheby's New York, 19 September 2007, lot 22
Acquired from the above
A. Vajpeyi ed., Understanding Raza: Many Ways of Looking at a Master, New Delhi, 2013, p. 293 (illustrated)
A. Macklin, S.H. Raza: Catalogue Raisonné, New Delhi, 2016, p. 114 (illustrated)

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Lot Essay

Painted in 1964, this vibrant landscape represents a stark shift from Sayed Haider Raza’s pastoral paintings of the French countryside and its small towns that drew inspiration from the formal constructions of Cézanne and the palette of Van Gogh. Moving away from direct representation and ordered construction, here the artist adopts a highly emotive palette and thick, expressive brushwork to communicate the recollections of his childhood in central India. Likely based on his experiences of the land and forests that surrounded the village in Madhya Pradesh where he was raised, this painting represents the artist’s return to the vast traditions of South Asian visual culture. In this vivid, vertically-formatted landscape, Raza draws from Pahari, Jain and Rajput miniature paintings, particularly in its dynamic palette of primary colors and the hint of an orange border at the lower left, conveying his strong memories of the bright, sunlit days of his youth, spent deep in the forests where his father worked as a ranger.

While marking this deep connection to the land of his birth, Raza was also keenly aware of developments in Western art. The artist had recently spent a summer teaching in California, and also traced an intellectual lineage to path-breaking French abstractionists like Nicolas de Staël, whose works he first encountered in a Paris exhibition in the late 1950s. Raza noted that de Staël’s work was “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, Raza, A Life in Art, New Delhi, 2007, p. 70).

True to himself, his memories and his observations, Raza embarked on a path of self-exploration through art in the early 1960s, taking up the abstraction of Modernism, while eschewing the specific styles of Post-Impressionist schools of art. In Paysage, Raza expresses the ambiance of a place and the emotions it evoked in him rather than its tangible or physical components. The forms are spontaneous and rough-hewn, showcasing the artist’s devotion to the communication of mood through color that parallels the work of the Abstract Expressionist and Color Field schools of painters, yet frees itself from their dependence on pure chromaticism through its organic brushstrokes that build on each other, sculptural application of impasto and strong emotive quality.

A unique window into Raza’s transforming mind, this painting represents an important moment in the ongoing formal innovation that was a hallmark of his long career. With a renewed interest in his Indian heritage as well as the potential for introspection through passionate, painterly abstraction, Raza examines intangible memories and feelings through the textured essence of color in this landscape.

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