SYED HAIDER RAZA (1922-2016)
SYED HAIDER RAZA (1922-2016)

L'Arbre du Mal

SYED HAIDER RAZA (1922-2016)
L'Arbre du Mal
signed and dated 'RAZA 61' (lower right); signed, inscribed, dated and titled 'RAZA / P - 329 '61 / "L'arbre du mal" / 30 F' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
28 ¾ x 36 ¼ in. (73 x 92.1 cm.)
Painted in 1961
Galerie Lara Vincy, Paris
Maison de la Culture, Grenoble
Acquired from the above by a private collector
Christie's Paris, 26 April 2006, lot 224
Grosvenor Gallery, London
Christie's New York, 16 September 2009, lot 589
Acquired from the above by the present owner
The Moderns Revisited, exhibition catalogue, London, 2006, p. 25 (illustrated)
Raza: A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2007, pp. 48-49 (illustrated)
A. Bonfand, Raza, Paris, 2008, p. 74 (illustrated)
R. Hoskote, A. Vajpeyi, Y. Dalmia and A. Doshi, SH Raza: Vistaar, exhibition catalogue, Mumbai, 2012, p. 98 (illustrated)
SH Raza: The Journey of a Master, exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 2014, p. 27 (illustrated)
A. Macklin, SH Raza, Catalogue Raisonné 1958-1971, Volume 1, New Delhi, 2016, p. 62 (illustrated)
Paris, Galerie Lara Vincy, 19 April - 18 May, 1961
London, Grosvenor Vadehra, The Moderns Revisited, 12 October - 3 November, 2006
London, Grosvenor Vadehra, Modern and Contemporary Indian Art, 12 April - 11 May, 2007
New York, Saffronart, Raza: A Retrospective, 21 September - 31 October, 2007
Valencia, Institut Valencia d'Art Moderne, India Moderna, 11 December 2008 - 15 February 2009

Lot Essay

Painted in 1961, LArbre du Mal represents a stark shift from Raza’s paintings of the bucolic French countryside that drew inspiration from the formal constructions of Cézanne and the vibrant palette of Van Gogh. Moving away from direct representation and ordered construction, here the artist adopts a highly emotive palette and expressive brushwork to communicate his recollections of India. “The most tenacious memory of my childhood is the fear and fascination of Indian forests. We lived near the source of the Narmada river in the centre of the dense forests of Madhya Pradesh. Nights in the forests were hallucinating; sometimes the only humanising influence was the dancing of the Gond tribes. Daybreak brought back a sentiment of security and well-being. On market-day, under the radiant sun, the village was a fairyland of colours. And then, the night again. Even today I find that these two aspects of my life dominate me and are an integral part of my paintings.” (Artist statement, Y. Dalmia, The Making of Modern Indian Art: The Progressives, New Delhi, 2001, p. 155)

Although its title has a sinister implication, translating as 'the tree of evil', this painting conveys Raza’s belief in the duality of nature as both provider and destroyer, and the perpetual balance maintained between these two extremes as it is between good and evil. As a counterpoint to the ominous, creeping shadows of the forest painted on the right, Raza offers a lush, sunlit view of its foliage on the left, using the dichotomy of day and night as a metaphor for the oppositional yet symbiotic forces of nature. In doing so, Raza distils his understanding as the absolute experience of reality – an indispensable coexistence of dualities in nature. Likely based on the forests that surrounded the village where he was raised, this work also represents the artist’s return to the vast traditions of South Asian visual culture. Here, Raza draws from Pahari, Jain and Rajput miniature painting, particularly in its vibrant primary palette and the borders that circumscribe the scene.

LArbre du Mal represents Raza at the outset of a formal and personal exploration that would last most of his 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. A unique window into Raza’s transforming mind, LArbre du Mal reveals a legendary modern master at one of the most pivotal points of his career.

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