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

Plein Soleil

SYED HAIDER RAZA (1922-2016)
Plein Soleil
signed and dated 'RAZA '61' (lower right); further signed, inscribed, dated and titled 'RAZA / P_372 '61 / 30 F / "Plein Soleil"' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
36 ¼ x 28 7/8 in. (92.1 x 73.3 cm.)
Painted in 1961
Galerie Lara Vincy, Paris
Acquired from the above by the present owner, circa 1962
This work will be included in a revised edition of S.H Raza: Catalogue Raisonné - Volume I (1958-1971) edited by Anne Macklin
Sale Room Notice

Please note that this lot will be included in a revised edition of S.H Raza: Catalogue Raisonné - Volume I (1958-1971) edited by Anne Macklin

Lot Essay

Painted in 1961, this vibrant work represents a stark shift from Syed Haider Raza’s paintings of the bucolic French countryside 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 his recollections of his childhood in central India. Likely based on his experience 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 landscape, Raza draws from Pahari, Jain and Rajput miniature painting, particularly in its dynamic palette of primary colors. Titled Plein Soleil, this painting clearly conveys 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. For example, the artist traced an intellectual lineage to the path-breaking abstractionist Nicolas de Staël, whose works he 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 his memories and 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. Here, the forms are spontaneous and rough-hewn, showcasing the artist’s devotion to expression 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 almost organic forms, dependence on strong emotion, and sculptural application of impasto.

A unique window into Raza’s transforming mind, this painting represents the artist 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.

Plein Soleil was the first painting acquired by Edith Lieber and her husband Leslie, a journalist, jazz saxophonist and Francophile. Stopping in at Galerie Lara Vincy on one of their many trips to Paris in the early 1960s, Mrs. Lieber fell in love with the bright colors of this composition, and convinced her husband to buy it, continuing a tradition of acquiring objets dart on their travels around the world. Shortly after they installed the painting in their New York home, Raza visited the Liebers there, most likely on his return from the summer he spent teaching at Berkeley in 1962. Mrs. Lieber recalls spending time with the shy and elegant artist in her apartment, a memory that still makes her smile almost sixty years later.

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