One of India's leading modern masters, Syed Haider Raza was a founding member of the revolutionary Progressive Artist's Group formed in Bombay during the year of India's Independence in 1947. Well established as an artist of international renown, he first came to worldwide prominence in Paris in the late 1950s and 60s.
After arriving in Paris in October 1950, Raza, "As advised by Henri Cartier-Bresson, [...] concentrated his studies on the vision, technique and composition of Cézanne. 'I went to the museum again and again and tried to understand what was construction according to Cézanne. I read the book of Kandinsky 'Concerning the Spiritual in Art' and I studied particularly Cubism in which paintings were very carefully constructed. I also went to the extent of finding out what Mondrian and Vasarely had done with pure geometry and what Nicolas de Stael did to it.'
Raza also travelled far and wide in France, Italy and Spain. As Rudi Van Leyden has noted, 'it was the art of medieval European and early Renaissance that spoke to him convincingly. Byzantine painting, Romanesque sculpture and the Italian primitives appealed to him in their austerity which was capable of conveying the most exquisite poetic sensitivity'. He was fascinated by the French countryside. He visited many places including Chartres Avignon, Aix-en-provence and Menton.
So much exposure to a new and different visual culture could have easily caused a 'turbulent confusion'. However, instead Raza was able to attain a degree of order and a new kind of landscape started dominating his work." (A. Vajpeyi, ed., A Life in Art: S.H. Raza, Hyderabad, p. 2007, p. 64)
Enamoured with the bucolic countryside of rural France, many of Raza's landscapes from the late 1950s capture the rolling terrain and quaint village architecture of this region. In this painting, Raza takes a slightly different approach. His use of space and perspective, and the colours, smouldering oranges and reds against charred blacks, lend the painting a passionate, almost savage intensity that can only be felt as the night sky approaches. What results is "not an outward manifestation of reality as in his earliest works, or the imaginary landscapes in his early gouaches - but the 'real thing', through the substantial realm of colour. It is no longer nature as 'seen' or as 'constructed', but nature as experienced." (G. Sen,Bindu: Space and Time in Raza's Vision, New Delhi, 1997, p. 79)