"But I was not in France to do Indian miniatures! I was here to experience French art, and to live it. One of the fundamental breakthroughs for me was that I began painting in oils [...] My paintings were slowly changing: the constructions by Cézanne were haunting me now. For many years my main theme was the French landscape wherein trees and mountains, villages and churches, became important motifs." (Artist statement, G. Sen, Bindu, Space and Time in Raza's Vision, New Delhi, 1997, p. 56)
After settling in France in the early 1950s, Raza won the Prix de la Critique award in 1956, juried by 14 artists and presided over by Claude Roger Marx, the foremost art critic of France. The artist painted Untitled (Midnight Sky) two years later, a major work from the period. Enamored with the bucolic countryside of rural France, this painting captures Raza's vision of the rolling terrain and quaint village architecture of the region with a beautiful inky blue sky as backdrop.
The vast strides Raza made in the development of a new form of representation in this period can be clearly discerned in this work. Seeking a way to communicate through color and texture rather than forms and lines, he painstakingly constructed his landscapes through dashes and daubs of paint, applied with a palette knife, creating an assembly of textured forms amongst the sky indicative of the foliage and hill top houses and churches. With a bold palette of primary colors and heavy impasto, the scene still remains recognizable; the rooftops of the houses appear as vibrant shimmering shapes against the dark and rich midnight sky.
Commenting on Raza's work from the mid 1950s, Jacques Lassaigne, art critic and director of the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, writes, "Pure forms take shape no longer in the void, but in revelatory contrast with their surroundings, in light that exults, doubly bright, against that opacity that threatens it. The composition is made to expand or contract, as it retreats in orderly array along a broad avenue or succumbs to the brief ordeal of a stormy disintegration. Walls of houses are no longer smooth planes, they are broad beaches strewn with the hulks of burnt out energies. Behind a foreground of glowing embers or darkling plains looms a mass of lustrous houses. For all the tragic intensity of its smoldering fires, and the flare of its greenery, the world of Raza hangs in a torrent of potentialities; amid the contending powers of darkness and light. Notwithstanding the storms of life, the artist, true to himself, has acquired the gift of serenity; he has achieved the inexpressible plentitude which, in the Arabian poem, is born of the reiterated syllable signifying Night." (A. Vajpeyi, Raza: A Life in Art , New Delhi, 2007, p. 73)