Sayed Haider Raza left India for France in 1949, after receiving a two-year scholarship from the French Government to attend the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. The artist recollects excitedly absorbing the thriving local art scene on his arrival, and visiting several exhibitions and museums. "I was moving from discovery to discovery [...] Paris offered me museums, exhibitions, libraries, theatre, ballet, films – in short, a living culture!" (Artist statement, G. Sen, Bindu: Space and Time in Raza's Vision, New Delhi, 1997, p. 55)
It was in Paris that Raza finally encountered the work of artists like Matisse, Cézanne and Gauguin in person, and where his body of work underwent its first dramatic transformation. He was influenced both by the palette and compositions of the Post-Impressionist paintings that he saw, and by his early experiences of living in Paris and travelling through the bucolic French countryside. In addition to abandoning watercolor and gouache for thicker and more tactile paint, the artist began to rely more on color and texture to evoke his experience of the landscape.
A rare example of a cityscape, this 1956 composition is one of the few that records Raza’s impressions of the vibrant and teeming metropolis of Paris rather than of the villages in the French countryside. Most likely a view from the artist’s first studio in the city, a modest attic on Rue de Fossés St. Jacques, this work employs dark ink outlines over oil to portray a row of distinctive Parisian rooftops, with their chimneys and garret windows, on what appears a cold and overcast winter morning. Bisecting this panoramic view, a darker panel at the center portrays an interior scene in stark contrast with the lighter exterior. A desk lamp, doorway and chair beyond it are discernable against the green-blue walls, offering perhaps what is the artist’s only portrayal of his first studio in France.
As Raza noted, his early years in Paris provided him with experiences and tools that were essential in building the strong foundations upon which his practice developed and evolved. "France gave me several acquisitions. First of all, ‘le sens plastique’, by which I mean a certain understanding of the vital elements in painting. Second, a measure of clear thinking and rationality. The third, which follows from this proposition, is a sense of order and proportion in form and structure. Lastly, France has given me a sense of savior vivre: the ability to perceive and to follow a certain discerning quality in life.” (Artist statement, G. Sen, 1997, p. 57)