Sayed Haider Raza's early watercolors are an intriguing manifestation of his formative years. From 1939 to 1943, Raza was a student at the Nagpur School of Art, then moving to Bombay to study at the Sir J.J. School of Arts. It was with the support of the art critic Rudolf von Leyden, his tutor and mentor Walter Langhammer, and patrons like Kekoo Gandhy and Emanuel Schlesinger that Raza discovered and nurtured the primary artistic inspiration that reverberates throughout his career - the land and nature around him.
Among the supportive initiatives that enabled him to overcome many of the struggles he faced as a young artist, was a commission in the mid-1940s to paint watercolors that would be reproduced in a 1948 calendar to be published by Volkart, the Swiss Company where Von Leyden worked as Publicity Manager. Volkart, founded in 1851 in Winterthur by Salomon and J.G. Volkart, aimed to establish direct commercial relations between India and Europe, initially focusing on the import of raw cotton to Switzerland to enable local textile business, and the export of manufactured goods to India. Consequently Raza painted several works depicting the different stages of the cotton trade in India. These two watercolors were a part of this commissioned series. Here, Raza captures the vibrant atmosphere of a local market and the docks from where cotton is transported with a harmonious interplay of light and color. The landscape and figures metamorphose into an organic, seamless entity with forms and surfaces effortlessly dissolving into one another, leading von Leyden to describe Raza as "a painter of light, deft, fluid watercolours of landscapes and town scenes." (G. Sen, Bindu; Space and Time in Raza's Vision, New Delhi, 1997, p. 27) The artist's subsequent travels to Kashmir, where he would meet photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1948, and to cities like Benares further inspired this phase of his practice.