Millennium Post

Remembering Sayed Haider Raza

Thriving in creative conundrum, Sayed Haider Raza’s art was a reflection of his spiritual inclination. Remembered for his deep meditation upon each creation – today, Raza is fondly reminisced by enthusiasts across the globe, writes Uma Nair.

"Many of us felt [in 1953] the need to leave for a country where art was a vital, essential activity. In India at the time, although there was a good working atmosphere, we did not feel the same stimulus as we would in Paris, for example, which was where many of us wanted to go... Instead of retreating to an 'ashram' in the Himalayas to meditate, we came to Paris."

Sayed Haider Raza's words reflect the ideas and the quest for learning that was raging through the minds of young Indian artists during the post-Partition days. February 22, 2018, was the 96th birthday of Raza. The second after his passing away. It is also a good time to see the Raza works that are lining the international auctions in March.
Raza at Sotheby's
Magical and ridden with nostalgia is Sotheby's offering of Raza's Ville Provencale 1956. This masterpiece was made in 1956, while Raza was living in France – an incredibly formative period for the artist. Distinguished by its vivid colours, this seminal work displays a semi-abstracted view of a town in rural Provence. Raza was amongst only five artists to represent India at the Venice Biennale, where Ville Provencale was displayed in 1956. Sotheby's Director Yamini Mehta states, Ville Provencale is a testament to the enduring legacy of one of the foremost pioneers of Indian Modern Art, Ville Provencale will be offered as the star lot of Sotheby's Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art Sale in New York, on March 19.
Raza at Christie's
Sayed Haider Raza's masterpiece Tapovan, painted in 1972, was unveiled during the India Art Fair 2018, in New Delhi. Tapovan belongs to a key period in Raza's career when he began to integrate vital elements of his cultural heritage into his paintings. Tapovan, meaning the forest of meditation, is a triumph of Raza's mastery of landscape, his expressionistic use of colour and his spiritual and symbolic engagement with nature. Raza's Tapovan toppled estimates in 2006, for an astounding $1.472 million at Sotheby's Spring Sale.
Raza's words still hold true, when he said: "I have never left India. I love my country and I am proud of it, and it's not sentimental my friend. Don't think that it's only emotional. I have been linked with the profound spiritual, religious message that India has to give to Indians and to the world of which we are forgetful at times, even in India."
This is also a good time to reflect on his own words of his past: "I needed ten years in Bombay and I needed thirty years here (in Paris) to understand what is 'plastic art' what the fundamental requirements of a 'vital painted work' were so that it could be called important," Raza has said. "I did this in France, in Paris, and I am grateful...that I could come to a certain recognition in the art world in France and the rest of the world. But I was still unhappy. I said to myself: Yes, it is all right to be an important painter of the Ecole de Paris, but where is your Indian background Raza? I asked myself and I started coming more and more regularly to India—for two to three months every year to study again what Indian culture was, what Indian sculpture was. I went to Ellora and Ajanta, I went to Benares, I went to Gujarat and Rajasthan. I looked at the sculptures and paintings, I read books and still, I needed another twenty years to arrive where I am today. You know it's not very easy to give fifty years of one's life to the fundamental research of painting. It was a long period, a long wait, but I did it." (Raza cited in 'A Conversation with Raza', Raza: A Retrospective exhibition catalogue, New York, 2007)
Six Razas at Saffronart
At the Saffronart Evening Sale in March, Untitled 1975 is a dark toned work in moody embers painted during Raza's transition from gestural painting to geometric abstraction. Raza made frequent trips to India during this time, and Indian landscapes became the dominant theme in his work during the 1970s. "Nature became to Raza something not to be observed or to be imagined but something to be experienced in the very act of putting paint on canvas," (Rudolf von Leyden, "Metamorphosis," Raza, Mumbai: Chemould Publications and Arts, 1985). In this painting, the loose brushwork is set within a frame composed of bands of colour.
Raza's Rajasthan IV is yet another beauty. During the 1960s, Raza grew restless in France and began visiting India frequently, rediscovering his childhood memories of the forests of Madhya Pradesh. He also travelled to other parts of India, but it was Rajasthan which inspired some of his most moving works. The colours of his homeland erupted on his canvas in joyous, gestural strokes as seen in the present lot. Paintings from this period, often named for the places they were inspired by, are non-figural abstractions where "...the outlines of any cognizant forms have virtually disappeared – you may catch here and there a glimpse of a figure, the shimmer of leaves on a tree or the vague markings of human habitation."
Eglise 1953—a dark and mysterious landscape was also part of the Venice Biennale 1956 show. In this painting titled Bhoomi, Raza continues the spiritual and emotional journey he explored in other works, synonymously titled, Earth or La Terre. Raza's beloved Bindu appears here, representing both the seed from which nature is created as well as the embryo from which human life is begun. This duality unites man with nature. Saffronart has six Razas in its March sale.
Raza in France
The Sotheby's catalogue has an interesting flashback of Sayed Haider Raza's influential relationship with France, in its coming sale in March. Raza's tryst with France began in 1950 when he left India for Paris with a bursary from the French Government to study at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts.
This was to be Raza's first experience of France, during which he was exposed to the works of Post-Impressionist artists, in particular, Paul Cézanne and Vincent van Gogh, who became major sources of inspiration to the artist. Raza admired how such artists used colour to structure their paintings. Following his graduation from the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts, the Galerie Lara Vincy in Paris, which represented some of the foremost abstract artists from across the globe, came to play a significant role in launching Raza's career.
A litany of awards
In 1955, Madame Lara Vincy opened her gallery in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, an area which was at the heart of post-War literary life, the existential movement and the Parisian jazz scene. Raza was given a regular contract with Lara Vincy and the Galerie itself, which provided him with a substantial livelihood and offered him the freedom of exploration that he craved and for which he left India. Ville Provencale is an exceptional example of the result of this patronage. 1956, the year Ville Provencale was created, proved to be seminal for the artist. Raza became the first non-French artist to secure the coveted Prix de La Critique award, providing him with the international recognition which led him to hold a historic show at the Musee d'Art Moderne, Paris.

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