One of the founding members of the Bombay Progressives, like Francis Newton Souza and Maqbool Fida Husain, Sayed Haider Raza was first exposed to the mastery of Indian miniature painting and sculpture at the 1948 Royal Academy exhibition that toured Delhi and Bombay. ‘Even at that early age, I must have been about 24 or 25, I thought there was something extremely important in the Mughal miniatures, Rajput paintings, Jain miniatures and, of course, Indian sculpture.’ (SH Raza and A. Vajpeyi, Passion: Life and Art of Raza, Rajkamal Prakashan, New Delhi, 2005. p. 37)
Raza then left for France in 1950 on a scholarship from the Alliance Française to study at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Whilst studying, he was exposed to and influenced by the Post-Impressionists and in particular the work of Paul Cézanne who he greatly admired for his ability to construct form through color. He later moved to Provence, Cézanne country, where he incorporated elements of the rural French countryside in his work.
Paysage, this mesmerizing painting from 1983 combines influences from both France and India to produce a unique landscape with flaming colors that pulsate across the canvas depicting the rhythms of nature. Raza uses the saturation of various hues to display a new type of landscape; simultaneously making discourses about his new French abode. Raza has stated, ‘sometime between 1975 and 1980, I began to feel the draw of my Indian heritage. I thought: I come from India, I have a different vision; I should incorporate what I have learned in France with Indian concepts. In this period, I visited India every year to study Indian philosophy, iconography, magic diagrams (yantras), and ancient Indian art, particularly Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain art. I was impressed by paintings from Basholi, Malwa, and Mewar, and began combining colors in a manner that echoed Indian miniature painting.’ (Raza in conversation with Amrita Jhaveri, Sotheby’s Preview, March / April 2007, p. 57) His paintings from this time are clearly influenced by his interest in the Indian miniature tradition, not just in composition but also in palette.
Raza’s early landscapes such as Lots 107 and 108 were more figurative. Paysage is a painting from a creative peak in Raza's oeuvre that illustrates his progression towards total abstraction, and the geometry born from the precepts of Hindu philosophy. ‘His fascination with nature and his concept of the earth as sacred – as mandala – were to find expression again and again as his work evolved in response to his return […] as the new Indian experience.’ (G. Sen, Bindu: Space and Time in Raza's Vision, Media Transasia, New Delhi, 1997, p. 92) This series of paintings demonstrates his cherished memories of India while a new type of abstraction emerges. As with Rajasthan, Saurashtra and other landscapes painted during this time, Paysage ‘becomes a metaphor for the colours of India: of vibrant greens and vermilion and ochres, as also blacks. [it] is the mapping out of a metaphorical space in the mind which is then enclosed with a broad border in bold vermilion - as also happens to be the case in Rajput paintings from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The image becomes thus enshrined as an icon, a sacred geography.’ (ibid., p. 98) With its rich, vibrant color palette and gilded provenance, Paysage represents the best of Raza’s paintings from this transitional period in his oeuvre and would be a trophy in any collection.
‘He was intrigued by the way Rajput painters used color structurally, not naturalistically, to create vistas of palace compounds, gardens, forests, and hills.’ (Y. Dalmia, Journeys: Four Generations of Indian Artists in Their Own Words, 2 vols., Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2011, p. 52)