Lot 51
  • 51

Sayed Haider Raza

150,000 - 200,000 GBP
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  • Sayed Haider Raza
  • Polarité
  • Signed, dated, titled and inscribed 'RAZA / 1994 / 120 X 120 cm / Acrylique sur toile / "POLARITE"' on reverse 
  • Acrylic on canvas
  • 119 x 119 cm. (47 x 47 in.)
  • Painted in 1994


Christie's London, 16 October 1995, lot 85


O. Germain-Thomas, Mandalas, Albin Michel, Paris, 2004, illustration p. 65
A. Bonfand, Raza, Éditions de la Différence, Paris, 2008, illustration p. 169


There is wear along the edges and minor accretions mostly visible in the areas with black paint. This painting could benefit from a light clean and is in very good overall condition, as viewed.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Polarité was executed in the mid-1990s, a period that can be considered the apex of Raza’s oeuvre. Around the late 1970s, Raza’s aesthetics underwent significant changes as he moved away from representational forms towards a new artistic concept based on abstract geometric principles. A career that began in the 1940s and spanned over sixty years, Raza created an idiosyncratic cannon in which the power of nature holds a prominent position.

In his early years in France, the artist studied the Western avant-garde and was intrigued by the endless possibilities of colour and form and what they could represent. Raza painted colourful and semi-abstract landscapes that were influenced by the Cubist landscapes of Paul Cezanne and Fauvist work by Henri Matisse. After spending nearly three decades in Europe, Raza reminisced about his upbringing in the rural area of Madhya Pradesh and felt the urge to reconnect with his home country. As a result of his desire to rekindle his Indian heritage, Raza’s art underwent a critical alteration. As he mentioned in an interview in 2007: ‘somewhere 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 colours in a manner that echoed Indian miniature painting.’ (Raza in conversation with Amrita Jhaveri, Sotheby’s Preview Magazine, 2007, p.57).

Ancient Indian philosophy is based on the notion of Time and Space, often visualised by cosmic diagrams (mandalas and yantras). These mandalas serve as instruments that are associated with inner-awareness and at a more universal degree represent the link between man and nature. Raza translates this concept by limiting his palette to only primary colours in order to render the elements of nature; red, yellow, blue, black and white symbolise fire, water, wind, earth and the sun. Points, lines and diagonals are utilised to “explore the forces that control the sacred order in the universe, and to express these forces.” (Geeti Sen, Bindu, Space and Time in Raza’s Vision, Media Transasia Ltd, New Delhi, 1997, p.137). This intellectual idea formed a catalyst for Raza’s new visual language and his paintings were becoming methodical and structured, showing similarities to the eccentric iconography of the mandala or yantras and the ideological beliefs they represent.

Polarité is an excellent example of Raza’s depiction of the bindu, considered the force that controls the sacred order of the universe. In Vedic Sanskrit Bindu means a point or a drop and forms the focal point for concentration in meditation. Raza was introduced by this form of connecting with the inner-self at the age of eight and evolved in his late oeuvre as a central subject: “It took many long years before I could realise in successive stages of my development the real significance of the bindu as a primordial symbol of energy, the still centre, or the seed. The concept has pursued me as a lode star, guiding me in life and my work as a painter, all through my life” (Geeti Sun, Bindu, Space and Time in Raza’s Vision, Media Transasia Ltd, New Delhi, 1997, p. 126).

The bindu often represents the seed of life, the bija, which is associated with fertility. In the present work Polarité a large and imposing lingam framed by a red border dominates the left side. In Indian metaphysics the lingam is closely related to the phallus symbol and Shiva, the creative principle and the giver of the seed of life. Opposed to that Raza pairs a smaller bindu characterised by energetic concentric rings with a blue downwards facing triangle, a symbol epitomising the feminine principle. By opposing the masculine and feminine, fire (red) and water (blue) Raza’s sacred and mystical diagram is replete with energy and establishes polarity or opposition. The present work is imbued with Indian symbology; the abstract entities coalesce into a grid to map the origins of the universe, and tie macrocosms and microcosms together. Polarité illustrates the artist’s distinctive aesthetic vocabulary in the mid-1990s.

In 1995, Indian artists were featured in the international auction space for the first time. Beginning in June with the Chester and Davida Herwitz single owner sale at Sotheby's and following in October that year with Christie's first auction, these two sales defined Modern Indian Art for a generation. The Christie's auction in 1995 was the first time that Indian artists were asked to contribute works for this purpose. According to Amrita Jhaveri who headed this first sale, "The artists that were approached were the best known from the subcontinent and at the pinnacle of their careers. Due to the unique circumstances of how the sale was designed, it is considered the first internationally 'curated' auction of Modern Indian Art."