Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art

Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 77. Untitled.

Property from a Private Collector, France

Sayed Haider Raza


Auction Closed

October 26, 03:08 PM GMT


250,000 - 350,000 GBP

Lot Details


Property from a Private Collector, France

Sayed Haider Raza

1922 - 2016


Acrylic on canvas

Signed and dated RAZA '79' lower left and further signed, dated and inscribed 'RAZA / 130x130 cms / 1979' on reverse

129.5 x 129.8 cm. (51 x 51 ⅛ in.)

Painted in 1979

Acquired directly from the artist, 1979

This work will be included in a revised edition of SH RAZA, Catalogue Raisonné, Volume II (1972 - 1989) by Anne Macklin on behalf of The Raza Foundation, New Delhi (Image ref SR4007)

‘In the thickness of his matter, a whole network of coloured veins circulated; flashing reds and yellows pierced deep blacks. Effects of tension and nervous agitation upset shadowy zones. The composition itself was affected by this, and in a given work, the compressed pulsations of the forms, the character of which could be defined as anguishing, were in opposition to immense, light and calm surfaces. Thus, ever faithful to his deep sentiments, Raza sought to free himself of the oppression of the night and to glorify the serenity rediscovered in the light of dawn’.

(J. Lassaigne quoted in Raza: A Retrospective, Saffronart, New York, 2007, p. 76)

When Raza moved to America in 1962 to teach at Berkeley, he came into contact with many American painters; Sam Francis, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. Buoyed by these exponents of Abstract Expressionism, Raza began to paint with abstract narratives and a deeper sense of spatial recession. His abstract landscapes painted in the 1970s and early 1980s such as the current work from 1979 were influenced by the medley of styles he had encountered in both Paris and Berkeley. Drawing elements from the French countryside where he resided, along with his childhood memories of India, these works mark a very important transitional phase in his career. 

This untitled painting was created on the cusp of Raza’s progression towards formal geometric compositions. Here, the artist retains the gestural movement of his earlier works, applying vibrant, earthy hues with thin, translucent veneers of paint. The use of the quick-drying acrylic allowed for freer and more expressive brushstrokes, and captures the joy with which Raza handled paint when he put brush to canvas. Indeed, Raza’s exquisitely executed paintings go beyond simply organizing space on a surface with pigment and line, they express profound human feelings. 

Of Raza’s many variations of paintings created at this time, this work is one of the more brooding, atmospheric and powerful examples. The artist is able to capture the delirium of the dark and dense Madhya Pradesh forests which he experienced as a child, and the mystical power of nature more generally, through his bold use of colour. The artist recalls,

“The most tenacious memory of my childhood is the fear and fascination of Indian forests. We lived near the source of the Narmada river in the centre of the dense forests of Madhya Pradesh. Nights in the forest were hallucinating; sometimes the only humanizing influence was the dancing of the Gond tribes. Daybreak brought back a sentiment of security and well-being. On market-day, under the radiant sun, the village was a fairyland of colours. And then, the night again. Even today I find that these two aspects of my life dominate me and are an integral part of my paintings.”

- Sayed Haider Raza

(Y. Dalmia, The Making of Modern Indian Art: The Progressives, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2001, p. 155)

This painting is a testament to Raza’s intellectual aptitude and artistic brilliance, imparting his complex and theoretical thoughts into a masterpiece of great beauty and fluidity.