Syed Haider Raza, ‘Untitled (Benares)’, 1943, Christie's South Asian + Chinese

Syed Haider Raza's early watercolor landscapes are an intriguing manifestation of his formative years. Born in Madhya Pradesh, in the heart of India, Raza grew up in a small village surrounded by nature, which would continue to be a central theme throughout his work. On coming to Bombay to study at the J.J. School of Arts, Raza painted mostly in watercolors, as it was the preferred medium of art schools at the time. During this time, with the support of the art critic, Rudy von Leyden, his tutor and mentor, Walter Langhammer, and his patrons, Kekoo Gandhy and Emanuel Schlesinger, Raza discovered and nurtured the primary artistic inspiration that reverberates throughout his career; the land and nature around him. Subsequent travels to Kashmir where he would met photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1948 and to Benares further inspired his practice.

This landscape, painted in 1943, the year Raza joined the J.J. School of Arts, anticipates these travels and depicts the harmonious synergy of pilgrims on the banks and the architectural silhouettes of the temples and monuments. Within this composition, the landscape metamorphoses into a harmonious, organic, seamless entity with its myriad of cadences and surfaces which dissolve into one another. The play of light, which is effortlessly illustrated in a soft diffusive style, acts as a lyrical signifier of the mood and movement of the place.

"The sheen and shimmer of water, its reflections upon aged monuments, the meeting of water and the sky and the coming and going of pilgrims along the ghats are his first choice." (G. Sen, Bindu: Space and Time in Raza's Vision, New Delhi, 1997, p. 49)

Signature: signed and dated 'S. H. RAZA 43' (lower left)

About Syed Haider Raza

Sayed Haider Raza is one of the most prominent and groundbreaking Indian painters of his generation. During his training in France, Raza experimented with a variety of Modernist styles through landscape painting—first inspired by Expressionism, and later by geometric abstraction. In 1970, Raza began to paint purely geometric forms, particularly the circle and the dot, which he likened to the idea of the bindu. Though his style changed drastically over the course of his career, Raza’s works were all united in their emphasis on color, and their references to memory and mood. Raza was also responsible for founding the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group (PAG) with Krishna Hawlaji Ara and Francis Newton Souza, with the purpose of turning away from the European realist styles taught in Indian art schools, and establishing a modernist vocabulary relevant to India.

Indian, 1922-2016, Madhya Pradesh, India, based in Paris, France

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