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One of the greatest works by Sayed Haider Raza comes to auction at Sotheby's
Sayed Haider Raza, Ville Provenҫale. Courtesy Sotheby’s.

NEW YORK, NY.- Hidden from public view for years, Ville Provenҫale is one of the greatest and largest works by Indian artist Sayed Haider Raza to ever appear on the market. This painting 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 Provençale was displayed in 1956, before it was secreted away into private collections for many decades. A testament to the enduring legacy of one of the foremost pioneers of Indian Modern Art, Ville Provenҫale will be offered as the star lot of Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art Sale in New York on 19 March. The work will be exhibited as part of a travelling exhibition of highlights from the sale at The Oberoi Hotel in New Delhi from 22-23 February.

Yamini Mehta, International Head of South Asian Art, said: “Ville Provenҫale is a momentous, museum-quality work, which comes to light after being secreted away for most of its life. It is extremely rare for works by S.H. Raza from the 1950s of such size and calibre to come to the market. This painting is a unique hybridisation of Raza’s deep rooted Indian heritage with the post-war modernism that was blossoming in the French art scene. From its illustrious beginnings when painted under the patronage of renowned gallerist Lara Vincy, who was responsible for establishing the artist in the European art market; to its unveiling at the 1956 Venice Biennale, and finally the time spent in a private collection, Ville Provenҫale is a masterpiece.”

“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.” 1

Sayed Haider Raza’s influential relationship 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 BeauxArts. 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. 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 Provenҫale is an exceptional example of the result of this patronage.

1956, the year Ville Provenҫale 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 an historic show at the Musee d’Art Moderne, Paris. Two years prior, in 1954, the India Pavillion at the Venice Biennale hosted 60 paintings by 32 Indian artists. In 1956, Raza was invited to participate, however this time only four artists were chosen (Maqbool Fida Husain, Dinkar Kaushik, Akbar Padamsee and Sayed Haider Raza). Ville Provenҫale was one of the paintings chosen to be exhibited, with the intention of showcasing a new direction of Indian Art pioneered by these young artists inspired by Modern art movements.

Raza’s move to France provided him with the foundation on which to grow and flourish as an international artist; however it also encouraged him to reconnect with his Indian heritage. These compound influences proved most significant.

1 SH Raza in Coups de Coeur 1987, Exhibition Catalogue, Halles Sud, Geneva, 1987, p.26

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