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Sotheby's New York to sell 'The Rockefeller Raza' during Asia Week sales in March
Sayed Haider Raza, Village With Church, 1958. Photo: Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, N.Y.- Among the highlights of Sotheby’s March 2012 Asia Week sales in New York is one of the most significant paintings by Sayed Haider Raza ever to appear on the market - Village With Church from 1958. The painting was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller III from the landmark 1958-59 exhibition Trends in Contemporary Painting In India and remained in their historic collection until 1994. Village With Church represents the apex of Raza’s early period and is estimated to sell for $1.5/2.5 million. The painting will be included in Sotheby’s sale of Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art on 19 March 2012 and will be on view beginning 16 March.

Priyanka Mathew, Head of the Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art Sale at Sotheby’s said: “We are delighted to bring this important and historic painting to auction. John D. and Blanchette Rockefeller were two of the most important early champions of modern Indian painting in the United States. Their patronage and support was key in introducing the work of the Progressive Artists’ Group in America, of which Village With Church is such a significant example.”

John D. Rockefeller III, the eldest son of John D. Rockefeller Jr., devoted his life to the promotion of Asian-American relations. Along with his wife he made several visits to India, meeting numerous artists, businessmen and politicians, including Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi.

Perhaps his most notable achievement was the establishment of the Asia Society in New York - an organization that continues today with the goal of bringing ‘the peoples of the United States and Asia closer together in their knowledge of each other and each other’s way of life.’ Central to this mission was promoting cultural exchange and addressing the lack of exhibitions of Asian art in the US.

In addition to the Asia Society, John D. Rockefeller III founded both the Indian Cooperative Union and the American Association for Economic and Social Development, for which Thomas Keehn was the representative of the Rockefeller Foundation. Keehn lived in India and befriended many of the artists who became known as the Progressive Artists’ Group. He went on to organize 8 Painters, an exhibition of their work held in Delhi in 1956 that included Village With Church. This exhibition would later expand and transfer to the U.S. as Trends In Contemporary Painting In India, the first such exhibition ever mounted in America. It was shown in numerous museums and galleries throughout the U.S. and was received as both a critical and popular success. Among the stops was a show at Graham Gallery in New York where the painting caught the eye of the Rockefellers.

Raza spent a considerable portion of his career in France, first arriving in 1950 and still today maintaining a studio in the south of France. He was deeply moved by the works of the European modernist masters, particularly Cézanne and van Gogh, and his works from this period echo the structure and formalism of both of these artists. Receipt of the prestigious Prix de la Critique (Critic's award) in 1956 afforded Raza both international recognition and the freedom to leave Paris and travel throughout his beloved adopted homeland. Throughout the 1950s in France, Raza painted the landscapes of Europe in semi-abstracted forms, but with identifiable architectural elements that provide a constant link to human activity. Heavy with impasto and punctuated with staccato gestural strokes, Village with Church exudes a dynamic, tempestuous energy so characteristic of the artist; a hybrid of the lyrical abstraction redolent of the postwar École de Paris, and the vibrancy and direct color treatment of a Rajput miniature. Village With Church is one of the seminal paintings from this period and stands as an enduring legacy of one of the pioneers of Indian Modern Art.

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