It maybe argued that Villagen With Church is one of the most iconic works ever made by Indian modern artist, Syed Haider Raza, the ‘master of colours’. Created in 1958, the landscape is a stunning example of Raza’s style, particular of his works from the 1950s, with semi-abstracted forms and identifiable architectural elements. Heavy with impasto and littered with his use of paint
and pulsating colours, a dark blue-black background punctuated by strong reds, whites and yellows, Village With Church exudes a dynamic, tempestuous energy, characteristic of the artist.
This iconic painting was first purchased by John D Rockefeller and his wife, Blanchette at the exhibition, Trends in Contemporary Painting from India, held at the Graham Gallery in New York in February 1959, and remained in the Rockefeller collection until 1994.
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 Indira Gandhi. John and Blanchette Rockefeller were two of the most important early champions of modern Indian painting in the United States. Their patronage and support were key in introducing the work of the Progressive Artists’ Group in America, of which Village With Church is such a significant example.
Raza was born in 1922, in Madhya Pradesh, India. One of the founding members of the Progressive Artists’ Group in 1947 with M.F. Husain, F. N. Souza, and others, he was awarded a French Government Scholarship to study at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1950. Raza was deeply moved by the works of the European modernist masters, particularly Cézanne and Van Gogh at the time, and his works from this period echo the structure and formalism of both these artists. Although Paris became his home, Raza maintained strong ties with India, which are reflected in his series of works. In 1956, Raza was awarded the Prix de la Critique, in Paris, a turning point in his career, which led to recognition in France and internationally.
Village With Church represents the apex of Raza’s early period and is one of the seminal paintings from the ’50s and stands as an enduring legacy of one of the pioneers of Indian modern art. It was auctioned on March 19, 2012 in New York, at Sotheby’s, estimated to have been sold between $1.5 million to $2.5 million.
(Maithili Parekh, director at Sotheby’s, focuses on Indian art and business development for global Indian communities. She has been responsible for several key events, including bringing highlights from the Damien Hirst auction to New Delhi and a travelling exhibition of Indian and Chinese contemporary art to Mumbai.)
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