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Home >Mint-lounge >Features >First look: S.H. Raza’s early work ‘Ville Provenҫale’ comes to India before its sale

Billionaires of the world, unite! An early painting by the towering figure of Indian modern art, Sayed Haider Raza, “secreted away for most of its life", is coming on the market. A semi-abstract work that was painted in France in 1956, titled Ville Provenҫale, it will be auctioned at Sotheby’s, New York on 19 March as part of the Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art Sale.

Before that, it’s going on a tour to drum up interest and will be on display in Delhi on 22-23 February. Yamini Mehta, international head of South Asian art at Sotheby’s, writes on email, “It’s extremely rare for a major work from this period of Raza’s career to appear at auction."

Why is it important? The work was chosen for the India booth at the 1956 Venice Biennale. It was painted about two decades before he entered his famous bindu phase, in which he played with concentric circles and geometric shapes in bold colours to suggest cosmic themes. Today, the bindu paintings have somewhat overshadowed his earlier experiments in Western styles.

This work is uniquely different. From afar, it’s a hotchpotch of random shapes, but move closer and you can make out rooftops and houses that sit cheek by jowl. If the name wasn’t Ville Provenҫale, it could even pass off as, say, the Kumbh Mela. It’s huge (his largest work from that period), roughly 6x3ft.

Mehta doesn’t give any auction estimates. “But I can tell you that we expect a painting of this importance to fetch in excess of $2.5 million (about Rs16 crore)." That might seem small change after our shock thresholds were lifted significantly last year by the sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, which fetched $450million.

In such circumstances, of course, it becomes challenging (maybe impossible) to see the work for just what it is—to see the French rooftops and houses rendered with paint on canvas, before all the zeroes enter the frame.

Ville Provenҫale by Sayed Haider Raza will be auctioned at Sotheby’s, New York on 19 March and will be on display from 22-23 February at The Oberoi, New Delhi. For details, visit here.

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