A European Summer Adventure with 4 Indian Artists

With the peak of the summer underway in Europe, join us on a unique trip through the continent, guided by eminent Indian artists including Souza, Raza, and more. We’ll take you to England, explore France, and spend a night in Italy before moving east to Greece and Hungary.

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F N Souza, London East End, 1956, oil on board, 24 x 48 in. Sold for INR 2.1 crores.

A SOJOURN WITH SOUZA

Our first stop is London, where our tour guide is the incomparable F N Souza. He moved to London in 1949, and explored the art galleries and museums there, gaining insights into the works of European artists and new styles of art. After a few years of hardship and struggle, Souza found his ground and began to exhibit at several London galleries that you can still visit today, such as Grosvenor Gallery and the Institute of Contemporary Arts. 

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F N Souza, Untitled (Hampstead), 1964, oil and polyvinyl acetate on canvas, 42 x 34 in. Sold for INR 4.55 crores.

The artist references two areas of this buzzing city that may be overlooked by tourists through his works London East End, 1956 and Untitled (Hampstead), 1964, both created during one of the most lucrative periods in his career. They feature his characteristic bold lines, and a dark palette that hints at the sombre atmosphere in the city during these post-war years.

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(L) Spitalfields Market, East London. Photo by Dr Neil Clifton via Wikimedia Commons. (R) Hampstead Heath, North London. Photo by Liz Pycock via Wikimedia Commons.

Today, though, the East End is one of the most multicultural areas of the city, with interesting displays of street art by the likes of Banksy. It is also home to the Old Spitalfields Market, a staple haunt of East Londoners. And though Souza’s dark and foreboding sky hints towards storms, on a warm summer day Hampstead Heath is a great place for a picnic with friends or just relaxing with a good book. Alternatively, take in the famous London skyline from atop Parliament Hill or stroll down Queen’s Walk by the Thames. On a rainy day, borrow a leaf from Souza’s book and explore great art for free at the National Portrait Gallery or the Tate Britain, both of which have previously exhibited his works.  

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A RENDEZVOUS WITH RAZA

Moving from London to France, we’re joined by S H Raza at a Parisian coffee shop for his recommendations and travel tips on some of the most picturesque villages in France. Raza’s journey from the forests of Madhya Pradesh to Paris via Mumbai influenced his gestural style of representing emotion through colour.

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S H Raza, St. Fargeau, 1957, gouache on paper, 19 x 24.5 in. Part of the exhibition Raza: A Retrospective, New York, Saffronart in association with Berkeley Square Gallery, 21 Sept – 31 Oct 2007.

But we won’t be going to Paris for now. Raza begins our tour in the village of St. Fargeau in Burgundy, France. When the artist first moved to France, the change in environment seemed to stimulate his creativity, inspiring him to pay more attention to form and structure in his works. This street scene is reminiscent of Rue de Remusat in Paris, lined with shops and cafes. In Raza’s interpretation, modern structures take their place amongst medieval ones to create a town that has successfully adapted to contemporary times. Besides walking down this street and trying to recreate Raza’s portrayal of it, visit the Château de Saint-Fargeau, a 17th century Renaissance castle, or the Musée de l’Aventure du Son (Museum of Sound Discovery) that boasts a large collection of musical instruments. 

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S H Raza, Carcassonne, 1951, gouache, oil crayon and ink on paper pasted on board, 18 x 21 in. Sold for INR 95 lakhs.

Our next stop is Carcassonne, a hilltop town in southern France famous for its medieval citadel, La Cite. When Raza first came here while exploring the French countryside, he was enchanted by its rustic elegance. His portrayal of the town depicts the now iconic turrets of the upper fortress that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The stylised houses, towers, and spires in this painting highlight the hierarchical construction of the town. A visitor’s first excursion will no doubt be to the fortress, but after that a walk across the Pont Vieux (Old Bridge) would be a great place to take in the town’s medieval charm. 

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S H Raza, Village En Provence, 1957, oil on cardboard pasted on canvas, 25 x 72 in. Sold for INR 4.8 crores.

Moving east, Raza now introduces us to Provence through a six-foot-long, panoramic view of the South of France. This painting, titled Village en Provence, demonstrates the peak of the artist’s infatuation with the French countryside. He embraces all aspects of this landscape and uses brilliantly bold colours to depict the houses, spires, and trees, juxtaposing them with a Prussian blue sea. 

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Baux de Provence, via Wikimedia Commons

Raza’s vibrant colours give us an idea of what to expect from this landscape that has inspired many other artists. Provence is known for its markets full of fresh produce, so it’s a great opportunity to sample some of the local flavours before heading out for the day. The dynamic landscape ensures that there’s something for everybody, from pristine beaches to vineyards nestled in nearby hills. 

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S H Raza, Haut de Cagnes, 1951, gouache on paper, 27 x 28.5 in. Sold for INR 5.75 crores.

Raza continues the tour further south in the French Riviera, stopping at Cagnes-sur-Mer. In his 1951 painting Haut de Cagnes, he gives us a view of this small, 12th century hilltop village that has inspired artists from Renoir to Modigliani. Raza paints the buildings as neat blocks of colour, displaying a sense of geometric construction that demonstrate a marked difference from his previous gestural works. The change in style helped Raza understand form, structure, and colour, and was influenced by medieval European, early Renaissance and Indian miniature art. To learn more on colour relationships, visit the Musee Renoir, located in the French artist’s former home. Alternatively, venture into the mountains and try one of the hiking trails. 

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S H Raza, Village au Soleil, 1956, oil on board, 20.5 x 26 in. Part of the exhibition Raza: A Retrospective, New York, Saffronart in association with Berkeley Square Gallery, 21 Sept – 31 Oct 2007.

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Coastal border of Menton. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

After spending a day in Cagnes-sur-Mer, we continue on our journey to Menton, another small town on the French Riviera that inspired Raza to paint Village au Soleil (Village in the Sun). This painting captures the region’s unique landscape of hills rising up from the sea. Raza’s brushstrokes and style were influenced by Paul Cézanne, an artist whose works he had been exposed to in several galleries and museums in France. The light palette that he used to depict the warmth of the midday sun also captures the feeling of freedom and joy, making this the perfect place to stop on the Riviera. Visitors can choose to relax on one of the gorgeous beaches or head into the city to visit the exotic botanical gardens and the White Penitents Chapel with its iconic decorative facade.

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S H Raza, Untitled (Venice), 1952, gouache on paper, 20.75 x 17.25 in. Sold for INR 1.71 crores.

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A view of present day Venice. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Finally, Raza insists on bringing us to Venice in Italy, where he travelled for two months during his early years in France. This painting features a tightly composed landscape set against swirling dark canals. The traditional gondolas in the foreground help to articulate this interpretation of a serene Venetian night. During Raza’s travels across Europe, he was influenced by medieval European art, particularly the poetic sensitivity of Byzantine painting. A great place to see Byzantine art in Venice is the Basilica di San Marco, and for modern art, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Don’t miss the ongoing 58th Venice Biennale for some of the best contemporary art from around the world. The Ponte Rialto and the terrace of the Fondazione dei Tedeschi, a nearby department store, are ideal to take in the magnificent views of the city.

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Akbar Padamsee, Greek Landscape, 1960, plastic emulsion on canvas, 52 x 144 in. Sold for INR 19.19 crores (approx USD 3 million).

AN ODYSSEY WITH PADAMSEE

For our next destination, we leave the world of the Romans behind and travel to Greece, the birthplace of democracy, with Akbar Padamsee. He moved from Paris to Mumbai in 1959, and began creating a series of “Grey Works” from his new home in Juhu. Greek Landscape, 1960, was titled by Padamsee’s friend, the artist Krishen Khanna. Despite the cityscape being a product of Padamsee’s imagination, the structure and layout of the houses depicted is distinctly Mediterranean.

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A view of Santorini. Photo by Kriti Bajaj.

This sweeping, sculptural view allows us to observe how the city has grown and developed, and how Padamsee has refined his ability to depict space. While in Greece, Athens and Santorini are obvious choices, but it’s worth visiting places off the beaten path, such as the tiny island haven of Skyros. 

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Amrita Sher-Gil, Untitled (Zebegeny Landscape), 1931, oil on board, 24 x 16 in. Sold for INR 4.75 crores.

A RAMBLE WITH SHER-GIL

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Street view of Zebegény, Hungary. Photo by Balazs Kekesi via Wikimedia Commons.

Leaving beaches and cities behind, we travel north to Hungary, where Amrita Sher-Gil adds ‘tour guide’ to her extensive resume. We meet the artist in the picturesque, historic village of Zebegény on the banks of the river Danube in Pest. Born in Budapest, Sher-Gil lived in India and Paris before revisiting Hungary, and spent many holidays in this village. Charmed by the landscape, she likely painted her surroundings en plein air, playing with light and colour to depict a grassy path meandering along a thatched wall. The town’s mountains and forests provide a peaceful landscape, perfect for a relaxing stroll outdoors, as well as cycling, hiking, kayaking and other adventures.

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S H Raza, Flora Fountain in Monsoon, 1945, watercolour and gouache on paper pasted on board, 21 x 24.5 in. Part of the exhibition Raza: A Retrospective, New York, Saffronart in association with Berkeley Square Gallery, 21 Sept – 31 Oct 2007.

IT ALL BEGAN IN INDIA

We end our trip in Mumbai, where Raza is waiting once again to welcome us back home with the monsoon. His watercolour rendition, Flora Fountain in Monsoon, was painted when he had moved to Mumbai to continue his art education, and was working at a studio overlooking this landmark business district. The painting portrays a deluge of rain that would bring life in any other city to a standstill, but as we all know, life in Mumbai never stops, and the shining streets are a welcome sight after a long time away from home.

SIMRAN SANGHI

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