Rise of Indian artists: the case of Sayed Haider Raza and the latest New York results


The Indian art market is flourishing! After an unusually high level of art auction turnover in India during 2023, the country’s artists are fetching exceptional results in France and the United States, where Sayed Haider Raza has just renewed his auction record.

Artprice’s latest global art market report identifies India as the “surprise of the year 2023” (India 2023), after the country’s sales rooms posted a substantial growth in takings: up 76% vs. 2022 which was already a record year. The USD 152 million hammered by the Indian art market in 2023 gave the country 7th place in our global ranking of nations by the overall size of their secondary art markets. Demand was clearly stronger than usual with the year’s sold-through rate exceeding 95% versus a global average of 62%… and now in 2024, new records are still being hammered with works by India’s most famous 20th century artists gaining substantial value.

The recent acceleration of the Indian market has been driven by India’s major 20th century signatures like Vasudeo S. Gaitonde, Sayed Haider Raza and Tyeb Mehta, all crowned with new million-plus auction results last year. For Nishad Avari, the Sales Director of Christie’s South Asian Art Department, “prices are high for works by all the founding members of the Progressive Artists’ Group, because with hindsight collectors are becoming increasingly aware that it was a bold new movement founded during a momentous year for the country. No serious collection of South Asian art is complete without a healthy contingent of works by the Progressive Artist Group – and particularly works by Sayed Haider Raza.

Top 10 Artists by Auction Turnover in India (2023)

In France, “an extraordinary result, for an extraordinary painting” by Raza

Born in 1922 in Madhya Pradesh, in central India, Sayed Haider Raza lived in France for sixty years, from 1950 to 2011, during which time he frequently traveled back and forth between his native land and his adopted country. In 2023, a first museum retrospective of his work was organized at the Pompidou Center in Paris, an exhibition which is perhaps at the origin of the reappearance of works on the French market. Indeed, many French private collectors own major works by Raza, and they are often works capable of triggering enthusiastic bidding battles, being coveted both in India and in the United States.

After the sale of Raza’s painting The Rugged Landscape (1961) on 17 March, Guillaume Mermoz of the Métayer-Mermoz auction house in Antibes said “It is obviously a result which exceeds all our expectations: an extraordinary result, for an extraordinary painting”. In addition to being the largest Raza work offered for public sale in France in the last decade, the work constitutes a major rediscovery in the artist’s corpus since it had remained in the same collection without being exhibited since 1965. Today, the work returns to India with its new owner who bid up to EUR 4.7 million to obtain it (against an estimate ten times lower), a not-unexpected destination for a work by an artist considered one of the greatest Indian painters of all time. The Rugged Landscape joins 19 other Raza paintings to have fetched prices above the $1 million threshold, including Gestation (1989), which sold for more than $5.4 million at Pundole’s in Bombay last August, a record that was revised during the latest New York sales dedicated to South Asian art (see below)

Raza: geographic distribution 2023-2024 (copyright Artprice.com)

The latest New York sales confirm the trend

Sotheby’s and Christie’s recent New York sessions devoted to Asian Art generated a number of good results for Modern and Contemporary Indian artists, including Sayed Haider Raza. Sotheby’s owes almost a third of the sales total hammered at its last Asian sale to a work by Sayed Haider RAZA which set the artist’s new world record at $5.6 million on March 18. Another work by the artist – an untitled acrylic from 1978 – more than doubled its high estimate to fetch $1.4 million. Other good results were hammered for Bhupen KHAKHAR’s Hatha Yogi which fetched $1.8 million against a high estimate of $700,000, and an abstract painting from 1969 set a new auction record for Nasreen MOHAMEDI at $482,600.

Two days later at Christie’s, all 93 lots found buyers. A 100% success rate is indeed a rare event on the market and it suggests that collectors are currently highly motivated to acquire works by artists from South Asia and in particular by Indian artists. The highlight of the sale was a set of works from one of the most important collections of Modern and Contemporary Indian art, that of Umesh and Sunanda Gaur. The Gaurs’ first acquisition dates back to 1995 when they bought Maqbool Fida HUSAIN’s painting, Mother, at a Christie’s auction of Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art. Since then, the couple has built one of the most important collections of 20th and 21st century Indian masters, from Souza to Gupta, becoming key patrons of Indian art. The sale generated a new record for Francis Newton SOUZA whose depiction of an amorous couple fetched $4.89 million, almost five times its high estimate. Another good result was hammered for the Indian artist Gulam Mohammed SHEIKH. Last December one of his works set an unexpected new record at $2.5 million at Saffronart in Mumbai. Christie’s managed to sell his Portrait of a Tree for $1.38 million, against an estimated range of $150,000 – $250,000.

Raza and F.N. Souza renewed their personal bests at the latest New York sales dedicated to South Asian art.

F.N. Souza, The Lovers, $4.89m

Sotheby’s, Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art, 18 March 2024

Sales turnover including fees: $16.3 million (plus $3.5 million from the collection of Virginia & Ravi Akhoury dispersed on the same day)

Lots offered: 79

Lots sold: 75

Best-selling lot: Sayed Haider Raza’s Kalliste, at $5.6 million against a high estimate of $3 million.


Christie’s, South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art, including the collection of Umesh et Sunanda Gaur, 20 March 2024

Sales turnover including fees: $19.7 million

Lots offered: 93

Lots sold: 93

Best-selling lot: The Lovers by Francis Newton Souza set the artist’s new world record at $4.89 million, almost five times its high estimate.


Focus on Raza, the symbol of transcultural modernity

After training at the Nagpur School of Fine Arts, then at the Sir J.J. School of Art in Bombay, Sayed Haider Raza co-founded the Progressive Artists Group (known as PAG). PAG artists, such as Francis Newton Souza (1924-2002) and Maqbool Fida Husain (1915-2011), strived to develop Indian painting by reconciling Indian culture with modern Western painting. Their works were often exhibited together until 1950, the year when Sayed Raza obtained a scholarship from the French government and went to Paris to study at the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts. After graduation (1953), he made a radical technical and stylistic change, abandoning gouache for oil. He then joined the École de Paris, very fashionable at the time, experienced his first commercial successes thanks to the support of the Lara Vincy gallery, and received, in 1956, the prestigious Critics’ Prize, which gave him international recognition. His style further evolved after a stay in the United States in 1962. He left to teach at Berkeley, where he met the American expressionists Sam Francis, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. Thereafter his landscapes become abstract.

Rothko’s work opened up lots of interesting associations for me. It was so different from the insipid realism of the European School. It was like a door that opened to another interior vision.” Sayed Haider Raza

Looking for a new artistic path to explore in the 1970s, he made numerous trips to India and immersed himself in the metaphysical paths of the historical texts of his native country. He then adopted the geometric and symbolic motif of the bindu which he used systematically from the 1980s. The Indian government awarded him the Padma Shri in 1981, one of the highest civilian distinctions and the State of Madhya Pradesh awarded him the Kalidas Samman in 1996-97. He also received the Legion of Honor in 2010, the highest honorary distinction in France. Sayed Haider Raza, who left behind a lasting legacy in the Indian and international art world, is currently taking off in the art market.