“Many of us felt [in 1953] the need to leave for a country where art was a vital, essential activity. In India at the time, although there was a good working atmosphere, we did not feel the same stimulus as we would in Paris, for example, which was where many of us wanted to go... Instead of retreating to an “ashram” in the Himalayas to meditate, we came to Paris.” (SH Raza in Coups de Coeur 1987, Exhibition Catalogue, Halles Sud, Geneva, 1987, p. 26)
Sayed Haider Raza’s ties with France are undeniable – particularly with Paris and the Galerie Lara Vincy. After his graduation from the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, he worked with the Lara Vincy and later with her newly established gallery and together, they curated his first solo exhibition in Europe. This marked the inception of what was to be a fruitful, decades-long relationship. The Galerie Lara Vincy played an integral role in launching Raza’s career in to the public eye. “It was in France that Raza would grow into the master he had come to be universally acknowledged as and it was in France that his art matured to attain its unique identity and character.” (A. Vajpeyi, A Life in Art: Raza, Art Alive Gallery, New Delhi, 2007, p. 40)
Galerie Lara Vincy in its original location since 1955 - 47 Rue de Seine. Archives Galerie Lara Vincy, Paris
In 1955, Madame Lara Vincy opened up her gallery on 47 Rue de Seine in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Nestled in the 6th arrondissement, this area in Paris was the center stage for literary life in a post-World War II France. Frequented by Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, Saint-Germain became both the heart of the Existential movement and Parisian jazz scene. Its cafes and bars facilitated non-conformist dialogue and its atmosphere was heavy with the unrestrained notes of music and poetry. It was the perfect setting for a gallery predicated on embracing new trends and nurturing young artists.
From 1955 onwards, Raza had a regular contract with Lara Vincy and the Galerie itself which required him to provide paintings on a monthly basis. This regular commission was significant for Raza as it provided him with a substantial livelihood upon which he was able to maintain a practice in Europe. However, through his artistic pursuits he continually returned to his roots –: “what was important was that you ultimately came back to yourself.” (ibid., p. 70) This cyclical pattern allowed him to incorporate acquired sensibilities while maintaining his foundational beliefs. “[He] has combined in his art the French le sens plastique and a deeply rooted Indian vision. From painting landscapes and cityscapes, he has moved to explore inscapes, the inner reality through inner eyes. His art fuses sensuous colors with luminous spiritual grace.” (ibid., overleaf)
From left to right: Sayed Haider Raza, Liliane Vincy and a collector circa 1959, Archives Galerie Lara Vincy, Paris
Lara Vincy represented some of the leading emerging abstract artists from across the globe, including French artist René Allio; Japanese artist Akira Kito; Polish artist Stanislav Wostan; British artist Peter Clough, South Korean artist, Seund Ja Rhee and of course, Raza. Vincy’s guidance proved invaluable and helped Raza secure the coveted Prix de la Critique award, the first non-French artist to ever receive this honor in 1956. Raza’s career blossomed with the Galerie Lara Vincy and continued to flourish, receiving numerous international accolades. Raza held his first solo exhibition with the Galerie Lara Vincy in 1958 – a visual culmination of his first years in France. This marked the inception of what was to be a global artistic presence and within the same year he was included in the São Paulo Art Biennial.
A reciprocal relationship existed between Raza and France; it offered him a foundation upon which he could grow and explore, while also enabling him to rediscover his Indian roots. “France gave me for six decades, an evocative ambiance inspiring confidence and creativity and imagination, openness of ideas and innovation. More than anything else France made me realize my Indian inheritance in color and concept that came alive now at the age of 93 plus I owe a lot to France and an honour from the French [government] reconfirms this commitment.” (The Hindu, “Noted Indian Artist Sayed Haider Raza Conferred Highest French Civilian Honor — The Legion Of Honour”. 15 July 2015, n.p.). In July 2015, Raza was award the highest honor possible for a French civilian: he was made the Commandeur de la Legion d’honneur for his peerless achievements. Made to “not only recognize those who work with us but also all those whom we believe are beautifying the world and making the world better and indeed it is the case of Raza.” (ibid.)
Newspaper clipping featuring Madame Lara Vincy and her daughter, Liliane with gallery artists including Sayed Haider Raza (at far right)
As if in poetic symmetry, Raza’s introspective and reflective tendencies manifest themselves beautifully in another solo exhibition with Galerie Lara Vincy, almost six decades later, at the age of 93. The recent exhibition, simply titled, Raza, was held from the 19th October to 29th November, 2015. In recognition of this historic exhibition, the gallery also took the opportunity to reinstate some of its own foundational qualities. Youri Vincy (the grandson of Madame Vincy) was able to look at the original gallery plans she created and transported the exhibition space back to its original state; a synchronous journey mirroring Raza’s own journey and development.