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Indian & South Asian Modern & Contemporary Art

A Modern Indian Master Finds Inspiration in Europe

Sayed Haider Raza’s connection with France was an important stepping stone for his career – particularly due to his association with the Galerie Lara Vincy. After his graduation from the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, he was represented by Lara Vincy and later exhibited in her newly established gallery. Together, they curated his first solo show in Europe. This marked the inception of what was to be a fruitful, decade long relationship.  

The Galerie Lara Vincy played an integral role in launching Raza and his art within Europe. 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 centre 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 cafés 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.  

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SAYED HAIDER RAZA,VILLE PROVENҪALE , 1956. TO BE OFFERED IN MODERN & CONTEMPORARY SOUTH ASIAN ART SALE , 19 MARCH 2018.

From 1955 onwards, Raza had a regular contract with Lara Vincy and the newly formed Galerie, which required him to provide paintings on a monthly basis. This regular commission was significant for Raza as it afforded him a substantial livelihood with which he was able to maintain a practice in Europe and created the perfect conditions for the progression of his art and offered him the freedom of exploration that he craved and for which he left India. ‘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)  

Lara Vincy represented some of the leading emerging abstract artists from across the world, 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 honour in 1956. Raza’s career truly blossomed in this year. Due to his exhibitions in Paris, he came to the attention of the cultural ambassador for India in Rome - Madanjeet Singh (1924 – 2013). Singh was born in Lahore in 1924 and played a major political role in the country’s struggle for Independence. He was imprisoned during Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘Quit India’ movement due to his anticolonial stance. In 1953, well after Independence and Partition, he joined the Indian Foreign Service, assisting in Italy, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Yugoslavia, Spain, Laos, Vietnam and Russia. He also served with distinction as Ambassador of India in Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa.  

"France gave me for six decades, an evocative ambiance inspiring confidence and creativity and imagination, openness of ideas and innovation."
Sayed Haider Raza, 'The Hindu', ‘Noted Indian Artist Sayed Haider Raza Conferred Highest French Civilian Honour — The Legion Of Honour’, 15 July 2015, unpaginated

Lara Vincy represented some of the leading emerging abstract artists from across the world, 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 honour in 1956. Raza’s career truly blossomed in this year. Due to his exhibitions in Paris, he came to the attention of the cultural ambassador for India in Rome - Madanjeet Singh (1924 – 2013). Singh was born in Lahore in 1924 and played a major political role in the country’s struggle for Independence. He was imprisoned during Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘Quit India’ movement due to his anticolonial stance. In 1953, well after Independence and Partition, he joined the Indian Foreign Service, assisting in Italy, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Yugoslavia, Spain, Laos, Vietnam and Russia. He also served with distinction as Ambassador of India in Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa.

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GALERIE LARA VINCY IN ITS ORIGINAL LOCATION SINCE 1995 – 47 RUE DE SEINE. IMAGE COURTESY ARCHIVES GALERIE LARA VINCY, PARIS.

An artist and photographer himself, he was in the unique position to curate and assist with India’s participation in the 1956 Venice Biennale. Raza was part of his final selection of artists and Singh has written the below explanation in the catalogue of the 1956 Venice Biennale, which has been translated from Italian:

In the 1954 Biennale, India participated with 60 paintings and 32 artists. This was to give an overview of all types of Indian painting. This year, because we want to give a better idea of the most recent and promising developments in Indian art, we have decided to exhibit the artwork of 4 young well-known artists who have already exhibited in Europe.  

In the paintings presented it is easy to see the synthesis between Oriental Art and Western Art. Despite using modern western techniques, in their canvases you can see the vitality of colors and the harmony of the tropics which are representative of India. Surely the painters have rediscovered their own personality in the art production of India, a slightly new direction.  

Raza was one of the most versatile Indian artists of this young generation. Further to his stay in Paris, he has abandoned his narrative style which was typical of representations in India. His style has evolved a lot. He travelled especially in France and Spain and spent two months in Italy. In France, he had multiple exhibitions that were well perceived by the public.  

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NEWSPAPER CLIPPING FEATURING MADAME LARA VINCY AND HER DAUGHTER, LILIANE WITH GALLERY ARTISTS INCLUDING SAYED HAIDER RAZA (FAR RIGHT). IMAGE COURTESY ARCHIVES GALERIE LARA VINCY, PARIS.

The fact that Raza was only one of four Indians representing the country speaks volumes and the fact that Ville Provençale was one of only 5 works by Raza that were chosen for the pavilion says even more. 

The reciprocal relationship that existed between Raza, India and France is also acknowledged by Singh. His time in France not only enabled his growth and experimentation but encouraged him to look back and rediscover his 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 realise my Indian inheritance in color and concept that came alive...” (The Hindu, ‘Noted Indian Artist Sayed Haider Raza Conferred Highest French Civilian Honour — The Legion Of Honour’, 15 July 2015, unpaginated).  

In Ville Provençale, Raza uses the saturation of hues and colors to display a new type of landscape; he simultaneously makes discourses about his new French abode while hearkening back to colors that remind him of his homeland. 

 

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