Born: 22 February 1922
Died: 23 July 2016

Sayed Haider Raza - Paintings


Widely recognized as one of the undisputed masters of modern Indian art, Sayed Haider Raza is an artist whose art fuses sensuous colours with luminous spiritual grace. He was born on the 22nd of February 1922 in a rural house in Babariya, Madhya Pradesh to a family of a forest ranger. Tall in physical height and lofty and generous in vision and conduct, Raza was nurtured in a caring and sensitive ethos in which strict discipline, helpfulness and single-minded pursuit were ingrained as basic values. Little did anyone know that years later, both in Bombay and Paris, these same values would come in handy in the long and arduous struggles for both material and artistic survival of Raza. His childhood memories, to include the lesson of concentrating on ‘Bindu’ given by an indulgent school teacher to help the way-ward mind of an anxious body have all played crucial role in the Raza repertoire. He is not a nature-painter in any conventional sense but he paints out of a deep and abiding respect for nature. It has been his teacher — the lesson of joy, colour, celebration, tenacity, vastness and enormity have all come to be imbibed by Raza in the school of nature which he seemed to have joined unwittingly and from which he never exactly came out. The long phase of his earlier career has been devoted to landscape-painting and one suspects the early childhood experiences of nature might have much to do with inspiring and sustaining that trend. Another element which has persisted is his love for language which he incorporates in some of his paintings and it is invariably in Hindi or Sanskrit. He has given the mother-tongue a rare visual expression and dignity. Raza’s later period art is also full of these early childhood memories, resonances and images transformed into highly sophisticated art. Raza joined the Art School of Nagpur which was structured on the British academic concepts and had very little to do with either the Indian reality or the Indian tradition of visual arts. The training gave him skills but no vision; in any case, a kind of confusion as to how to go about painting in India. While studying here in Nagpur which he himself termed as ‘very academic’, he learnt to work both in the western and traditional Indian styles in painting and stood ‘fourth in all India competition at Sir J.J. School of Art where students came from all over the country. He graduated from Nagpur in 1943. After his father retired from government service, Raza became a drawing teacher in a small town Gondiya in the Government National School. He was granted a scholarship at J.J. School of Art, Bombay and studied there from 1943-47. Raza stayed in Bombay to pursue his art training rather than going back to yet another government teaching job offered to him at Akola. He worked several jobs struggling hard to overcome financial difficulties and physical problems to continue to learn, discover and paint. While as a student, Raza had tried his hand at a variety of artistic expressions including portraiture and human figuration, as an artist he chose not to have human figures in his works - the human presence is evoked by its figurative absence on the canvas. He then painted landscapes, townscapes and, what was to become his life-long theme of art, nature.

The mid-forties in Bombay, as in India, were a period of turmoil and churning. Raza was caught in a whirlwind. It was in this critical moment, both historically and artistically, that some of the creative souls of that period came together to form the Progressive Artists Group in 1948. Raza was one of them. Initially thought of by three young painters, Francis Newton Souza, Syed Haider Raza and H.A. Gade, each one of them brought one more artist to the group in keeping with their joint decision, therefore having six members. Progressive Artists group was a loosely put together organization which did not last for long and held only one show and though it was a loose combination, it allowed for pluralistic approach to life and art. Here, Raza began to be not only a painter, but a modern painter.

Raza - Indian Artist

After receiving a French Government Scholarship in 1950 he left for Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts, Paris, where he was awarded the Prix de la Critique in 1956. In 1962 he served as a visiting lecturer at the University of California in Berkeley, USA. Raza has several solo exhibitions to his credit, including ‘Paysage: Select Works 1950s-1970s’, ‘Parikrama: Around Gandhi’, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, in 2014; ‘Shabd-Bindu’, Akar Prakar, Kolkata, in 2013; ‘Vistaar’, Art Musings and Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, in 2012-13, ‘Bindu Vistaar’, Grosvenor Gallery, London, in 2012; ‘Punarangman’, Vadehra Art Gallery and Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, in 2011; ‘Ones’ at Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, in 2011 and 2010; Tao Art Gallery, Mumbai, 2008 and 2006; and Saffronart and Berkeley Square Gallery, London and New York, 2005. In 2007 Saffronart held a major retrospective of his work in New York. Raza’s work has been exhibited in several group exhibitions including those at Aicon Gallery, New York and London, in 2014, 13, 12, 11, 10; the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, in 2009; Grosvenor Gallery, London, Mumbai, 2004; Saffronart and Pundole Art Gallery, New York, 2001 and 2002; and Saffronart, Hong Kong and Los Angeles, 2001 among several others. Raza received a Lalit Kala Ratna from the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi in 2004, and a Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri from the Government of India in 2007 and 1981 respectively. The Madhya Pradesh State Government also awarded him with the Kalidas Samman in 1996-97. Raza lived and worked in Paris and Gorbio, France, till 2011. The artist passed away in New Delhi in July 2016.

Text Reference:
Excerpt from the book ‘A Life in Art: Raza’ by Ashok Vajpeyi published by Art Alive Gallery in 2007; Understanding Raza by Ashok Vajpeyi published by Vadehra Art Gallery


  • Silver Medal, Bombay Art Society, Mumbai, 1946
  • Gold Medal, Bombay Art Society, Mumbai, 1948
  • Prix de la critique, Paris, 1956
  • Padma Shri; the Government of India, 1981
  • Fellowship of the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, 1981
  • Kalidas Samman, Government of Madhya Pradesh, 1992-1993
  • Lalit Kala Ratna Puraskar, Lalit Kala Academy, New Delhi, 2004
  • Padma Bhushan; the Government of India, 2007
  • Padma Vibhushan; the Government of India, 2013
  • One of the greatest living global Indian legends ... NDTV INDIA, 2013
  • D Litt (Honoris Causa), Indira Kala Sangit Vishwavidyalaya, Khairagarh, Chhattisgarh, 2014
  • Commandeur de la Légion d’Honneur (the Legion of Honour); Republic of France, 2015
  • D Litt (Honoris Causa), Shiv Nadar University, Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh, 2015


  • S.H. Raza ‘Catalogue Raisonne’ 1958-1971
  • S.H. Raza ‘Mandalas’
  • Understanding Raza
  • A Life in Art
  • Passion: Life and Art of Raza

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