The award was bestowed by Ambassador Francois Richier at a function at the French Embassy here late last evening to mark celebrations of the French National Day.

"I salute France, it's life art and people on this occasion and accept the honour greatly. I am deeply grateful," Raza said in an acceptance speech read out by friend  Ashok Vajpeyi a noted poet and essayist.

The French honour was conferred on the 93-year-old artist in acknowledgment of his peerless achievements transcending all boundaries, the lasting ties he has forged between France and India, and his continuing artistic quest straddling nations, cultures, religions and philosophies.

Created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, the award is given for outstanding service to France, regardless of recipients' nationality. “The honour is presented on behalf of French President to not only recognise 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," Richier said.

A short film depicting Raza working in his studio played on a screen in the background while Richier summarised the artist's life and work for an audience that comprised a cross section of people, including fellow artists Kishen Khanna and Ram Kumar who were associated with the Progressive artist's group of the 1950s of which he was a founding member.

Terming Raza as the most humble, the most extraordinary man Richer said during decades of work in France, Raza successfully merged Indian inspiration with a little bit of French art environment.

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