One of India’s most internationally celebrated artists, Maqbool Fida Husain’s (1915-2011) career began in 1947—the same year that country won its independence from Great Britain. He was a founding and lifelong member of the Bombay Progressive Artists' Group, comprised of six young artists who wanted to “look at the world from an Indian way, not a British way,” according to fellow member, Sayed Haider Raza. The artists shared a collective desire to forge a modern Indian art for a new country.
The untitled painting offered by Freeman’s is a representation of one of Husain’s most vibrant and creative periods, and is marked by his use of quasi-Cubist faceting and thick, textured layers of impasto on the canvas. Its figural elements are represented in bright blue jewel tones and strong lines set against fields of earthy brown, creating a contrast that evokes the palette of daily life in rural India. As is characteristic of works from this period and into the mid-1960s, an abstract field of white and gray surrounds the borderless central subject, consistently separating figure from ground, cutting off elements like the blue hand at right, and bleeding over the green and brown paint in the upper left section. The artist’s decision to integrate figure and ground in this way creates a balanced composition that is quite distinct from his treatment of iconic subjects like the Indian epic, Mahabharata, that appear later in the 1960s. Across the canvas, paint is applied in overlapping layers; lines are thick and expressive, as seen in his early and mid-career work. Husain in this period was surrounded by leading modernist peers, including Tyeb Mehta and V.S. Gaitonde, who were beginning to explore elements of gesture and abstraction. It appears from this work that Husain absorbed certain aspects of their concerns, if only around this moment.
This painting was acquired in 1959 at the Dhoomimal Gallery in New Delhi by Americans living there who worked for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Established in 1937, the gallery was a leading art center in India in the years around its independence, as no true commercial galleries were established in that country’s main artistic centers of Bombay and Delhi until the early 1960s. Dhoomimal’s importance in these years was noted as much for its presence as a lively center where artists could meet, as for its critical or commercial ambitions. This aspect was key for artists like Husain, who was known for his sociability in India’s developing art scene of the 1940s and 50s. Freeman’s is particularly pleased to offer this striking work from a pivotal time in India’s history by one of its modern, mid- century masters.
This work sold for $51,200 at the 2 November 2014 auction of Modern & Contemporary Art.