M. F. Husain was born in 1915 into a middle-class family; his father worked in a textile mill and his upbringing was both pious and strict. He had one year of formal art training at the Indore School of Art. During his time there he produced portraits on commission, but for his own artistic satisfaction he painted landscapes in the countryside surrounding Indore. In the late 1930s he moved to Bombay where he designed and painted the scenery for film sets and at the same time continued to train as an artist, even going to the Medical College to study anatomy. He began to produce cinema hoardings reproducing scenes from the film from memory, on canvases of vast proportions but by 1941 after the birth of his first son he gave up work on cinema hoardings for the stability of a monthly salary (Rs. 25) at Fantasy, a furniture company.
At the furniture company he designed and produced a series of colorful wooden toys. Although by 1947 he left the company to pursue his career as a professional artist his works produced shortly afterwards reveal his fascination and love for these toys. 'Husain's paintings of the post-Delhi phase are reminiscent of the toys which were his childhood companions, but created on a different level of consciousness. The dolls have grown into full maturity they have shed their clay bodies, to become a pattern of colour harmony. The colours are bold and contrasted in a balance to deepen the mystery of form.' (Ayaz S. Peerbhoy, Paintings of Husain, Bombay, 1955, introductory essay).
The current painting belongs to the body of work that he produced between 1948 and 1951 and it was exhibited at the Bombay Art Society in 1951 where it won the silver medal. Other works from this period include Marathi Women, Children in a Basket and Dolls Marriage. The style has a strong suggestion of Expressionistic distortion which becomes a hallmark of his later work and although Husain and the other members of the Progressive Artists Group clearly felt an affinity towards the experience of artists like Reiter in Munich, the distortion he adopts appears to be inspired by more immediate and personal concerns. The relationship between artist and childhood is crucial to the understanding of this period of Husain's work. Husain felt that he was searching for a childlike 'purity of feeling' so that he could create truly authentic works, but beyond the desire for purity the toys influence the artist in a more fundamentally artistic manner. In the same way as Picasso is influenced by the abstract forms of tribal art, Husain absorbs the colors and forms of the brightly coloured traditional Indian toys. The works retain the flat planes of color and slightly stiff postures of the two-dimensional toys but through further experimentation, his own early visual language evolves.
'The early experiments in a new style dazzled both painter and his friends. Husain was not yet master of the new idiom. He was still playing with memories of childhood playthings, of robbing them in different colours to make them gay with the joy of living, or sombre and shadowed with the burden of mundane life.' (ibid). These early women are 'wholesome women, their brown bodies fleshed out, their faces often a blur but full of energy and character. These were women who were survivors and who had negotiated the outside world and its hurly burly with great dexterity. Their existence however provincial was in the big city and their feet although rough and ready fell firmly on cement bricks.' (Yashodhara Dalmia, "M. F. Husain: Reinventing India," introductory essay to M. F. Husain, Early Masterpieces 1950s - 70s, Asia House, London, 2006).In reference to these early paintings Husain stated, 'my paintings, drawings and the recent paper work has been directly influenced by my experience of traditional Indian dolls, paper toys - shapes galore. The experience of being with them and the inspiration to create them are inseparable. A painter is a child in his purity of feeling - for only then he creates with authenticity of being.' (Husain quoted in Ayaz S. Peerbhoy, Paintings of Husain, Bombay, 1955, dust cover).
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