Lot 15
  • 15

Maqbool Fida Husain

100,000 - 150,000 GBP
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  • Maqbool Fida Husain
  • Untitled (Nayika)
  • Signed in Devanagari lower right
  • Oil on canvas
  • 125.4 x 52 cm. (49 ⅞ x 20 ½ in.)
  • Painted circa 1950s


Saffronart, 9 December 2010, lot 42

Acquired from Grosvenor Gallery, London, 2011


There is minor craquelure with associated losses in areas of thicker paint only visible upon very close inspection. There is a larger loss in the red paint under the blue figures' hair. There is discolouration present associated with the retouchings most notably in the upper left quadrant. UV Light: There are scattered spots of retouching visible throughout, most notably in the red figures at the top, on the figures' legs, the left and lower edges and lower right corner. There is a corresponding patch on the reverse which shows previous restoration of the canvas as well.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Painted in the 1950s, Untitled (Nayika) demonstrates the myriad artistic sources that Husain used throughout his career to formulate a language of his own. In 1948, Husain visited the India Independence Exhibition with Francis Newton Souza and was struck by the classical Indian sculpture and traditional miniature painting from the Rajput and Pahari courts. "I deliberately picked up two to three periods of Indian history. One was the classical period of the Guptas, the very sensuous form of the female body. Next was the Basholi period, the strong colours of the Basholi miniatures. The last was the folk element." (Husain quoted in Nandy, The Illustrated Weekly of India, December 4-10, 1983).

In the early 1950's Husain embarked upon several experiments with the human figure. His earliest works appear two-dimensional like his cut-out toys, infilled with deceptively simple flat planes of colour, but his vocabulary evolves rapidly over the first half of the decade. It is clear that his first-hand encounters with the paintings of Paul Klee, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso during his travels to Europe in 1953 had a decisive impact on his art. 

In the two vibrantly painted nayikas in the foreground, we see the cheerful palette and Ashta-Nayika theme of Basholi paintings as well as the sculpted forms of Gupta and Mathura sculptures. The women are illuminated in varying shades of yellow ochre and blue while the rest of the painting is executed in a somber palette making them the focal point of the work. In the manner of Indian miniatures, he has cleverly used brighter shades in the foreground with darker hues receding into the background. The top row of red puppet like dancers are evocative of folk paintings inscribed on village walls.

'Husain was to paint a great compelling nude called Pagan Mother.  She is an earthy creature with a terra-cotta offspring between her thighs, but she is as warm and as blue as the high sky of a clear Himalayan day.  Without doubt she is the great earth mother, but suffused in her is the passion of a sky-god lover.' (Richard Bartholomew and Shiv S. Kapur, Husain, New York, 1971, p. 22). This quote about the historic painting Pagan Mother is relatable to this current painting as well. The main figure could be another depiction of the earth mother, and is rendered in a sky blue. The ochre figure she is embracing could be her terracotta offspring. This painting was also made around the same time as Husain's most iconic masterpieces such as Pagan Mother (1956), Between the Spider and the Lamp (1956) and Zameen (1955) in the NGMA, setting it apart from the rest of his artistic production and highlighting the importance of this work.

Speaking of Husain’s works from the 1950s, eminent critic Geeta Kapur has remarked, “For the next five years or so, the distinguishing mark of Husain’s style was a combination of clumsiness and grace in the figures portrayed. A typical figure of this period will hold up a hand to illustrate a bit of gossip; its large, ungainly feet will be placed in a pigeon-toed fashion, toes flexed to give the entire figure a quick, trim, alertness. One might say that Husain took the folk elements which lend a particular type of vitality – a puppet like buoyancy – and sophisticated them with the attributes of Indian sculpture.” (G. Kapur, Maqbool Fida Husain, Contemporary Indian Artists, Vikas Publishing House Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi, 1978, p. 142) This work is an unique example of Husain’s masterly synthesis of different classical forms, brought together on one stage.