LONDON – One of the highlights from Sotheby's Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art sale, taking place on 6 October in London, is an untitled painting of a woman by the eminent Indian artist Maqbool Fida Husain. The painting is typical for the artist, who often turned to women in his work, both as individuals and in groups, as goddesses and as everyday figures.

In this work, Husain uses form and colour to depict an otherwise everyday scene as divine. The light that the figure exudes allows her to transcend the flattened space of the background, so that the subject appears as though she is of another world. The articulation of her face from the darkness and the boldness of the colour of her cloth give honesty to her presence and a beauty only Husain can distil. 

Property from a Private Collection, Maqbool Fida Husain, Untitled (Woman), 1955. Estimate £40,000–60,000.

Born on 17 September 1913, in Pandharpur, Husain was largely self-taught. In the 1940s, he acted as a founding member of the Bombay Progressive Artist’s Group, which encouraged an Indian avant-garde that was to differ from the nationalist style of the Bengal School.

In 1948, following a visit to the Indian Independence Exhibition with Francis Newton Souza, the artist was struck by the classical Indian sculpture and traditional miniature painting. “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 miniature. The last was the folk element,” Husain once said (as quoted in Nandy, The illustrated Weekly of India, December 4–10, 1983). This influence is observable throughout his body of work.