Sotheby's New York, 5 December 2000, Contemporary Indian Paintings from the Collection of Chester and Davida Herwitz, Lot 176
D. Elliot, Musgrave, V., and E. Alkazi, India: Myth and Reality, Aspects of Modern Indian Art, Oxford, 1982, illustration p. 51
B.K. Singh, Maqbool Fida Husain, Rahul & Art, New Delhi, 2008, illustration p. 130
In The Sixth Seal, the central vignette or seal depicts a figure giving birth flanked by five further seals illustrating the Goddess Ganga, galloping horses, a bearded wise sadhu (possibly a self portrait), a series of folk heads, and a human hand performing the fear abating mudra. Critics have discussed the significance of the hand in Husain's work. 'The human hand for instance, an expressive symbol in Indian dance, recurs frequently in Husain's paintings. It is usually given an independent life, almost separate from the body to which it belongs. It occurs with mystical markings on the palm, is lightly made, sometimes deeply shadowed, enclosed as though upon a secret.' (S. Kapur, Husain, Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, 1961, p. vii).'The imprint of hand, which features often in Husain's work, is one of the primordial symbols, undoubtedly one of the first visual expressions of man's consciousness of his own presence. In Husain's case, two factors have interposed to give it meaning. Since his childhood he had seen the Panja depicted in Islamic iconography. At a later stage the Panja becomes the mudra under the inspiration of Bharata Natyam.' (G. Kapur, Contemporary Indian Artists, New Delhi, 1978, p. 128)
Interestingly in The Sixth Seal, unlike some of the 1950s works, there appears to be a narrative between some of the vignettes, such as the central birthing figure reaching across the divide to the Goddess Ganga, a symbol of the life cycle. Husain's iconography is '...real, functional and metaphoric, all at the same time. The images appear to be carelessly computed until one notes that such after all is the pattern in folk arts as well; for while myths and legends let loose a hoard of images for the folk artist, the artist reciprocates by feeding the myths with his creative fantasy.' (ibid. p. 132). The stylisation and reference in the title clearly indicate the influence of the ancient Harappan seals of Mohenjodaro that Husain would have seen exhibited at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Delhi. This exhibition of medieval and classical Indian art was organised by the Royal Academy in 1948. As Dalmia states 'For Husain, it was in many ways a turning point in his career. It was at this juncture that he conceived his essential form that is pivotal to his work... (Y. Dalmia The Making of Modern Indian Art, The Progressives, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2001, p. 102). Following the exhibition, Husain began to incorporate elements of classical Indian sculpture, painting and folk art within his work.
From early on in his career Husain's art was centered around the depiction of the human figure and in particular the rural indigenous peasant with their large rough hands and upright torsos that reflected the daily grind of the working classes that surrounded him. This is also reflected in one of the seals in this painting. 'There is an exalted dignity about the people who inhabit Husain's canvases. Peasants, workers, craftsmen, women toiling in fields, or huddled together in conversation all have self contained poise, the stoic patience and grace associated with the common people...he captures in their postures and lineaments their distinctive ethos and culture...not by physiognomy or costume alone are they differentiated, but in their total bearing and presence.' (E. Alkazi, M. F. Husain: The Modern Artist and Tradition, Art Heritage, New Delhi, 1978, p. 22)
'He has been unique in his ability to forge a pictorial language, which is indisputably of the contemporary Indian situation but surcharged with all the energies, the rythms of his art heritage.' (ibid. p. 3).
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