LONDON – One of the works to be sold at the upcoming Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art auction on 6 October in London is The Sixth Seal by Maqbool Fida Husain. The Sixth Seal exemplifies Husain’s most recognisable themes and symbols. In this important work from 1964, Husain explores traditional forms of ancient Indian sculpture, miniature painting, dance and folk art. The canvas is made up of six vignettes, a compositional device used by the artist in a number of his early works from the late 1950s and early 1960s including the seminal Zameen, painted in 1955.
The central vignette or seal in this work 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.
The stylisation and reference in the title clearly indicate the influence of the ancient Harappan seals of Mohenjo-daro 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. 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).
Husain "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 rhythms of his art heritage." (E. Alkazi, M. F. Husain: The Modern Artist and Tradition, Art Heritage, New Delhi, 1978, p. 3)
The Sixth Seal has an illustrious provenance; it was previously in the Collection of Chester and Davida Herwitz, one of the most important and comprehensive provenances that Modern and Contemporary Indian art has seen.