'Much later 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).
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 color, but his vocabulary evolves rapidly over the first half of the decade. It is clear that his first-hand encounters with the paintings of Klee, Matisse and Picasso during his travels to Europe in 1953 had a decisive impact on his art.
This painting from 1956 is clearly inspired by two of his earlier canvases Pagan Girl (1954) and Indian Village (1955) and belongs to a period when Husain's own Indian sensibility is merged with newly experienced aspects of European Modernism. Like Pagan Girl which was painted two years earlier, Pagan Mother is painted almost entirely in blue with the figure delineated by thick black contors and highlighted with flashes of white and terracotta, but the composition draws directly on the seated figure of an archetypal mother with a newly born baby between her legs that appears in Indian Village.
Perhaps more importantly the current work was one of five large scale canvases that the artist chose to exhibit alongside his most iconic work Between the Spider and the Lamp (1956) and it is interesting to note that the face of Pagan Mother bears a striking resemblance to the face of the standing blue figure in the group of women depicted in Between the Spider and the Lamp. When compared the four works reveal Husain's tendency to represent a single idea from various perspectives over a cycle of works. 'To Husain the act of painting seems more important and vital than the completed work. And so it happens that the totality of a particular concept is explored and projected through an extended cycle of works...the single work reveals its logic and relevance when seen as one stage in a continuum, an integral part of a larger and ever-expanding whole.' (E. Alkazi, M.F. Husain The Modern Artist and Tradition, New Delhi, 1978, p. 3).
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