Signed 'Husain '58' upper left
Formerly in the collection of Roberto Rossellini and Sonali Dasgupta
Husain's large canvas, Cinq Sens (Five Senses), was painted in Italy in 1958, at the home of neorealist Italian film director Roberto Rossellini and his Indian wife, Sonali Sen Roy Dasgupta. Husain spent extended periods of time in Italy with the Rossellinis during the late 1950's, and gifted this painting to the couple, from whom it was acquired by the current owner.
An article from The Telegraph (Kolkata) in 2007 details the relationship between Husain and the Rossellinis: "It was Husain's fascination with films that led him to meet Roberto Rossellini. The Italian filmmaker was invited by Nehru in 1956 to make a documentary on India. Husain travelled with Rossellini all over India — from Bombay to Benares and Mysore — and was soon to play a key role in an event that was making headlines all over the world. Rossellini had fallen in love with a married Bengali woman, Sonali Dasgupta [wife of documentary filmmaker Harisadhan Dasgupta]. Given that he himself was married to Ingrid Bergman at the time, his affair with Dasgupta, who was half his age, had the western press hounding him in India.
"He admired my work and I admired his, and we became great friends," says Husain reliving the heady days of 1956, when he was protecting Rossellini and Sonali Dasgupta. "Rossellini would drive five hours from the interiors of Mysore just to reach a phone booth to make a call to her in Calcutta. An American newspaper offered me $10,000 for a photograph of the two of them together. But I wouldn't dream of betraying my friend." Husain played a crucial role in getting them together. One night he booked a first class coupe on the Frontier Mail from Bombay to Delhi. Accompanying him with her head covered was Sonali Dasgupta, travelling as Mrs. Husain. Avoiding the paparazzi, Husain escorted Dasgupta to Delhi and set up a meeting with Rossellini. Soon the couple left for Rome and were married." (Shrabani Basu, The Telegraph, Kolkata, July 8, 2007)
Husain presents two familiar themes in this work, the horse and the nude. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, notes Richard Bartholomew, Husain "... uses color emotively, in flat planes and subtle tones, amid restlessly active or strongly arresting lines ... The icons of his expression, which were derived from folk art in his earlier paintings, now move between the personal and the archetypal. His metamorphic human figures... and horses are projections of the collective unconscious. From this period onward Husain employs his plastic forms increasingly in what Kandinsky defined as 'a system of symbolization to give outward expression to an art of internal necessity.'" (Richard Bartholomew, Husain, New York, 1972, p.42)
Although both the nude and the horse regularly populate Husain's canvases, it is very rare to find an example of a male nude. The structure of the current work suggests that it may be an homage to Picasso's iconic painting from 1906, Jeune Garçon au Cheval (Boy Leading a Horse), currently in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art. The frieze of dancing figures in the background of the painting is reminiscent of the bas-relief frieze work of classical Indian temples, such as those which Husain and Rossellini visited together. The combination of these two visual elements seems to marry European classical composition with traditional Indian art, a nod perhaps to the cross-cultural and artistic exchange between Husain and Rossellini.
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