Lot 3
  • 3

Maqbool Fida Husain

200,000 - 300,000 USD
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  • Maqbool Fida Husain
  • The Puppet Dancers
  • Signed in Devanagari lower right
  • Oil on canvas
  • 31½ by 51¼ in. (80 by 130.2 cm.)


Private European Collection


London, Asia House, M. F. Husain: Early Masterpieces 1950s-70s, 10 May – 5 August 2006

Providence, Brown University, M. F. Husain: Early Masterpieces 1950s-70s, 5 February - 26 March 2010


Ramachandra Rao, P.R., Contemporary Indian Art, Madras, Vicha Fine Arts, 1969, pl. 20 illus.

M. F. Husain: Early Masterpieces 1950s-70s, Asia House, London, 2006, no. 3 illus.

M. F. Husain: Early Masterpieces 1950s-70s, Brown University, Providence, 2010, unpaginated


Good overall condition. Small area, approximately two inches, left of main figure appears to have been previously restored. Faint craqueleure along extreme lower edge.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Painted in 1963, The Puppet Dancers combines Husain's fascination with toys, a theme that the artist developed during the 1940s and 50s, with his love for folk art and the tropes of rural culture following his visits to Rajasthan. In the early 1940s, to make ends meet, he started work at the Fantasy furniture company in Bombay, where he was employed to paint children's furniture. As a hobby, Husain also began to design children's toys, which he cut from plywood and hand painted. Although Husain only produced the toys for a short period, his interest in the subject lived on and equipped him with a visual vocabulary that continued through to the 1960s. 'These toys grew beyond a childish fancy into a curious affection. They were not mere shapes, but represented a world of joys and sorrows. The world of his childhood dreams had become alive, reflecting the varied moods of its creator, playful but poignantly aware of the life beyond... Husain's paintings of the post Delhi phase are reminiscent of the toys which were his childhood companions, but created on a different level of consciousness. The dolls have grown into full maturity, they have shed their clay bodies, to become a pattern of colour harmony. The colours are bold and contrasted in a balance to deepen the mystery of form.' (Ayaz S. Peerbhoy, Paintings of Husain, Bombay, 1955, unpaginated). 

'Toys, like puppets and, in their own way, miniature idols are a celebration of infancy... They are for that very reason, a much loved object in modernist art (starting with Picasso, going on to Alexander Calder, coming up to K.G. Subramanyan), determined to look for a wonderous naiveté in the heaped debris of 20th-century civilisation.' (Geeta Kapur,  'Modernist Myths and the Exile of Maqbool Fida Husain', Barefoot Across the Nation, Maqbool Fida Husain and the Idea of India, Oxford, 2011, p. 42).

Interestingly, the composition of The Puppet Dancers is very similar to a 1950s preparatory sketch that Husain produced for one of his plywood toys (from the late Badrivishal Pitti Collection). A few years later in 1959, Husain produced a work titled Puppets. Like The Puppet Dancers, the preparatory sketch and Puppets all depict similar compositions, with a seated drummer in the right foreground and the line of three puppets dancing to the left. In The Puppet Dancers the flat planes of colour and two-dimensional quality seen in Puppets and the sketch have been abandoned in favour of a more subtle layering of colour and texture that results in a more mature version of the subject. Husain's Cubist treatment of the figures demonstrates the artist's admiration for Picasso, whom he regarded as inventing a universal language for modern art (ibid. p. 26). One could even draw parallels between Puppet Dancers and Picasso's Three Musicians, his Cubist masterpiece of 1921, as a celebration or homage to the vitality of the art emanating from popular culture. In Husain's Puppet Dancers we not only see a culmination of his fascination with toys but also the development of a distinctive set of characters that were to follow him throughout his career. The line-up of puppets contain his faceless woman, the equine figure, the tribhanga nude and the mustachioed warrior, all of which reappear in subsequent canvases.