Lot 51
  • 51

Maqbool Fida Husain

600,000 - 800,000 GBP
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  • Maqbool Fida Husain
  • The Sixth Seal
  • Signed 'Husain' in Devanagari lower centre and inscribed 'M F Husain, The Sixth Seal, "64"' on reverse

  • Oil on canvas
  • 91.5 x 203.3 cm. (36 x 80 in.)
  • Painted in 1964


Collection of Chester and Davida Herwitz

Sotheby's New York, 5 December 2000, Contemporary Indian Paintings from the Collection of Chester and Davida Herwitz, Lot 176


Oxford, Museum of Modern Art, India: Myth and Reality, Aspects of Modern Indian Art, 1982


R. Bartholomew, and S. Kapur, Husain, New York, 1971, illustration colour pl. 139

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 


There is wear and pigment loss to paint around the edges of the painting and a hairline crack in the bottom left corner. Intermittent spots of loss throughout are visible only upon close inspection. Very minor spots of consolidation are visible under UV light. This painting is in overall good condition, as viewed.
"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. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The Sixth Seal exemplifies many of Maqbool Fida Husain's most recognisable themes and symbols. In this important work from 1964, traditional forms of ancient Indian sculpture, miniature painting, dance and folk art are manifested in this composition 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.  As described by Geeta Kapur, 'Husain's figures are arranged in the form of highlighted vignettes out of a distant tableau because the form of a tableau provides an enclave within reality in which the figures can work out different permutations of their relationship. Most of his figures are like actors and most of his paintings have a staged quality.' (G. Kapur, Contemporary Indian Artists, Vikas Publishing House Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 1978, pp. 128-129.)

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).