K. Singh, A Visual History of Indian Modern Art: Volume Five, Rise of Modernism, Delhi Art Gallery, New Delhi, 2015, p. 900
K. Singh, Indian Modern Art: A Visual History, Delhi Art Gallery, New Delhi, 2016, p. 125
In the 1960s, ‘Husain embarked upon a series of paintings based on the two major Hindu epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata…Husain came from a strictly religious Muslim family but his closest friend was a Hindu boy, who studied the Bhagavad Gita and the Puranas. The boys worked together for a while and built up a friendship over fifty years’ (M. F. Husain: Early Masterpieces 1950s – 1970s, London 2006, unpaginated). Husain himself has admitted to the influence of this friendship on his series of paintings about the epics, which he revisited throughout his artistic career.
The current lot depicts a female figure riding a tiger and can be interpreted as the goddess Durga astride her vahana, typically a lion but shown here as a tiger. Husain produced similar Durga paintings during the late 1950s and 60s, for example a painting from 1964 sold at Sotheby's 19 March 2013, lot 13 and which was exhibited at M.F. Husain: Early Masterpieces 1950s - 70s, Asia House London, Brown University Providence, 2006, 2010; and another work, from 1968, published in Bartholomew and Kapur 1971, pl. 169. The rendering of Durga’s face in the current lot as in the other paintings is a reference to tribal masks. Tribal masks were objects that featured frequently in Pablo Picasso’s work, who Husain often mentioned as a defining influence.
‘Animal symbolism and masks are inextricably tied up with the religious tradition of every race. They represent an ancient community of basic identity between man and beast, a recognition by man of his own detail urges. In Indian mythology, gods are inseparable from the animal "vehicles" that express some of their attributes on a more basic plane. In certain cases gods are actually realised in animal form, or are viewed as capable of change from one form to the other, of transformation according to the character of the myth. As much as the animal symbol itself, it is this possibility of transfiguration, the protean quality of its image, that is of special interest to the painter. The mask represents an instrument of that transformation. It is the magical bridge between two planes of reality.’ (Richard Bartholomew and Shiv S. Kapur, Husain, New York, 1971, p. 46)
The powerful depiction of Durga in this painting is representative of Husain’s continued fascination with the female form. Throughout his career Husain's women were portrayed with a dignity and strength that was both ancient and modern. 'The central concern of Husain's art, and its dominant motif, is woman... Strong angular lines and flatly applied patches of colour are the instrument of the female form. Woman is seen either as a creation of lyric poetry, a sculpturesque and rhythmic figure of dance, or as an agent of fecundity.' (D. Herwitz, Husain, New Delhi 1988, p. 46)
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