From the outset of his career as an artist, Maqbool Fida Husain's vision has remained deeply entrenched in Indian sensibility. As early as the mid 1950s there is a new level of maturity in his work. In the current painting from the 1969, the colour application has become even more complex and controlled, unlike his earlier figures that are reminiscent of the toys that he designed in the 1940s. Using a bright colour scheme, associated with Rajput miniatures, he has constructed his composition with sharp, angular lines, blocks of colour and gestural brushstrokes. As is typical of Husain’s figures, the strong outlines and thicker impasto have been carved into the paint. What sets Husain’s work apart from other modernists who were inspired by traditional Indian art, is that he did not merely copy these classical forms and themes but reworked them into his own inimitable combination of line and form. This seemed to be a crystallising moment in his career, acting as the catalyst for the evolution of his visual vocabulary that combines the palette of the Indian miniature tradition with the curves and fluid postures of Indian classical sculpture. Husain’s works contain an understanding of Indian aesthetics at a fundamental level; the triple axial postures of his figures draw upon the tribhanga poses in Indian sculpture and his tight overlapping forms are clearly reminiscent of the frieze panels of north Indian temples. These tensile figures became emblematic of Husain’s women.
The composition of the current lot is based on a scene that is frequently depicted in both the folk and classical miniature tradition. This work depicts Krishna hiding in a tree having stolen clothes from his devoted gopis (milk-maids) whilst they bathe in a river. The fervent devotion to Krishna by the gopis of Brindavan is often employed as an example of bhakti (Devotion through Love). There are numerous representations of this bhakti in painting and sculpture throughout history. Possibly the first poetic expression of the Radha Krishna story was in the Gita-Govinda of Jayadeva (12th century A.D.). A later example of the scene from the Bhagavata Purana (Ancient Stories of Lord Vishnu) is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection and dates to circa 1610 (depicted here). This story is at the very centre of religious poetry in the Bhakti tradition and has inspired artists and devotees ever since. By using Krishna and his gopis as his protagonists and then placing them in this instantly recognisable milieu, this painting is a natural successor to classical Indian imagery. ‘[Husain] 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 rhythms of his art heritage.' (E. Alkazi, M. F. Husain: The Modern Artist and Tradition, Art Heritage, New Delhi, 1978, p. 3)
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