MAQBOOL FIDA HUSAIN | Untitled (Praying Woman)
MAQBOOL FIDA HUSAIN
1913 - 2011
Untitled (Praying Woman)
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated 'Husain 1958' lower right
61 x 45.7 cm. (24 x 17 ½ in.)
Painted in 1958
Acquired directly from the artist in India, 1958
'Behind every stroke of the artist's brush is a vast hinterland of traditional concepts, forms, meanings. His vision is never uniquely his own; it is a new perspective given to the collective experience of his race. It is in this fundamental sense that we speak of Husain being in the authentic tradition of Indian Art. 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 rhythms of his art heritage.' (E. Alkazi, M. F. Husain: The Modern Artist and Tradition, Art Heritage, New Delhi, 1978, p. 3)
Maqbool Fida Husain embarked upon several experiments with the human figure, in particular the rural indigenous peasant with their large rough hands. His earliest works appear two-dimensional like his cut-out toys, infilled with deceptively simple flat planes of colour. Husain's artistic vocabulary evolved rapidly over the coming decades. His first-hand encounters with the paintings of Paul Klee, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso during his travels to Europe in 1953 had a decisive impact on his art. In particular, Matisse's Blue Nude II, executed in 1952, is a strong example of how these artists employed large blocks of primary colour to produce striking figurative compositions.
Husain's Indian sensibility merged with newly experienced aspects of European Modernism, forming a distinctive visual idiom. The kneeling woman is set against a geometric background which shows a sun rising over a sloping hill, providing the day’s first rays of light. The woman is rendered with white and blue blocks of colour and stark red outlines. The hues used here are bright and vibrant. The red lines that delineate the woman, produce more detail than ever before. Her stylised figure bears the influences of the artists he came across a few years earlier yet what sets Husain’s work apart from these other modernists is that he did not merely copy figures and themes but reworked them into his own inimitable combination of line and form. This seemed to be a crystallizing 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 fluid postures of Indian classical iconography.
This painting was acquired directly from the artist by the current owner in 1958. The owners were diplomats posted in India between 1956 and 1958 and recalls seeing Husain's work for the first time: ‘we were struck by the new style, colours and composition of those paintings which were different from other contemporary Indian painters’. The owner went on to become close friends with the artist and acquired the current lot, a ‘special’ work which ‘represented the serenity and humility in praying’, immediately upon its completion. During a visit to the owner in 1993, Husain was pleased to see the painting once more: ‘He stood for a while contemplating 'Praying Woman' which is a unique piece’. (Correspondence with the owner, 2019)