PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION, HONG KONG
MAQBOOL FIDA HUSAIN
1913 - 2011
Oil on canvas
Signed in Devanagari and dated '62' lower right. Bearing Kumar Gallery, New Delhi label on reverse
35 ¼ x 24 ⅜ in. (89.5 x 61.9 cm.)
Painted in 1962
Kumar Gallery, New Delhi
Acquired from the above by a private collector in 1962
Private collection, England
Christie's London, 10 June 2010, lot 215
Maqbool Fida Husain was a founding member of the Progressive Artists’ Group, the first defined art movement of post-independence and post-partition India, and with his artist peers sought to create a place for a modern art in a new nation, one defined not by artistic style, religion, caste, or other divisions. While strongly committed to this quest, Husain’s work and life would take him far beyond India as he traveled nearly constantly, forging a larger-than-life identity for himself and carving a place in an international art world for fellow artists from India through both his work and personality.
Having been born into a Muslim family, Husain’s choice to paint epics and themes associated with Hindu mythology and culture intended to cut across religious lines in declarative stance of secularism - well beyond the optimistic years of the Progressive Artists’ Group; sadly, his representations of nude female deities would force him into exile at the end of his life.
In the early 1960s, Husain was largely in Bombay and surrounded by leading modernist peers including Tyeb Mehta and V.S. Gaitonde, who were beginning to explore elements of gesture and abstraction; in the present work and others from this period it appears he absorbed some of their concerns without ever departing from a focus on narrative and the figure. This canvas features two female figures sitting in a courtyard (angan) with trees in the far background. Their decorated hands feature at the center of the work, giving it its title - a reference to a traditional ceremonial ritual of applying henna to hands and feet as a temporary body adornment. Husain paid particular attention to hands in his paintings, adapting classical gestures known as mudras and giving them outsize prominence in terms of composition and sometimes scale. This focus can be seen as an example of Husain’s commitment to creating an image of “Indianness” as part of his love of country, and his skill at bringing traditional expression into a modern language.
Across the canvas, Husain applies paint in thick and thin overlapping layers and his lines are textured and deliberate, as marks his early and mid-career work. As can be characteristic of Husain’s work from this period, there is a slight dissolution of figure into ground, especially above the left figure. While Husain is often known for bright colors, he sometimes favored an earthier muted palette as in this work, connecting to an aesthetics of daily rural life.
While Husain’s work has nearly stood for an idea of India, it is clear that he readily adopted and adapted styles from Euro-American modernism. Formally, his work is often considered in relation to Cubism’s faceting or splintering of form (and he was termed the Picasso of India), though Husain fractures individual figures rather than the entirety of the plane, his own distinctive contribution to an international modernist language.