M F Husain, often described as India’s Picasso, breathed his last at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London on Thurday. The artist, whose full name was Maqbool Fida Husain but who was known as M.F. Husain, started out as a poster artist for India’s prolific Bollywood film industry in the 1930s.
Decades later, his paintings and even his pencil drawings became status symbols for India’s wealthy elite, with his works commanding price tags running into millions of dollars.
Husain almost never wore anything on his feet. With his free flowing white beard and hair, he was an instantly recognisable figure in India’s art world.
Born in Pandharpur in Maharashtra on September 17, 1915, Husain was a Muslim Indian who courted numerous controversies over his paintings.
Husain’s six-decade painting career began in the late 1940s when he joined the Progressive Artists’ Group founded by Francis Newton Souza. This group of young artists aimed to disengage from the idyllic nationalist traditions of the Bengal school of art to imbue in their works a more avant-garde approach.
In 1952, Husain’s first solo exhibition was held in Zürich and over the next few years, his work was widely seen in Europe and the US. In 1955, he was awarded the prestigious Padma Shree and in 1967, he made his first film, ‘Through the Eyes of a Painter’. It was shown at the Berlin Film Festival and won a Golden Bear.
He also produced and directed a few other films, including ‘Gaja Gamini’ with his muse Madhuri Dixit who was the subject of a series of his paintings. Between 1990 and 2011, Husain went on to become the highest-paid painter in India.
Husain’s autobiography is also being made into a movie tentatively titled ‘The Making of the Painter’, starring Shreyas Talpade as the young Husain.
His name has also been included in the list of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World, issued by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in Amman, Jordan. In the 1990s, some of Husain’s works became controversial because of their portrayal of Hindu deities in the nude. The paintings in question were created in 1970, but did not become an issue until 1996 when they were printed in Vichar Mimansa, a Hindi monthly magazine, which published them in an article headlined ‘M.F. Husain: A Painter or Butcher’.
His paintings on goddesses Durga and Saraswati invited the wrath of Hindu groups which attacked his house in 1998 and vandalised his art works. Protests against Husain also led to the closure of an exhibition in London, England. In response, eight criminal complaints were filed against Husain.
The artist left the country stating that “matters are so legally complicated that I have been advised not to return home”. He lived in London and Dubai.
The painter, whose works fetched astronomical sums at the recent Bonham’s auctions – the highest for any Indian artist, accepted Qatari citizenship in 2010 after surrendering his Indian passport. Three of Husain paintings recently topped a Bonham’s auction, going under the hammer for Rs 2.32 crore with an untitled oil work in which the artist combined his iconic subject matters – horse and woman – fetching Rs 1.23 crore alone.
Husain was considered a master of color and lines, with works inspired by Hindu temple art and Cubism. His paintings could be a jumble of monkeys, elephants and horses from Indian folk tales and Hindu mythology, but his favorite subject were woman as givers of life and love. Actress Shabana Azmi, a close family friend of the artist, said that she was “deeply, deeply saddened,” to learn of Husain’s death. She described him as an “iconoclastic painter, a wonderful human being and a very good friend.”
PAKISTANI ARTISTS REACT: The artist community in Pakistan expressed grief over the demise of such a great artist.
Renowned artist Afshar Malik said that M.F Husain was a true inspiration for all artists. “Not just in South Asia but also throughout the world, Husain was known to be a great artist and painter and he was respected everywhere,” Malik said.
“An energetic man, one could not even limit his style to just one or two forms. He had such a diverse and detailed portfolio.” he added.
“Hussain was a student of nature, or the socio-political issues in the world, and in fact he was not one artist, he was many artists all rolled into one. Very few people are like him, so strong and so full of vitality,” he said.
Meanwhile R.M Naeem, another well known artist says that he had the privilege to meet Husain about five or six times in his life and had the honour of displaying his own paintings in the same show as Husain and his son Shamshad Husain.
“Hussain belonged originally to the cinema board painters community and so do I, therefore I can’t begin to even express how much he inspired other artists like us, and told them that a cinema board painter can paint other things too,” Naeem said.
Naeem reiterates that the 94-year-old artist could not be confined to any one form. “Hussain had his own individual style which he derived from the flat two dimensional form, further simplified it, and gave it a modern twist. There was calligraphy in his work, Hindi script and sometimes even English text…he never limited himself to any one genre,” Naeem added. Even his subjects, Naeem said, were diverse.
“From Madhuri to Mother Teresa to Saraswati, he painted whatever he thought was relevant. Then of course whenever someone does something out of the box, it becomes controversial and so did he. But he was a great inspiration, he was straight forward, and he encompassed all the spheres in his life to use as his subjects.”
Maqbool Fida Husain also held an exhibition in Pakistan, in Lahore’s Sanjan Nagar Institute in January 2004, which he founded during a visit nearly 12 years before.Hussain also observed works of young artists at NCA and commended the young painters on his visit.
Husian even donated one of his paintings to the Sanjan Nagar Public Education Trust.