Maqbool Fida Husain's Sita Hanuman dates from an important period in the artist's career and depicts Hanuman's rescue of Sita from her abductor Ravana. Indicative of his mastery of paint, this powerful work is a veritable tour de force.
From humble beginnings as a billboard painter, the largely self-taught Husain trained his eye for ambitious projects of scale and grand narrative. The artist achieved a measure of international recognition with his presence at the Venice and Tokyo Biennales of the 1950s as well as the Sao Paulo Biennale of the 1950s and 1970s, where he was invited to exhibit alongside Pablo Picasso. Furthermore, his 1966 film, Through the Eyes of a Painter, was received with great acclaim and awarded the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 1967. Harry N. Abrams, an admirer and collector of Husain's work, published one of the first monographs on any modern Indian artist--a seminal volume on Husain. Following these significant peaks in Husain's career, Sita Hanuman is a vigorous culmination of influences and events experienced by the artist up to the late 1970s.
The notion of rasa (essence) plays an important role in appreciating the great artistry of Husain, who drew inspiration from the inter-related disciplines of music, dance, sculpture and film. The present work depicts Hanuman, the mighty ape and aide to Lord Rama in the epic Ramayana. Popularly perceived as a symbol of physical strength and devotion, Hanuman was seemingly intended by the artist to inspire courage through action alongside Sita, the epitome of divine womanhood. Fundamental to the artist's oeuvre, Husain's horses are depicted as unstoppable, rearing creatures in full gallop -- each one lurching ahead as Sita's hair is carried by the wind and Hanuman stands ready to protect and defend. The artist's treatment of horses in this work was also informed by a 1952 sojourn in China where he studied Sung dynasty depictions of horses, and a trip to Europe where he was drawn to Franz Marc's compositional dynamics and the equestrian sculptures of Marino Marini.