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Untitled (Arjuna and Krishna)

Untitled (Arjuna and Krishna)
signed in Hindi and English 'Husain' (lower left)
acrylic and oil on canvas
46 x 88 in. (116.8 x 223.5 cm.)
Painted circa 1980s
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Lot Essay

From humble beginnings as a billboard painter, the largely self-taught M.F. 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.

Husain first visited the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, in 1971 for a group of 29 works exhibited at the 11th Sao Paolo Biennial. The epic that prefaced the founding of ancient India detailed the cosmic civil war that took place between the fractured Kuru lineage: the Pandava and Kaurava cousins.
The present work portrays Lord Krishna and Arjuna, one of the Pandava brothers and the eventual heroes of the epic. Lord Krishna depicted here by the abstract hand was Arjuna's charioteer during the war and also a close friend. Arjuna, initially hesitant to go into war against his own cousins was persuaded otherwise by Lord Krishna. Their dialogue formed the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most important texts of Hindu philosophy. Husain includes a verse in Sanskrit from this text on the canvas ('Yada Yada Hi Dharmasya') referencing the presence of God at all times.
Evident in this work are the strong influences of classical Indian painting and sculptural traditions. The division of space into distinct color planes is a feature derived from the narrative style in Rajasthani miniature painting, while the heavily delineated figure is reminiscent of Indian temple sculpture in their dynamic contortions. The common thread that links Husain's work is the feeling of power that emanates from his canvas, allowing it to almost pulsate with life. Some of the best examples of this palpable energy and movement are seen in his depictions of horses. Whether a single monumental creature, or a group of horses prancing in a carefully composed frame, they have become a central part of his oeuvre since he first embarked on the subject in 1951. His inspiration came from a trip to China where he studied Sung pottery horses and his exposure to the equestrian sculptures of Marino Marini.

While speaking on Husain's series on the Mahabharata, Daniel Herwitz points out that the artist chose to take the example of Arjuna to portray the struggles one is destined to live through. "He must learn to recognize and accept his own fate, and learn how to live that fate in action. The culminating moment in Arjuna's education is his famous discussion with Lord Krishna during which Krishna convinces him that it is his dharma to fight. Lord Krishna preaches action and non-attachment to the fruits of action." (Daniel Herwitz, HUSAIN, Tata Steel Publications, Bombay, 1988, p. 25)

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