Audio: Maqbool Fida Husain's Sprinkling Horses
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Sprinkling Horses

Sprinkling Horses
signed 'Husain' and further signed in Hindi and Urdu (lower center); further signed, inscribed and titled 'SPRINKLING HORSES Husain' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
43¼ x 92½ in. (109.9 x 235 cm.)
Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai
Private Collection, Mumbai

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Lot Essay

"My horses like lightning, cut across many horizons. Seldom their hooves are shown. They hop around the spaces. From the battlefield of "Karbala" to Baukura terra cota, from the Chinese Tse pei Hung horse to St. Marco horse, from ornate armoured "Duldul" to challenging white of "Ashwamedh" ..... the cavalcade of my horses is multidimensional."
(Husain, Tata Steel Publications, 1987, p. 83)

The juxtaposition of man and animal is a prevalent theme in the oeuvre of Maqbool Fida Husain. The artist seems particularly interested in the pairing of human figures and horses, typically in a dynamic and entwined composition. Husain's horses are proud, powerful and valiant often matching or even overpowering the human figures they are opposing.

The horse in particular became a central part of his oeuvre since his first representation of the animal in 1951. They are depicted as strong creatures, usually galloping, with reared heads and tremendous movement. His inspiration to paint horses was derived from a combination of sources, notably a trip to China where he studied Tang pottery horses and a trip to Italy where he discovered the equestrian sculptures of the Italian artist Marino Marini (1901-1980). However, what is liable to have been more influential is an event he witnessed for the first time as a fifteen year old boy: once a year during Muharram when the religious mourned the death of Imam Husain, the Prophet's son, they would carry tazias or effigies of Imam Husain's faithful horse in a procession through the streets. "...the earliest icon that he had a part in creating was the apocalyptic horse of the tazias. He was to remain loyal to that icon; it never strayed far from his imagination in his subsequent paintings." (R. Bartholomew and S. Kapur, Husain, Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1972, p. 32)

Husain's horses are not plastic forms treated to stylistic variations; rather, they are sensuous creatures that have become his personal symbols. In this monumental work, the four white horses are dramatically intertwined before a paneled backdrop or screen from which a figure emerges. The position of the backdrop gives the work a theatricality that may find inspiration in Husain's long association with cinema and cinema billboards. Through the uninhibited use of impasto and his choice of earthy tones in this work, Husain conveys the sense of raw unimpeded power of a herd of wild and untamed horses. According to E. Alkazi, horses are usually recognized as symbols of the sun and knowledge. They are associated with life giving and sustaining forces. Husain's horses have become "a vehicle for multiple utterances -- aggression, power and protection." (R. Shahani, Let History Cut Across Me Without Me, New Delhi, 1993, p. 8)

Unique for this large masterwork, Sprinkling Horses is the pairing of the horse that at once symbolizes the artist M.F. Husain calmly entering the image, side by side and juxtaposed against the sprinkling of galloping equestrian vitality, denoting the inner and outer forces surrounding him.

The sound of galloping horses seemed like a tremor to me.
Its echoes do not seems to stop.
All these horses running together raise a cloud of dust.
Duldul - thoe horse from the battle of Karbala,
Ashwamedh - reaching up to Luv and Kush.
Luminous in their seven rainbow colours.
Horses harnessed to the chariot of the Sun God,
Bursting through the sky.
Passionate horses, screaming with desire.
The Chinese terracotta horses,
Folk horses from the village of Bankura,
Horses, with the beauty of a woman and the valour of a man.
Start shooting past me like arrows, swift from a bow.
For long years they have been galloping like this,
And I have watched them all along.
Suddenly, a black horse noticed me.
He paused, turned back and said to me.
"Go forth and see the world."
Indeed it is true.
Seeing the world is to understand one's own existence.
Husain knows this well.
Hence he never stays at one place for long.

M.F. Husain (R. Siddiqui, In Conversation with Husain Paintings, Books Today Group, 2001, p. 114)

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