Untitled (Two Figures with Cactus)

Untitled (Two Figures with Cactus)
signed in Hindi and Urdu (upper left); bearing 'Chemould Gallery, New Delhi' label (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
42 x 39 7/8 in. (106.7 x 101.3 cm.)
Painted in 1966
Professor James Levinson acquired the painting from the Dhoomimal Gallery in New Delhi in 1966 while doing development work in India, and the painting has been in his family's collection since. The family has had a long relationship with India and its artists, including M.F. Husain, and met with the artist at a hotel in Delhi just a few years before his death. "He recognized me immediately," Levinson recalls, "saying 'We were just speaking this morning about your painting Two Figures with Cactus, one of my favorites.'"The next generation of the family has continued its close association with India having founded an organization, Calcutta Kids, providing health services to mothers and infants in slum areas of West Bengal.
G. Kapur, Husain: Introduction and Analytical Notes, Bombay, 1968, p. 36, pl. 37 (illustrated)

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Lot Essay

[...] I don't paint flowers but I paint cactus because I can say something that's not obvious or mundane.

(Artist Statement, Khalid Mohamed, Where Art Thou, M. F. Husain Foundation & Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai, 2002, p. XXVIII)

The symbolic expression of the rankling pricking cactus creates tension in the otherwise intimate couple. Painted in flat planes, subtle tones and emotive colors, Geeta Kapur while describing this painting writes, "Many of Husain's best works engage figures in dialogue. Sometimes, as in the earlier paintings they are surrounded by a living, pulsating environment; sometimes as here, they are archetypal figures with their own private world.
In this painting, the elements re-enforce this sense of continual dialogue. The forms inclining toward each other are subtly interposed by the diagonal of the hand and that gesture fixes the image in memory. The forms are contained in their own dark spherical space; an enclosure within the pictorial space, which gives them this feeling of concentrated engagement."
(G. Kapur, Husain: Introduction and Analytical Notes, Bombay, 1968, p. 42)

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