Untitled (The Three Graces)

Untitled (The Three Graces)
signed and dated 'Husain '90' (upper right) and inscribed 'EUPHROSYNE' 'THALIA' 'AGLAIA' (lower extreme edge)
acrylic on canvas
81½ x 123¾ in. (207 x 314.3 cm.)
Painted in 1990
M. F. Husain: Let History Cut Across Me Without Me, Vadehra Art Gallery, 1993 (illustrated, unpaginated)
New Delhi, Vadehra Art Gallery at National Gallery of Modern Art, M. F. Husain: Let History Cut Across Me Without Me, 1993

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Lot Essay

"Three Graces. Daughters of Zeus, radiating the spectrum of green, violet and amber. Lightening horses cut across these celestial bodies bursting with earthly aroma." (M. F. Husain, Let History Cut Across Me Without Me, New Delhi, 1993)

"One of the most revealing aspects of an artist's work is his sense of the past: his capacity to assimilate in his mind and being the consciousness of his race, and his ability to direct the totality of that awareness through the filter of his creative imagination into an engagement with the contemporary situation." (E. Alkazi, "M.F. Husain-The Modern Artist and Tradition," Art Heritage, New Delhi, 1978, reprinted in Lalit Kala Contemporary 27, April 1979, p.20)

This monumental painting, looking towards ancient Greek mythology, highlights the three attendants of Eros and Aphrodite: Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia. As attendants to the deities of love, the three graces are goddesses of joy, charm and beauty, and preside over ancient celebratory events, including dances, banquets and other jubilant occasions. Husain's choice of these sensuous and immortal women from ancient Greece, a subject depicted by artists as divergent as Sandro Botticelli, Peter Paul Rubens and Antonio Canova, demonstrates his ability to seamlessly meld international influences into his distinctive style. The tumult of bodies and shapes in this work create an undulating composition which is well suited to its amorous subject matter. The three women, in graceful postures borrowed from Indian dance, have a shared sense of rhythm that is carried through the painting in their movements and body language.

Husain has long been fascinated by the history, civilization and the heroic epics that transcend the centuries as evidenced from his earliest explorations of the Mahabharata and Ramayana to his more recent works celebrating Indian Civilization and Islamic Civilization. According to Chester Herwitz, "It has been a long endeavor of Husain to pictorially engage the epics. To make the epics speak and speak again in contemporary terms. One device he uses in this work is to dramatically shift back and forth in time, intermixing props and figures often with a keen wit." (M.F. Husain, Let History Cut Across Me Without Me, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 1993, p. 5) The notion of rasa (aesthetic rapture) plays an important role in appreciating the great artistry of Husain as well, many of whose works are wholly inspired by the inter-disciplines of music, dance, sculpture, and film. Deeply rooted in an Indian ethos and vernacular, Husain understood classical Sanskrit notions on aesthetics at its most fundamental level: that to know how to paint, one must not only comprehend form but movement and music. (S. Apte, "Contextualising the Contemporary," Indian Highway, Koenig Books and The Serpentine Gallery, London, 2008, pp. 196-199) Herwitz notes, "We may miss something if we do not see in these paintings an amalgam of many art forms enriching each other. There is to be found dance poetry theater music literature film." (M.F. Husain, Let History Cut Across Me Without Me, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 1993, p. 4) In many ways, Three Graces relate to another theme that appears often in Husain's oeuvre where according to the Shastras, Padmini, Mohini and Shankhini are typologies of the female gender. Husain further extends the imagery in his frequent depictions of the trio of female deities Lakshmi, Saraswati and Parvati/Durga.

The placid Three Graces serve as the ideals espoused by the ancient Greeks harkening back to a Golden Age of humankind, emblematic of peace, tranquility and the quest for knowledge and culture. It is part of a suite of works that was exhibited in the 1993 NGMA show, Let History Cut Across Me Without Me. The large-scale works ranged from twelve to forty feet long. Other paintings in the series addressed the increasing intolerance and violence throughout the centuries in world history. Yashodara Dalmia describes the impact of the exhibition as prescient considering Husain's eventual exile from India, "Husain's diatribe against violence reached its apogee in a large exhibition mounted at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi in January 1993, a month after the black Sunday when the Babri Masjid was destroyed. Virtual civilizations were juxtaposed against each other, overlapping their contours and shapes It was a bill-board dash that he made those huge paintings with rough jagged strokes of colour. (Y. Dalmia, The Making of Modern Indian Art: The Progressives, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2001, p. 123)

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