Untitled (Horses)

Untitled (Horses)
signed in Hindi and initialed in Urdu (lower right)
oil on canvas
50 x 81 in. (127 x 205.7 cm.)
Painted circa early 1960s
Acquired directly from the artist, Bombay, 1969
Thence by descent
Bombay, Gallery Chemould, Jehangir Art Gallery, 21 Years of Painting, 1969

Lot Essay

The sound of galloping horses seemed like a tremor to me.
Its echoes do not seem to stop.
All these horses running together raise a cloud of dust.
Duldul – the 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

From East to West, throughout history, horses have been a universal fascination and inspiration for artists. From Chinese antiquities and ancient Roman sculpture to Leonardo da Vinci, Thedore Gericault and Pablo Picasso, the horse has been a perennial muse which has transcended time, circumstance and culture. The relationship between the artist and this revered beast is also profoundly personal, becoming a vehicle of expression for both an inner meditation and a universal subject.

Similarly, the horses painted by Maqbool Fida Husain are both personal and universal. The artist encountered the equine figure throughout his life across continents and cultures. He acknowledges the influence of Tang pottery horses and the monochromatic paintings of galloping stallions by Xu Beihong he studied on a trip to China, as well as the equestrian sculptures of the Italian artist Marino Marini that he discovered in Italy. Horses also resonate with Husain’s admiration for Ancient Greece, a civilization which championed and deified the equestrian form. The Trojan Horse, Pegasus and Alexander’s prized Bucephalus are only a few iconic equines which permeate the mythological and historical past of hallowed antiquity. Even more influential on the artist’s work, however, are the tazias or effigies of Imam Husain’s faithful horse that were carried in the Muharram processions the artist remembers from his childhood in Indore. “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 terracotta, 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.” (Artist statement, Husain, Mumbai, 1987, p. 83)

Another strong memory from Husain’s early years in Indore that fuelled his fascination with equestrian figures and influenced his work over the course of his career is the time he spent in the company of his grandfather Dada Abdul. Referring to himself as ‘the boy’, Husain recalls, “Dada Abdul often sauntered over to the iron smelting workshop of Achan Miyan, his buddy [...] The bond between Achan Miyan and Dada Abdul was the key to the boy’s future. To date, the boy can never forget the neigh-neighing restlessness of the horses and the music of their shoes being pound-pound-pounded. The boy related to his surroundings the way a rider relates to his steed, the way the devout slake their thirst by drinking the water of Karbala. He related to the majesty of the horses as if he were Luv Kush put on test as Ashwamedha. He imagined himself on a haughty horse, galloping through the celestial skies.” (Artist statement, K. Mohammed, M.F. Husain, Where Art Thou, Bombay, 2002, pp. 20-21)

This imposing work was painted in the mid-1960s, at a time when Husain was amalgamating these diverse stimuli and insights in his oeuvre. Here, the artist combines the autobiographical with the mythical, pairing what appears to be a portrait of Dada Abdul with the figures of two bucking stallions. While the cobalt horse in the foreground impatiently paws at the earth, the white horse behind it rears its head with open mouth and flared nostrils, together galvanizing the scene with their anxious energy. The rippling muscles on the necks and flanks of the animals are etched out in thick strokes of paint, the blue heightened with flashes of yellow and orange corresponding perhaps to pulses of electric charge. On their left, Dada Abdul, with his characteristic skull cap and white beard, is dressed in the brown achkan or knee-length coat whose protective folds Husain remembers hiding in as a child. The strong, smoother vertical strokes of his figure anchor the dynamic horizontals of the horses, balancing their agitation and energy with the restraint and control he exudes, and the reverence his figure commands.

This iconic painting was exhibited in Husain’s first retrospective, 21 Years of Painting, held at Jehangir Art Gallery, Bombay, in 1969. Sponsored by Gallery Chemould, the show spread across all the exhibition spaces in the building and included a Fiat car painted by the artist as well as a black curtained room called Salle du Bal in which he displayed the furniture he designed for his friend Bal Chhabda’s living room. Several important international exhibitions followed this career-defining retrospective, including a two-man show with Picasso at the Sao Paolo Biennale in 1971. A year later, a major monograph on the artist’s work was published by Harry Abrams, cementing his reputation as a major, international modernist.

Please refer to lot 436, 442 and 457 for further discussion of the significance of the horse in Husain's oeuvre.

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