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Untitled (Horses)

Untitled (Horses)
signed in Hindi and initialed in Urdu (lower right)
oil on canvas
30 x 40 in. (76.2 x 101.6 cm.)
Painted circa 1960s
Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2007

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Lot Essay

“For Husain, the horse seems to stand for super-human forces, powerful not only for its stampeding arrogance, but because of its greater sophistication. Only sometimes, with a surcharged confidence in man, a hand held aloft or a suggestive lance, matches or halts its force” (G. Kapur, Husain, Mumbai, 1968, p. 41).

The horses painted by Maqbool Fida Husain represent personal experiences and memories and are also symbolic of universal phenomena. 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 an early 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 equine form. The Trojan Horse, Pegasus and Alexander’s prized Bucephalus are only a few iconic horses which permeate the mythological and historical tales of hallowed antiquity.

Even more influential on the artist’s work, however, are the images of horses he encountered during his childhood, while learning about Indian culture and mythology from festivals and stories. Husain particularly remembers the tazias or effigies of Imam Husayn’s faithful horse, which were carried in the Muharram processions in Indore where he grew up. Other early inspirations included the seven mythical horses believed to draw the chariot of Surya, the Sun God, across the heavens, the legend of Ashvamedha or a ritual horse sacrifice described in the epic poem, Mahabharata, and the many steeds associated with the Prophet Muhammad and his family including Duldul and the winged Buraq.

Speaking about his numerous portrayals of the animal from the early 1950s onwards, Husain noted, “My horses like lightning, cut across many horizons. Seldom their hooves are shown. They hop around the spaces. From the battlefield of ‘Karbala’ to Bankura 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).

Husain almost always portrays his equine figures as powerful creatures, usually galloping, with reared heads, flared nostrils and a tremendous sense of dynamism. Here, three horses charge across the frame from a shadowy space on the left where they are crowded together, to a lighter and more open one on the right. Emblematic perhaps of hard-won freedom, these three horses embody the strength, independence and free spirit of the artist.

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