signed, dated and inscribed 'Husain 008 Doha' (upper right)
acrylic on canvas
43 1/2 x 67 in. (110.5 x 170.2 cm)
Painted in 2008
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

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Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari Specialist, Head of Department

Lot Essay

“In the true Sufistic tradition, Husain turns his personality into a sounding board, a lonely but intimate vehicle for man’s dialogue with God. The bedrock of his apprehension of life remains a deeply religious and humanistic feeling” (S. Kapur, Husain, New York, 1972, p. 60). The spiritual experience has long been at the center of Husain’s imagery. Born to a family from the Bohra Muslim community, Husain’s childhood was influenced by his father’s remarriage to a daughter of the head of a religious order, an uncle who wrote religious poetry and his own training to become a prayer leader.

Shiv Kapur recalls that Husain was “fond of quoting E.M. Forster’s epigrammatic remark ‘I don’t believe in belief; Lord help me in my disbelief’ [...] The ambience of his childhood and youth laid the groundwork for his mystic preoccupation and for his concern with sensuality and the nature of knowledge and innocence. It also brought forth from the depths of his personal loneliness his prototypical featureless figure robed in impenetrable solitude” (S. Kapur, Ibid., 1972, p. 32). The present lot, featuring symbols like a robed figure and a mosque, reflects Husain’s complicated relationship with his religious beliefs.

Elements like the calligraphy that runs across the canvas and the galloping horses that occupy over half of the composition, represent Husain’s earliest encounters with the spiritual possibilities of art. The text, an opening verse to a chapter in the Quran, is evident of the calligraphic writing that Husain trained in at school. During this time, he also helped build and decorate bamboo and paper horses of tazias, or the larger than life effigies of Imam Hussain’s faithful steed that were carried out in religious processions. Horses have since been a recurring motif in his paintings. During his travels to China in 1952, he studied the Sung dynasty representations of horses. Later, in Europe, he was fascinated by Franz Marc and Marino Marini’s equine paintings and sculptures. Making the motif his own, Husain’s horses are imbued with untethered energy and motion, painted using vigorous brushstrokes and gestural lines.

Husain painted this monumental work in Doha in 2008, two years after the artist permanently left his home in India. The composition thus also appears to pay tribute to his last home in Doha, with palm trees and a mosque in the background, possibly inspired by the landscape and architecture of the city.

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