Untitled (Horses)

Untitled (Horses)
signed 'Husain' (upper left)
oil on canvas
34 1/2 x 55 1/2 in. (87.6 x 141 cm.)
Dhoomimal Gallery, New Delhi
Acquired from the above, circa mid-1970s to mid-1990s
Thence by descent

Brought to you by

Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari Specialist, Head of Department

Lot Essay

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.
- M.F. Husain, 1987

While Maqbool Fida Husain drew on several historic and artistic sources in his many depictions of horses, what is likely to have been most influential in his adoption of this subject is an event he witnessed as a child in Indore. Once a year during Muharram when the religious mourned the death of Imam Husain, the Prophet’s son, they would carry tazias or effigies of Imam Husain’s faithful horse in a procession through the streets. As the artist’s biographers note, “[…] the earliest icon that he had a part in creating was the apocalyptic horse of the tazias. He was to remain loyal to that icon; it never strayed far from his imagination in his subsequent paintings” (R. Bartholomew and S. Kapur, Husain, New York, 1971, p. 32).

In Eastern and Western artistic traditions, horses are frequently recognized as symbols of the sun and knowledge and are associated with protective, life-sustaining forces. Husain often references ritual and myth in his paintings, notably the connection between the sun and horse, painting the seven horses that drove the chariot of the Sun God, Surya, on several occasions. We see this connection once again in the present lot, where the artist prominently places the sun at the upper center, almost as if a direct source of life and energy for the three rearing horses below it.

While two of the horses bound forward, the third seems to pause and turn back. These contrary postures and opposing motions contribute to the sense of anxiety and energy that this painting is suffused with. Accentuating the agitation of these animals, the vivid colors of the sunset Husain paints around them glint off their white coats, almost as if they are one with their environment, breathing in and exhaling its colors. With flared nostrils and wide open eyes and mouths, the horses seem to shake the picture plane in an attempt to break free of the painted surface.

Husain has also included a mudra or symbolic hand gesture in this work, superimposed on the yellow sun. Mudras are used as expressive symbols in Indian dance and meditation to focus energy from the elements for physical and mental healing. This particular mudra is called prana mudra, prana being the Sanskrit word for ‘breath’ or ‘life force’, and represents the creation and life of all beings. In Hindu literature, prana is sometimes described as originating from the sun and connecting the five primary elements, fire, water, earth, space and air. The symbolism behind this mudra aligns with the connections between the sun and its life-sustaining capacity as well as the horses and their vitality.

Additionally, the sun and mudra endow the painting with a sense of serenity, balancing the agitation of the horses. Husain also masterfully creates equilibrium in this work between other contrasting forces, including masculine and feminine energies and the exercise of power and restraint.

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