Untitled (Figures with Moon)

Untitled (Figures with Moon)
signed in Hindi and initialed in Urdu (lower right)
oil on canvas
29 ¾ x 38 ½ in. (75.6 x 97.8 cm.)
Painted circa 1960s
Saffronart, 8 December 2005, lot 7
Christie's New York, 23 March 2011, lot 569
Acquired from the above by the present owner

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Nishad Avari
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Lot Essay

“It was in the early years, that Maqbool Fida Husain created the essential idiom for his art and it provided him with the navigational resources for his later journey. The layered vocabulary of his paintings, as complex as India itself, also set the tone for his preoccupation which was to tap the pulse of a nation in its making, viewing it from the street as it were. In doing so he virtually re-invented India and he continues to do this at each stage of his art” (Y. Dalmia, ‘M.F. Husain: Re-inventing India’, M.F. Husain: Early Masterpieces 1950s-70s, London, 2006, unpaginated).

From his humble beginnings as a billboard painter in Bombay in the late 1930s, Maqbool Fida Husain successfully developed a unique artistic vocabulary that led him to become one of India’s most prominent modern artists. Sometimes referred to as the ‘Picasso of India,’ his deep engagement with history, civilization and heroic epics aided him in breaking from tradition and the rigidity of academic painting styles, while never losing sight of the art heritage, energy and rhythm of the vast Indian landscape.

Early in his career, Husain would help found the seminal Progressive Artists’ Group in 1947, on the eve of Indian Independence. This collective of likeminded artists took in the forms and idioms of Indian folk art, classical painting and sculpture, combining them with Western styles and techniques to produce a unique mode of expression – a new, modern art for India. Husain along with fellow members of the group, including Francis Newton Souza and Sayed Haider Raza, emerged as a cultural standard bearer in independent India, his art exalting in the liberation of the new democracy but never hiding from the painful legacies of its birth. The Progressive Artists’ Group remained together formally for only a few years, but was as impactful as it was brief, propelling Husain and his contemporaries to become pioneers of Indian modernism.

In the present lot, Husain draws on the principles of classical Indian sculpture and dance to portray the silhouettes of two women seated in front of a river bank on an inky blue night. A few boats bob idly in the waters behind them, and a large, dark moon hangs low in the sky, only partially illuminating the scene. Speaking about the artist's early female figures, the critic Richard Bartholomew noted, “The drawing is certain and daringly economical. The thick, muscular, exploratory line is broken or interrupted by blocks of bold colour. This line is different from the slender graceful line of the Pahari painters or the revelatory voluptuousness so characteristic of Matisse's drawing. Poise and resplendent colour, emotively used, provide the spectator the key to the prevailing mood” (R. Bartholomew, 'Ten Paintings by M.F. Husain', Thought, 12 April, 1958).

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