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That Obscure Object of Desire Nine

Husain, M.F.
That Obscure Object of Desire Nine
titled '"That Obscure Object of Desire." Nine.' (lower right)
acrylic on canvas
38 3/8 x 72 ½ in. (97.5 x 184.2 cm.)
Painted circa early 1980s
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner
K.B. Singh, Maqbool Fida Husain, New Delhi, 2008 pp. 305, 309 (illustrated)

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Nishad Avari
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Lot Essay

Much has been written about Maqbool Fida Husain’s enigmatic paintings that frequently draw upon the emotions and the inner psychology of man to express the artist’s concerns. His larger-than-life canvases project narratives drawn from his memories and experiences of India and the world in a thoroughly modernist pictorial language.

Husain’s subject matter took a sharp turn in the 1980s when he viewed the Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel's 1977 film, That Obscure Object of Desire, for the first time, and embarked on a series of figurative paintings of the same title. “Certain of Husain's series have been born as a response to films. Perhaps the most important of these and among the most important of any of Husain's works, is his That Obscure Object of Desire. The key is that the woman is an obscure object, one whose integrity and identity are in doubt.” The artist recalls, “I had been working on the Mahabharata series with its conflicts and I saw the Buñuel film. I decided immediately to turn to contemporary things” (Artist statement, D. Herwitz, Husain, Bombay, 1988, p. 26).

Buñuel's film follows the love story of an aging man who falls for a younger woman. Its narrative mines the frustrations of love and man’s desire. Husain’s works from this series share the film’s themes of conflict, obsession and longing. These paintings can be read as quasi-film stills, serving as fragmented metaphors for Buñuel's tumultuous plot. The cinematic qualities of the present lot are evident in Husain’s interplay of scale, contrasting color, vigorous brushstrokes and the bold composition. Here the figure of a reclining woman and a prowling tiger are suspended in a psychic landscape with a lone cactus bisecting the woman’s body. Evocative of both desire and danger, these figures seem to be locked in an unrelenting stare-down, challenging viewers to guess whether this deadlock will end in rapture or tragedy.

Husain's works often draw on the drama of the human heart, representing psychic landscapes through the play of color and form. As the critic Richard Bartholomew observed, “[Husain] uses colour emotively, in flat planes and subtle tones, amid restlessly active or strongly arresting lines. The world that he creates [...] tends to be a brooding, inward-turning world, lit by a black-haunting sun” (R. Bartholomew, Maqbool Fida Husain, New York, 1971, p. 42).

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