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signed, dated and inscribed 'Husain 27.III.1983 MIAMY' (lower right) and titled 'Me'me'' (upper left)
acrylic on canvas
48 x 96 in. (121.9 x 243.8 cm.)
Painted in 1983
Acquired directly from the artist
Private Collection, Canada
Acquired from the above by the present owner

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Lot Essay

Maqbool Fida Husain touched upon numerous themes and experimented with a variety of styles and techniques over the course of his long and distinguished career. In this large format painting, the artist masterfully combines the genres of portraiture, landscape and still life in a tribute to his elderly sitter as well as to American art and artists.

Painted in Miami in the early 1980s, this portrait most notably echoes celebrated works by the nineteenth century artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler and the modern master David Hockney, who spent much of his life living and working in America.

Like Whistler, Husain was always drawing parallels between painting and other forms of art, particularly music, emphasizing harmony and balance in his compositions. In this painting, Husain refers to Whistler’s most famous painting, Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 (1871), popularly known as Whistlers Mother, in the way he has posed his elderly female sitter. Titled Mémé, the French-Canadian term for grandmother, Husain’s portrait is also reminiscent of Whistler’s work in its dignified austerity and balanced composition.

Although she is seated in a classical Edwardian armchair, the table in front of Husain’s subject is strikingly modern with its clean lines and glass top. With a vase of flowers placed on it, the viewer is immediately reminded of Hockney’s monumental double portrait Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott (1969) of the celebrated New York curator and his partner. In this work, Hockney’s attention to light and reflection is best exemplified in the glass table in front of Geldzahler, and the signature vase of tulips he placed on it, often interpreted as symbolizing the artist himself.

Similarly, Husain’s pared down landscape, with its horizontal bands of color indicative of earth, sea and sky and freer, more gestural brushstrokes, is perhaps a tribute to Abstract Expressionism and its proponents like Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning, while the stark white horizontal that splits the surface into two unequal halves recalls Barnett Newman’s well-known ‘zip paintings’.

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